Fuller account of recent victory including letter texts

It’s exciting to see your comments and hear that people are interested in fighting back.  Several people have been asking to see the texts we used for letters, so we are posting them here, along with some more context about how we work.  If you have a fight you’d like to bring to us please contact us directly via email or phone.

To start, we are modelled directly on the excellent organisation, the Seattle Solidarity Network, which you can learn more about at http://www.seasol.net.  We planned our first action based on one of their videos of an action: http://seasol.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59:demand-delivery-at-nelson-properties&catid=1:recent

Here is a more detailed account of our first fight:

B read in the Metro that it was illegal for letting agents to charge admin fees, so she contacted Shelter asking about the £250 that she and her flatmates were charged for “check-in” by Martin & Co.  This is their reply:

Dear Sir/Madam

Sometimes a landlord or accommodation agency asks for a sum of money for granting or renewing a tenancy. This payment can be called a ‘premium’, ‘key money’ or a ‘holding deposit’, or could be a charge for ‘credit checks’ or ‘admin fees’. To ask for such a payment in connection with granting or renewing the tenancy is illegal, and a landlord or agent is committing an offence if s/he does so.

This falls under the Rent Scotland Act 1984.   I have detailed the legislation below:

Rent (Scotland) Act 1984:

s 82 – Prohibition of premiums and loans on grant of protected tenancies.
(1) Any person who, as a condition of the grant, renewal or continuance of a protected tenancy, requires, in addition to the rent, the payment of any premium or the making of any loan (whether secured or unsecured) shall be guilty of an offence under this section.
(2) Any person who, in connection with the grant, renewal or continuance of a protected tenancy, receives any premium in addition to the rent shall be guilty of an offence under this section.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.(4) The court by which a person is convicted of an offence under this section relating to requiring or receiving any premium may order the amount of the premium to be repaid to the person by whom it was paid.

s 88 – Recovery of premiums and loans unlawfully required or received
(1) Where under any agreement (whether made before or after 12th August 1971) any premium is paid after 12th August 1971 and the whole or any part of that premium could not lawfully be required or received under the preceding provisions of this Part of this Act, the amount of the premium or, as the case may be, so much of it as could not lawfully be required or received, shall be recoverable by the person by whom it was paid.
2) Nothing in section 82 or 83 above shall invalidate any agreement for the making of a loan or any security issued in pursuance of such an agreement but, notwithstanding anything in the agreement for the loan, any sum lent in circumstances involving a contravention of either of those sections shall be repayable to the lender on demand.
s.115 – ‘premium’ includes any fine or other like sum and any pecuniary consideration in addition to rent.

The above sections applies also to Assured & Short Assured Tenancies from the
Housing (Scotland) Act 1988:
s 27 Prohibition of premiums etc. on assured tenancies.
Sections 82, 83 and 86 to 90 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 (which make it an offence to require premiums and advance payment of rent in respect of protected tenancies and make related provision) shall apply in relation to assured tenancies as they apply in relation to protected tenancies (including protected tenancies which are regulated tenancies), but with the following modifications–(a) section 83(5) shall not apply; and(b) section 88(1) shall apply as if for the references to 12th August 1971 there were substituted references to the date of commencement of this section.

You can write to the letting agent advising them that this is an illegal charge, quoting the legislation above in your letter.

If they refuse to return the money you can either take small claims court action to recover the money, or withhold rent up to the amount of the premium. If withholding rent, a tenant should write to the landlord telling her/him that it is being with held and why, and deposit the rent in a special savings account clearly labelled as a rent account. These courses of action are not without risks, particularly for those with lower security of tenure such as short assured tenants.   I have included a link to the Shelter Scotland website which outlines the small claims process:

http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/advice_topics/complaints_and_court_action/raising_and_defending_actions_in_court/small_claims_actions

Tenants who have paid a premium could also report the matter to the local authority department in charge of administering landlord registration, which may investigate whether the landlord is a ‘fit and proper person’ in terms of the licensing legislation.

If taking either of these options, you should be aware that you may risk eviction, or your landlord may choose not to extend your tenancy after the initial tenancy term.

Should you have any further enquiries please contact the Shelter helpline on 0808 800 4444 to speak with an adviser.
Kind regards
Dawn Baird
Helpline adviser

B and her flatmates decided they wanted their money back.  First, they submitted an official complaint letter to Martin & Co, following the procedure outlined on the company’s website.  This is the complaint letter they sent:

Dear [letting agents],

We are writing to you regarding our tenancy at [address].  We were charged an “administration fee” of [amount] cash on [date] on top of our deposit, which was paid on [date] along with the first month’s rent.  We have recently become aware that this kind of fee is in fact illegal under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, as follows:

“s 82 – Prohibition of premiums and loans on grant of protected tenancies.
(1) Any person who, as a condition of the grant, renewal or continuance of a protected tenancy, requires, in addition to the rent, the payment of any premium or the making of any loan (whether secured or unsecured) shall be guilty of an offence under this section.
(2) Any person who, in connection with the grant, renewal or continuance of a protected tenancy, receives any premium in addition to the rent shall be guilty of an offence under this section.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(4) The court by which a person is convicted of an offence under this section relating to requiring or receiving any premium may order the amount of the premium to be repaid to the person by whom it was paid.

s 88 – Recovery of premiums and loans unlawfully required or received
(1) Where under any agreement (whether made before or after 12th August 1971) any premium is paid after 12th August 1971 and the whole or any part of that premium could not lawfully be required or received under the preceding provisions of this Part of this Act, the amount of the premium or, as the case may be, so much of it as could not lawfully be required or received, shall be recoverable by the person by whom it was paid.
2) Nothing in section 82 or 83 above shall invalidate any agreement for the making of a loan or any security issued in pursuance of such an agreement but, notwithstanding anything in the agreement for the loan, any sum lent in circumstances involving a contravention of either of those sections shall be repayable to the lender on demand.
s.115 – ‘premium’ includes any fine or other like sum and any pecuniary consideration in addition to rent.

The above sections applies also to Assured & Short Assured Tenancies from the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988:
s 27 Prohibition of premiums etc. on assured tenancies.
Sections 82, 83 and 86 to 90 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 (which make it an offence to require premiums and advance payment of rent in respect of protected tenancies and make related provision) shall apply in relation to assured tenancies as they apply in relation to protected tenancies (including protected tenancies which are regulated tenancies), but with the following modifications–(a) section 83(5) shall not apply; and(b) section 88(1) shall apply as if for the references to 12th August 1971 there were substituted references to the date of commencement of this section.”

We would therefore like to request the return of our money [amount] by cheque or direct deposit on or before [date two weeks later], after which point we would be required to take further action.  We await your reply within three business days as promised by the Martin & Co website.

Sincerely,

[tenants]

This letter didn’t work.  Martin & Co sent B, T and R a copy of the receipt of their deposit and check-in fee, but seemed to think that would satisfy them.  B and T thought this would be a perfect first fight for the Glasgow Solidarity Network, and R agreed.

Before we delivered the new letter, we made sure we had enough people to make a good crowd in a small office – about 20.  If at least 15 hadn’t shown up, we would have postponed the demand delivery, because it was important that the company see  the support for B, T and R, that they were not alone and that the Glasgow Solidarity Network existed and was able to mobilize people.  We discussed with everyone who came how the action would take place – calmly, no raised voices, and quick – we weren’t there to intimidate or to argue, just to deliver a demand letter.  We also discussed possible outcomes for the action, including police involvement, even though with a calm five-minute action we weren’t expecting to meet them on the day.  One member of the Solidarity Network found legal information from the Scottish Activist Legal Project (http://scalp.noflag.org.uk/legal-guide/) and printed a bust card for everyone on the action.  This preparation ahead of time for negative consequences is called inoculating, and it turned out to be useful when two constables came by B, T and R’s flat the next day.  B came out of the flat to speak to them (they shouldn’t enter your home without a warrant), and they immediately asked her to give her name.  She asked them why they were there, and they replied “a housing issue” and asked for her name again.  She asked them to be more specific, as she knew they couldn’t question her without telling her what specific crime they were wanting information about.  They said “we’re not questioning you”, so she went back inside the flat and closed the door.  The officers left.  It was a moment of high blood pressure but then it was over, thanks to inoculation and preparation.

Here is the text of the demand letter, which again we would like to stress was delivered in a large group of people who were all prepared to follow through should the letter not work.  We made plans for how to escalate the fight if Martin & Co didn’t pay up, so that we weren’t making empty promises in the letter when we promised further action:

Dear [manager of letting agent],

We are writing to you again regarding our tenancy at [address].  We were charged an “administration fee” of £250 cash on [date].  This fee is illegal under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, as follows:

[quoted again from first letter]

We submitted a formal complaint to your office previously along with this information and you chose not to return the illegally obtained money, so we have contacted the Glasgow Solidarity Network for help.  We are now requesting the return of our money (£250) by cheque before [date two weeks later], or we and the Glasgow Solidarity Network will be forced to take action to the full extent of the law.  We look forward to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion to this matter.

Sincerely,

[tenants]

The £250 was returned in full four days later.

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One Response to Fuller account of recent victory including letter texts

  1. Pingback: Cleaners, tenants and Remploy workers taking action | Cautiously pessimistic

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