‘It should be banned’ – Real estate website accused of taking advantage of vulnerable tenants

A global property website that charges a monthly subscription for freely available information has been accused of taking advantage of vulnerable tenants desperate to find homes amid an unprecedented housing crisis.

Rentola, which operates across Europe, Australia and Canada, aggregates hundreds of properties and charges potential tenants €39 per month for access to landlord details that are freely available elsewhere.

And customers who feel aggrieved and try to back out of the deal find themselves targeted by debt collectors commissioned by the real estate agency.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has confirmed it has received around a dozen complaints about Rentola.ie from tenants, mostly about its subscription service.

Consumer leaders have called for tougher laws to protect renters and to ban similar “subscription services.”

Free to see: A one bedroom apartment in Dublin on the website of an estate agency

Many Irish users of Rentola.ie, which has one of the highest organic (non-commercial) Google rankings in the lettings industry, have been frustrated as they often find properties listed are no longer available.

Other popular rental sites such as Daft.ie charge no fee for the same details.

In correspondence seen by the Irish Mail on Sunday, Rentola.ie says a premium subscription is needed to reveal owners’ phone numbers and emails.

An email to a customer read: “Subscription allows access to owner contact details. The first seven-day trial costs €1 and it will automatically renew after seven days for the premium subscription which costs €39.

Subscribers risk having €39 debited from their card each month unless they cancel before the end of the trial.

The Consumers’ Association of Ireland (CAI) believes that such practices should be illegal.

Pay to see: The same apartment on Rentola.ie which requires a subscription

Chairman Michael Kilcoyne told the MoS: ‘I really think this stuff should be banned. It’s taking advantage of people’s vulnerability because so many of them are looking for housing.

Mr Kilcoyne said consumers would pay more than €1 a day, or nearly €500 a year if the subscription was not cancelled. The consumer champion believes Ireland’s housing crisis has exacerbated the problem.

He told the MoS: ‘Things are getting worse and these guys are just taking advantage of it.’ There is no guarantee, for example, that you will get suitable accommodation to rent. There is no provision that if you don’t get a suitable place you will get your money back. Your money is gone. That’s it.’

After subscribing, the MoS quickly discovered that paying the premium offered little reward. When you ask for the owner’s contact details, you are often redirected to another real estate website where the information is available for free.

We were unable to contact any of the owners by phone and many of the numbers listed were invalid. An owner responded by email.

In response to questions about what the fee gives members access to, a Rentola.ie employee said: “We collect rental listings from hundreds of websites, blogs and social media. This means you only have to check one place for a rental and it makes it easy to find an affordable rental as quickly as possible.”

However, many customers who signed up for the service soon found there was no benefit.

Chairman Michael Kilcoyne told the MoS: ‘I really think this stuff should be banned. It’s taking advantage of people’s vulnerability because so many of them are looking for housing.

A subscriber found that his attempts to contact the owners on the site were simply redirected to Daft.ie but when he refused to pay the €39 he was threatened with a debt collector.

The tenant told the MoS: ‘After some time and many emails from them asking me to pay, I received another type of message. They tell me to pay otherwise they will send a debt collector. I was stunned.

They lure you in with a cheap suit. They have you sign a service contract for the trial which automatically enrolls you in their expensive program.

“Once on board, you realize that there is no service: they just redirect you to free websites. When you refuse to pay for their non-existent service, they threaten you with legal action.

In response to questions from the MoS, Rentola.ie described itself as “a rental accommodation platform which brings together listings from across Ireland in one place”.

He said: “We have lists from many other sites and social media, and we also have our own unique lists. A premium membership gives you access to our entire catalog so you only have to look for your new home in one place. It is therefore very easy and convenient for tenants to find the new home of their dreams.’

The spokesperson added: ‘We haven’t encountered any issues with phone numbers not working, but if we receive reports of this we always address it immediately.’ The company has confirmed that it hires debt collectors to sue customers if the subscription is not paid.

The CCPC said it had received 12 reports on Rentola.ie since January 2020. However, it said it could not comment on specific cases.

About Jean R. Manzer

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