An advice service to help charities wise up to unscrupulous property practices has just been launched.
The Ethical Property Foundation says non-profit organisations are often exploited by "hard-nosed commercial landlords".
It aims to set up a register of property professionals who will advise charities for free or at reduced rates.
"Property can be a huge burden to many charities, stopping them from doing their work," said Jamie Hartzell, the foundation's acting director.
"Non-profit organisations are inexperienced and vulnerable, often far too trusting. The Ethical Property Foundation wants to stop charities from falling into the property trap."
He said that charities are frequently caught out by hefty charges for repairs at the end of a lease, or hidden costs that apply when they activate a break clause in the middle of a contract. These can run to tens of thousands of pounds.
"It's only to be expected that property companies will look to maximise their profits," added Hartzell. "But sometimes this means charities and local communities, working voluntarily, are left worse off. The foundation wants to support these groups in their negotiations and to put a check on the worst excesses of the less scrupulous property companies."
The foundation, which has registered as a charity, has raised £180,000 to guarantee the service for the next three years. Some basic advice will be provided free, but for more specialist services charities will be referred to the register of property industry professionals.
There are also plans to establish ethical standards for property companies, similar to the organic or fair trade kitemarks.
The foundation has grown out of the Ethical Property Company, a social business, which owns and manages 12 centres for non-profit organisations.