Rent Smart Wales is a Welsh government scheme designed to raise standards in the private rented sector and root out rogue landlords and agents.
Under the scheme all private rented properties and their landlords have to be named on a central public register.
Self-managing landlords and agents who let and manage property must also have a licence. To become licensed, landlords and agents must be trained in their rights and responsibilities when renting out property to tenants.
The scheme was introduced to give tenants in Wales more protection than ever before, which it was hoped would improve overall trust in the sector.
Tenants can check the public register to ensure that their landlords are registered and that those who let and manage their properties are licensed.
They can also report concerns to Rent Smart Wales, the central licensing authority for all 22 Welsh local authorities run by Cardiff council, which will investigate.
Under the scheme if an agent fails to comply with the conditions of their licence, which includes complying with legal obligations such as clearly advertising their fees, they put themselves at risk of losing their licence.
This means they would be unable to continue to operate as a letting agent in Wales.
The scheme was first launched in November 2015, with enforcement introduced a year later.
The most recent figures, published at the end of July, show that 79,434 landlords are registered with Rent Smart Wales, with 12,726 landlords and 2,230 agents licensed.
A further 10,954 registrations have been started but not yet completed while 9,210 landlord and 416 agency licences are still being assessed.
Enforcement has been taking place, but it is not immediately clear how many prosecutions or other actions have been carried out.
The first prosecution is thought to have taken place in May this year, when a South Wales landlord was fined more than £4,400 and ordered to pay costs of £1,000 for operating an unlicensed HMO and breaching Rent Smart Wales licensing requirements.
However, the Residential Landlords Association found out through Freedom of Information requests that Rent Smart Wales had issued 12 Fixed Penalty Notices to non-compliant landlords as of May this year.
It seems the authorities are leading with the carrot rather than the stick approach at the moment, preferring to encourage and educate rather than enforce.
This might explain why 20% of the estimated 130,000 landlords in Wales are still not registered with the scheme.
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said that while it was “unrealistic” to expect 100% compliance across Wales, 20% non-compliance was higher than it would like.
As a lettings agency, we have followed the progress of Rent Smart Wales with interest. We generally support the scheme and believe it will root out unscrupulous letting agents and usher in a new era of transparency and security for tenants.
We would also like to see enforcement efforts continue alongside a programme of education and encouragement.
We will also watch the situation in England with interest. It is good to see Wales leading the way in this area, and we wonder whether those authorities over the border that have started their own schemes have been inspired by the Welsh initiative.
Hopefully these schemes will be successful and encourage more authorities follow suit and then who knows, maybe the Home Office will consider rolling out a nationwide ‘Rent Smart England’ programme?
Emily Samuel is letting agency manager for Newport-based Serenliving.
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