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Written by Emma Lunn

The boss of a long-established letting agency says the latest reforms in the rental sector fail to tackle the problem at the heart of the lettings industry.

Last month saw Minister for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles launch a package of reforms aimed to protect people renting a property

But Paul Weller, managing director of Leaders, says that while he welcomes all measures to protect tenants and landlords, the Tenants’ Charter doesn’t go far enough.

A recent survey by the agency of more than 5,000 tenants found that almost two-thirds (63%) were unaware that letting agents are not regulated.

“As it stands, it is up to tenants and landlords to protect themselves, but many are not even aware of the need to do so. The advice, in the absence of regulation, has been to only deal with agents who are members of a self-regulating professional body such as ARLA, RICS or NAEA, who operate to a strict code of conduct. Yet our survey found that just 42% of tenants considered membership of a professional body to be very important when choosing a letting agent. By comparison, 70% said that choice of available properties was very important to them in choosing their letting agent,” said Weller.

Weller pointed out that demand for rented property outstrips supply in many parts of the country and there is fierce competition among tenants. People are therefore snapping up properties that fit their requirements, regardless of who the agent is or whether they are a member of a professional body.

“40% of letting agents are not members of a professional body, so it is clear that the public remains at risk,” he said, “How many more tenants and landlords must be let down before the Government will regulate an industry that has been crying out for such measures for decades?

“The fact is, letting agents – the people entrusted to let and look after rented property – are not regulated. You can have as many worthwhile laws, regulations, schemes and charters as you like – but if there is no regulation of the people who are supposed to abide by them then only the good agents will do so, whilst the unscrupulous will continue to flout the law whenever they please.”

Weller says the solution is simple: All letting agents should be licensed to practise and if they are not it should be illegal for them to operate. Rather than acting after they have broken laws and let people down, as is the case now, they should be prevented from practising in the first place.

“We already have many sensible laws governing letting but, under the current system, anyone can set up as a letting agent with no qualifications, experience or knowledge of the legalities of letting. It is like stipulating laws for motorists in the interests of road safety and then allowing people to drive without having to prove they are capable or know the rules of the road,” he said.



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