Professional agents 'can avert major problems for tenants'

Mon 15 Dec 2014

Carole Charge

Major problems such as damp, mould, electrical hazards, gas leaks and animal infestation have been experienced by 61 per cent of tenants renting in the private sector, according to a new report released by Shelter and British Gas.

The report largely points the finger at ill-informed, amateur and accidental landlords who are far more numerous than rogue landlords. According to the report, more than a quarter of landlords have no previous experience of letting out a property, and almost half (43 per cent) do not regard renting as a proper business.

Carole Charge, Leaders’ Technical & Compliance Director says: “This research emphasises how vital it is for tenants to be selective over who they rent through. Most tenants choose their agent or landlord by default, based on the property that best fits their requirements, and are not aware that landlords and agents do not all abide by the same standards.

“This is because there is still no formal regulation in place to prevent landlords and agents who have no experience, qualifications, client money protection or knowledge of the law from practicing. Ironically, there are 100+ rules and regulations that a property has to pass to be let legally, yet there is no legal requirement for the people actually carrying out the letting – i.e. agents and landlords – to prove that they understand and will comply with them.”

In the absence of formal regulation, the only way for tenants to protect themselves is to rent through an agent that is a member of a professional, self-regulating organisation such as ARLA, RICS or NAEA, which requires members to abide by a strict code of conduct.

This includes making sure that rented property is safe and in good condition, having passed gas, electrical and fire safety checks, and that all relevant legislation is fully complied with. In addition, it means the agent will hold tenants’ deposits and all client money safely in a protected account, be trained and qualified in lettings law and abide by all rules and regulations.

“The lack of regulation of the market allows unscrupulous agents and landlords, as well as naïve ones, to provide substandard properties and charge extortionate fees and rents in areas of short supply,” says Ms Charge. “The fact is, the majority of tenants who use self-regulated landlords and letting agents do not experience the kinds of problems outlined in this report. However, around 35 per cent of letting agents are not members of a professional organisation and just one in 20 landlords belongs to an accreditation scheme, which means the public is still very vulnerable to bad practise.”

Unregulated agents are able to offer lower commission rates because they do not have to train staff or invest in the resources needed to maintain high standards. As a result they attract landlords and tenants with low fees because most people are not aware of the risks they face.

To help tenants protect themselves, Leaders’ advice is to make sure that their chosen agent will do all the following, as part of their standard service:

Ensure that the property has passed an electrical safety and gas safety inspection and give the tenant a copy of the Gas Safety Record before moving in

Check the property is free from condensation, mould, damp, blocked drains or sewage issues

Check that all soft furnishings at the property comply with fire safety regulations

Carry out thorough health and safety checks, beyond the statutory obligations, and take action to minimise potential hazards, for example, making sure that ponds are covered, safety glass is installed, swimming pools are fenced off, and banisters fitted and in good repair

Give prospective tenants a copy of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) before viewing properties so they can make an informed decision

Provide Tenancy Agreements written in plain English, with no unfair terms and conditions, as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)

Hold the deposit in accordance with the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) and have Client Money Protection in place

Draw up a detailed Inventory & Schedule of Condition at the start of the tenancy, agreed by both tenant and landlord. This document is key to determining whether the tenant should get their full deposit back at the end of the tenancy or whether any deductions need to be made to cover loss or damage

Ensure that the tenant’s rights are protected during the tenancy, this includes the right to quiet enjoyment of the property as their own home, with at least 24 hours’ written notice given before a visit by the letting agent or landlord, except in an emergency.

Established by the co-founder of the Association of Residential Letting Agents in 1983 (ARLA), Leaders provides financial probity and rigorous standards in letting and property management. Membership of ARLA, SAFEagent and The Property Ombudsman gives landlords and tenants complete peace of mind.