Is the Which? attack on letting agents and landlords justified?

In a week where my lettings companies have been rushed off their feet with new business, we’ve sourced great new tenants for incredible properties that have been finished to a staggering standard, and I’ve made time to go and welcome new tenants to their properties, I have to say that I am a little agitated by the latest demands of Which?. They have issued a statement saying that following extensive research of 2,500 tenants, they have determined that “the private rented sector is failing to serve tenants and landlords alike.” That is quite a sweeping generalisation.

I regularly post about my support of reforms and strategic plans to improve the service tenants receive from landlords and agents, and also serve to rid our market of rogue landlords who give our industry a bad name. I support them even when those reforms could potential reduce my profit margin. But this latest report from Which? is in my opinion, harsh. They have called for a fundamental reform of the sector with their chief economist, Rocio Concha, saying they have “exposed failings in a rental sector that has failed to keep pace with changes in society that have made renting a long-term reality”.

Here are their recommendations and my views.

  1. That all landlords should be registered with local authorities, with information logged on a publicly available database linked to the existing register of rogue landlords and agents established in April 2018.

To what end? What purpose does this database of law-abiding, conscientious landlords serve? To my mind it would be a waste of local authority resources’ time and effort, when services are already stretched. Instead, I would welcome more effective checks of existing property licenses or better ways of identifying properties that should be licensed. This would improve the quality of the accommodation, the safety of tenants and potentially identify some of the rogue agents and landlords that should be on the existing database.

2. The creation of an independent regulator for lettings and management agents with a mandatory, legally binding code of practice and strong penalties for rogue operators.

Arla Propertymark are the already setting a standard for agents, ensuring maximum protection for tenants. Granted we are not legally regulated but again, I can only see that conscientious, fair and sensible agents will already be registered with Arla and will be meeting their standards and codes of practice. Rogue operators are called that for a reason – they don’t follow the rules and regulations, so how would this help?

3. The government must introduce reforms to improve tenure security and review eviction procedures to reduce unnecessary delays for landlords when repossession is justified.  

Actually if you speak to most landlords, one of their biggest concerns and possibly one of the key factors in deterring new investors from the private rental sector, is the long and difficult process of regaining possession of their properties. Of course, no one wants unfair evictions but equally the focus here is entirely on the tenant’s rights. What about a landlord’s right to access his property, particularly where he has followed all of the correct procedures and protocols?

4. A review of tenancy agreements used by letting agents to establish how widespread use of unfair, inaccurate or misleading terms and conditions is – and if further action, for example an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, is required.

Model tenancy agreements are already published by our Government and are readily accessible via their website. Of course the use of unfair, inaccurate or misleading terms should be addressed but this speaks to the heart of the issue: rogue agents or landlords with no integrity simply won’t adhere to the guidance that already exists. I accept the suggestion that – in the case of those people – this could be improved, the question is how?

5. The government must provide consumers with an effective and accountable alternative dispute resolution scheme, review the current deposit adjudication schemes and consider options to avoid tenants being forced to cover multiple deposits at the same time.

The Property Ombudsman (TPOS) already exists and has offered free, impartial advice for over 20 years. There is also plenty of guidance on the government website about other ways to redress property disputes and guidance for tenants on their rights under the existing tenancy deposit schemes.

Once again, I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means suggesting that our industry is perfect. But this scathing attack by Which? appears to be penalising ALL agents. You can read the full report here.

Please, please let me know your views on this. In this day and age no one should face issues like substandard accommodation, insecurity and ineffective redress provisions. I want to find a way of dealing with the issues tenants face. But it needs to be fair and just for everyone involved, not just the tenants.

You can contact me by email at hasan@bullfinchproperties.co.uk, on LinkedIn, Facebook or call me on 07944 726676‬.

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