Changes aim to improve managing agent behaviour

The Government has announced measures it says will help ensure tenants get a better deal, by clamping down on “unscrupulous” letting agents. The new rules come into force as some suggest that Britain’s growing army of renters could become a political force to be courted by politicians, ahead of the 2015 general election.

Under the rules just announced, all letting and property management agents will have to register under one of three redress schemes. These “will ensure tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward option to hold their agents to account,” promises the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Three organisations – The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Property Services and The Property Redress Scheme – will investigate complaints about hidden fees or poor service, dishing out an independent ruling on the accusations. Where a complaint is upheld, tenants may be able to claim compensation. Around 3,000 agents – or 40% of the entire industry – have yet to sign up with one of the three organisations, but will be legally required to do so.

“All tenants and leaseholders have a right to fair and transparent treatment from their letting agent,” said housing minister Kris Hopkins. “A small minority of agents are ripping people off, and giving the whole industry a bad name.” He insists the redress scheme will “ensure tenants have a straightforward route to take action if they get a poor deal, while avoiding excessive red tape that would push up rents and reduce choice for tenants.”

The department has released a model tenancy agreement for long term tenancies, and is working through responses to a recent consultation over how to tackle the minority of poor landlords, without unnecessarily penalising those who perform satisfactorily.

And, as Alex Hilton, blogging for The Independent notes, there may be votes for politicians who can demonstrate they will look after renters better. His article suggests that “conditions are becoming Dickensian in nature and exploitation by landlords and letting agents is the norm”, not helped by a largely unregulated lettings market.
He asserts that it is perverse that the government pays large amounts to private landlords via housing benefit, yet fails to spend anywhere near as much on building affordable homes, adding: “Politicians are wrong if they think 9 million renters will accept this meekly at the election next year.”

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