A bill restricting the rental housing locator business has been introduced into the D.C. City Council following claims by more than 200 customers that many of the firms, which charge fees to find housing for clients, engaged in deceptive practices.
According to a report received by Councilman David Clarke, some of the deceptive practices included baiting consumers with "outrageously attractive and inexpensive apartments and houses," and "once the customer pays the fee, he is told that the apartment was already rented out."
Other problems included giving incorrect descriptions of housing, and collecting fees for showing housing that was never for rent, or was condemned, substandard or nonexistent, the report said.
One employe of Rentex, a firm that was the subject of numerous complaints and has since folded, testified before a Virginia Real Estate Commission license revocation hearing that D.C. Rentex office instructed him to "tell the customer anything in order to make a sale," the report said.
The businesses" wer not providing any substantial services to customers for the fees collected," which ranged from $30 to $50 and in one case were $100, the report continued.
"We never had anyone have a complaint that wasn't resolved," said Tim Sutherland, owner of Empire locater service which was named in the report as a frequent violator. "I know there have been other companies that have pretty flaky, but we offer a good service and we help a lot of people."
The legislation proposed by Clarke would require rental housing locators to refund fees of more than $10 to tenants who are unable to find housing through the firm. All fees must be refunded to those supplied with inaccurate information or referred to housing without the owner's permission.