'Urgent action' needed to protect tenants

Tenants urgently need better protection according to the Office of Fair Trading, after an analysis of more than 4,000 tenant and landlord complaints found that there was widespread malpractice.

Common gripes included landlords and their agents levying ad-hoc charges and fees , withholding deposits unfairly and generally poor service. As a result, the OFT recommended that government and industry bodies look at coming up with a national strategy to combat some of the abuses highlighted.

In particular, the OFT said it would like to see action to make contracts clearer, fees transparent and up front and a general redress system in case of disputes.

"Tenants and landlords are often dissatisfied with agents but we also believe the government, industry and enforcers working together can have a real impact and improve overall standards in the lettings market," said Cavendish Elithorn, OFT's senior director of goods and consumers.

However, the OFT stopped short of calling for new legislation to protect tenants, as urged by many charities in the sector including Shelter. On assuming office in 2010, the coalition killed-off plans to better legislate the rental market and letting agents as Labour had planned.

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