Lettings agents have taken the private rented sector a step along the road to regulation of the industry that many tenants and politicians have been demanding.
Since 1 October it has been compulsory for letting agents in England to join one of three redress schemes designed to give tenants somewhere to complain about discrimination, unexpected fees, missing deposits and the myriad of other disputes that have been hurting the reputation of the private rental sector.
The three schemes are The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Services Property and the Property Redress Scheme. They are designed to offer a free, fair and independent form of redress. But it was clear as the deadline for registration approached that many agencies had not signed up to a scheme, designed by the government to improve standards in a sector that provides a growing proportion of the nation’s housing.
The Move Channel reported a survey by the Property Redress Scheme showing that a week before membership of a redress scheme became compulsory, 900 letting agents in London alone had not competed the paperwork.
Yet there’s no grace period for registration and landlords, as well as tenants, should know that lettings agents who are still trading without having signed up to one or other redress scheme will be committing a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of up to £5,000.
The compulsory redress scheme is one of a number devised to drive rogue traders out of the sector.
David Cox of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents said: ‘The industry needs regulating and this is the first step towards that. Letting agents hold money on behalf of the tenant and landlord but depending on the agent you choose, you could stand to lose your money as not all are covered by client money protection.’
Tenants can now complain to the relevant redress scheme in writing but should allow up to eight weeks for a response. Landlords need to select the redress scheme most suited to the turnover and needs of their business and should check the circumstances under which they can complain.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to join the scheme.
SJ Collections knows all about the pitfalls of private lettings and can point landlords in the right direction for legal advice and assist when relations with tenants break down.