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If you've been following the property news recently, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Which? - the well-known consumer group – has something against landlords, letting agents and the private rented sector in general.
The body has been taking an increasingly combative approach towards letting agents and landlords of late. Earlier this month it called on the public to send in their examples of 'nightmare rental stories', which would allow the group to highlight where the sector is failing renters.
This followed the revelation that Which? had sent undercover researchers on 30 property viewings across England and Scotland to examine the conditions of properties and the knowledge of letting agents. The researchers were armed with a list of questions to ask their letting agent, designed to test whether they were up to speed on the latest health and safety regulations and if they were giving out the right vital information.
According to Which?, some 20% of the properties visited had issues with damp, with none of the agents showing these properties able to commit to solving the problem. It was also said they had little knowledge about what would be done about it.
Meanwhile, eight out of 30 viewings were rated ‘poor’ for answers to questions on property maintenance and repairs, while on several occasions letting agents apparently batted away questions about maintenance, with many stating that work would be carried out before the tenant moved in. Or, alternatively, would need to be dealt with by the landlord.
A five-point plan for reform
Following its undercover investigations and its call for the public's 'nightmare rental stories', the most recent moved by Which? has been to issue a five-point demand for reform of the private rented sector.
The five proposals are as follows:
1. All landlords to 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.
2. The creation of an independent regulator for lettings and management agents with a mandatory, legally binding code of practice and strong penalties for what Which? calls “rogue operators”.
3. The introduction by government of reforms to improve tenure security and review eviction procedures to cut unnecessary delays for landlords when repossession is justified.
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”.
5. Consumers to be provided by government with “an effective and accountable alternative dispute resolution scheme”, as well as reviewing the current deposit adjudication schemes and considering options to avoid tenants being forced to cover multiple deposits at the same time.
In a statement alongside the demands, Which? said the private rented sector was failing in its duty to landlords and tenants alike, while also being beset with 'issues of sub-standard accommodation, insecurity and ineffective redress provisions'.
The group, which tracked the experiences of over 2,500 renters as they searched for, secured, lived in and moved on from rented accommodation in England, as well as surveying nearly 900 private landlords, said that millennials were most affected by issues in the private rented sector.
Some 68%, it claimed, said they had experienced problems with letting agents, while this demographic was also more likely to report dissatisfaction with their homes.
It also said that one in five millennials had not received a written tenancy agreement when they moved into their rental home.
As for agents, Which? said its research had brought up 'serious concerns' with how the sector is regulated, citing reports of 'rogue operators pressuring house-hunters to pay holding deposits or sign contracts without the information needed to make informed decisions'.
What does this mean for letting agents?
While the above doesn't make great reading for agents, it's important to put things in perspective and remember that the activities of certain rogue agents is not reflective of the wider industry as a whole. What's more, this is one survey by just one organisation.
Although there are legitimate criticisms to be made against the private rented sector and some letting agents, and ongoing reform to make things better for everyone is always welcome, it's always important to not judge a whole profession by the findings of one body alone.
With increasing regulation and challenges – from the upcoming ban on fees charged to tenants to the tax pressures faced by landlords – and an increasing number of dissenting voices, from the government to high-profile consumer groups, it's more important than ever that agents have their house in order and offer the best possible service to customers.
To make this possible, and to thrive in a pressurised, highly-competitive environment, you need a property software system that allows you to run your business in a seamless fashion from anywhere in the world, at the click of a button.
This will help you to keep track of your staff, office and customers, keeping landlords and tenants in the loop throughout with excellent levels of communication and saving you time and hassle so you can concentrate on training your staff up to the highest levels, adhering to all new regulation and growing your business.
At Gnomen, we provide that very software. We also have a website design service to ensure yours stands out from the crowd, with tailored log-in areas for landlord and tenants and a number of other cutting-edge features.
For more information about what we can do for you, please get in touch with us on 0208 123 9019 or book a free demo here.
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