Student anger at Merchant Lettings practices

Oliver Milne

Students have expressed anger at the practices of Glasgow-based letting agents Merchant Lettings reporting that the agency is failing to make repairs and attempting to keep deposits in a way which tenants believe to be unjustified.

The complaints, made to the Glasgow Guardian as part of an ongoing investigation into Landlord practises, reveal a similar pattern of behavior by the company – particularly in regards to attempts by tenants to reclaim their deposits after ending their lease.

Five complaints, occurring at different addresses to individuals with no known association with one another, all display a similar pattern of behavior. The complainants vacate the property after having made attempts to ensure cleanliness. On attempting to recover their deposit, Merchant Lettings inform them that they are retaining all or a large chunk of the deposit for cleaning and repairs.

Kirsty Hill, psychology graduate and former president of the Queen Margaret Union, kept a detailed record of the dates during which she notified Merchant Lettings of the various repairs that were needed in the apartment she and two others rented from Merchant Lettings. An email sent by Ms Hill to Merchant Lettings on the 5th of July claims that the property had “Simply been left to deteriorate through no fault of our own by our landlord and yourselves over the past three years.” and goes on to detail a litany of issues including mould growth, the loss of heating and water in January of this year – without alternate accommodation being offered – and outstanding repairs from a Kitchen flood.

Ms Hill’s story about trouble with Merchant Letting is not unique. Lindis Kipp,lived in a property managed by Merchant Letting for three years told the Glasgow Guardian her story of attempting to ensure her deposit was returned to her:
“After a weekend of intensive cleaning we scheduled an appointment for the final flat inspection. Merchant Lettings forgot about the appointment and failed to turn up. When they turned up to the rescheduled inspection they told us that they would be charging us cleaning costs and the cost of replacing the full kitchen counter because of a small burn on a countertop which we had been assured previously wouldn’t affect our deposit. They only refunded our money after threatening to take them to small claims court. Students of a less belligerent persuasion than my flatmates and me would have never gotten their money back. I just cannot comprehend the lack of interest in treating one of Glasgow’s students – one of the city’s largest renting groups properly and respectfully.”

The complaints we received weren’t limited to deposits.We received a number of complaints relating to cleanliness and the presence of bugs and vermin when students moved into properties. Concerns were also raised about the quality of repairs done in flats. Lauranne Botti told us her concerns:
“After 8 months Merchant Lettings finally got round to repairing the constant leaking in my bedroom and our kitchen. But recently the leak has started again because they did not repair the root of the problem; they merely fixed the superficial aspects of the leak. The compensation we received the first time around for the leak covered only a month and a half, when the problem was constant throughout 8 months at least. Other than that, we have had mice in our flat since the start of our contract. The contract mentions the fact that Merchant Lettings is responsible for any pests that are found in the flat before two weeks of settling in.”
We contacted Merchant Lettings and their Managing Director, for comment on their practises and to ask them if they believed they were compliant with the Rent (Scotland) act of 1984 which stipulates that deposits must be refundable and any deductions reasonable. They declined an opportunity to comment on the record.
SRC Vice President Student Support, Jess McGrellis, expressed concern about the practices and warned students:
“The SRC Advice Centre have had numerous complaints about Merchant Lettings including their delay in arranging for repairs to be carried out, charging of excessive illegal admin fees, considerable delays in eradicating bed bugs in which students had to move out of the property. Further to this, there are safety concerns where students have moved into a flat with no gas safety warrant and no smoke or carbon monoxide alarms fitted.

The SRC takes reports of letting agent malpractice seriously and has recently campaigned for the introduction of the Tenancy Deposit scheme and for the law on letting agent fees to be tightened, both of which have resulted in significant benefits for students. As Vice-President for Student Support I am concerned to hear that students are having problems with this particular letting agent, and would encourage any student who has a problem with their letting agent to get in touch with the SRC Advice Centre for free, confidential advice about their situation. The Advice Centre has also successfully assisted students in obtaining compensation from Merchant Lettings for their poor service. You can email the SRC Advice Centre [email protected] if you have any queries.”