Protesters gathered Saturday in front of the Next Move letting agency in London's Stoke Newington Church Street in response to an incident in which a renter was faced with a £1,260 administrative fee for a small change in contract.
When Cathy May and her fiance decided to move out of a four bedroom, £3,600-a-month property in Islington, they found two replacement tenants to take over. But, according to the The Daily Telegraph, the remaining housemates were faced with a £1,260 fee just for changing the names on the contract.
They contested the fee with Next Move's director, Abdul Azad, who claimed that "the cost reflects our time and energy," and told the Telegraph: "We're running a business, not a charity."
"They're not my friends," he said of the people renting through his agency.
The protest was organised by Digs, which describes itself as "a group of Hackney private renters who support one another and campaign for decent, secure, affordable housing."
This protester told BuzzFeed News that she was there today to demand fairness in agency fees.
The said that agencies such as Next Move should give administrative costs to wealthy landlords rather than renters. She added that "Boris Johnson needs to get involved" with renters' issues like these.
Labour councillor for Stamford Hill West Rosemary Sales attended the demonstration.
Sales, pictured above, said she had come to the protest in support of private tenants. She said a Labour government would try to set up a public letting agency, increase regulation of rents, and build more public housing.
Samir Jeraj, a member of the Digs renters association, said the protest was organised "to draw attention to excessive letting agency fees" all over London.
He explained that Next Move were not the only estate agents charging exorbitant fees to vulnerable renters, naming the London-based estate agent Foxtons as another culprit.
Many passers-by stopped to chat with the picketers and share their own experiences and greivances with various estate agencies in London.
Mr Azad argued with members of Digs inside the Next Move offices for over an hour as the dozen or so protesters handed out leaflets and attached a large banner to the agency windows.
Mr Azad said he took issue with the Telegraph article which had attracted the protesters, calling it "misleading"
"They weren't evicted, and they were never charged £1260," he said of the tenants in question, saying that they had ended up moving of their own accord. When asked if they would have had to pay the fine had they chosen to stay, however, Mr Azad said yes.
When asked why the fee was so high, Mr Azad stressed that "there was more than just two names" to deal with, and angrily described the various stages of the administrative process that changing the contract would entail.
Mr Azad complained that "Estate agents are always shown in a bad light."
He briefly showed us the contract in question, pointing out a section which specified a £300 fee "for each amendment" to the letting contract, with a change in tenancy qualifying as such an amendment.
It was not immediately clear where in the contract the remaining £660 in fees could have originated from.