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Crapper & Haigh: Letting agent in legal grey area over fees

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ACORN members outside Crapper & Haigh's offices. Photo by ACORN.

A Sheffield letting agent will continue taking administration fees if volunteered by tenants, despite a change in the law, Now Then has learned.

An instruction for staff at Crapper & Haigh was found by a housing campaigner at the firm's offices on Figtree Lane.

The letter advises staff to continue taking administration fees for deals negotiated but not completed before 1 June, if offered by tenants. A new law means that administration fees have been outlawed since 1 June.

The letter acknowledges that tenants have no legal obligation to pay the fee, which Crapper & Haigh previously set at £75 per tenancy.

"From the 1st June in any circumstance, don't ask anybody to pay an Admin Fee even if it's already written into the Lease," the letter states.

The unnamed writer of the letter continues: "If they voluntarily offer it to you, then take it as I'm sure we could always argue that the Terms had been negotiated prior to the 1st June but I certainly don't want to push that argument by asking people for the money and then them arguing about it."

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Letter found in Crapper & Haigh's offices.

ACORN

It isn't clear whether accepting a payment volunteered by tenants would break new rules introduced by the Tenants Fees Act 2019.

The letter was picked up by a member of ACORN last Saturday, the same day that the act was introduced.

The tenants rights group occupied Crapper & Haigh's offices to ask for a guarantee that they would comply with the new legislation. The firm called the police to remove members of the group.

Two other local letting agents, Belvoir and Reeds Rains, signed a pledge promising to comply with the new legislation without using loopholes.

"I suspect I am wasting my time responding to your email and that you will simply spin whatever I say to suit you own ends, as the truth doesn't always make for a good story," said John Francis of Crapper & Haigh, when we asked him about the letter.

"The paragraph you refer to in our internal memo has been taken out of context. It simply refers to tenancy renewals already negotiated and where the tenants as part of the renewal negotiations had agreed to pay our administration fee, but the renewal had not been completed by 1st June."

He continued: "The instructions to staff were not to ask for our agreed admin fee, but if tenants offered to pay it as part of the negotiated agreement for a tenancy renewal, I felt we were free to accept it without breaking the law, as this was something that had been negotiated and agreed prior to 1st June 2019."

We twice asked Mr Francis whether he had sought legal advice before deciding that the firm could accept fees voluntarily offered by tenants who were unaware that the fee had been outlawed. He declined to answer.

"All renewals negotiated post 1st June will not of course include any provision for an administration fee," he said.

"What we saw at Crapper and Haigh confirms our suspicions that some letting agents will attempt to rip off tenants any way they can," said Demaine, chair of ACORN Sheffield. "To me, it showed the power and impact we can have if we link up and unionise."

"Renters have long been exploited and having had terrible experiences with letting agents and landlords in the past, it was great to be able to assert our collective power and rights."

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