Newly elected government should make regulation of letting agents a priority

Wed 13 May 2015

Leaders' Chief Executive Paul Weller

With the general election over and a clearer direction ahead for the housing industry, property specialist Leaders is urging the government to improve standards for the millions of landlords and tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) by bringing in formal regulation of letting agents.

Leaders’ Chief Executive, Paul Weller, said: “More people and families than ever before now use the PRS and the services of letting agents. Yet the vast majority are unaware that letting agents are not regulated by the government and that anyone can set up a letting agency, with no experience, knowledge of lettings law or client money protection in place.

“Letting agents can hold hundreds of thousands of pounds in rent which they are supposed to protect. But without regulation, there is no way to enforce this and there have been countless cases of letting firms losing their clients’ money, using it for their own ends, or completely disappearing with it, leaving landlords and tenants badly out of pocket. Too many people have suffered at the hands of agents like this, as well as incompetent and unscrupulous agents who fail to provide a decent standard of service.

“This needs to be tackled urgently,” Mr Weller argues, “and the only way to do so is to make it mandatory for agents to abide by an agreed code of conduct, be professionally qualified with a sound knowledge of the laws governing lettings and to have client money protection and professional indemnity insurance in place.”

As it stands, only agents that are members of a self-regulating professional bodies, such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), sign up to a code of conduct which protects consumers from bad practice. The rest can get away with cutting corners and as a result, can often afford to undercut good quality agents on fees to attract unwitting tenants and landlords.

“The new Conservative government has put forward some promising policies on housing which we believe will be good for the market,” continued Mr Weller. “These include the promise to build 200,000 new homes which will be available at a 20 per cent discount to first-time buyers under the age of 40; and the launch of a new Help to Buy ISA for first-time buyers which will enable them to save up a subsidised deposit to buy their own home.

“There is now a golden opportunity to make a positive difference to those renting and letting. Proper regulation is essential to stop rogue agents taking advantage of the thriving rental market. Good agents have been crying out for this for years and, as the numbers of those renting and letting continues to rise, the need for it grows ever stronger.”