0:01 AM, 14th March 2012, About 10 years ago
Complaints against rogue letting agents surged by 26% to more than 7,600 in 2011, according to independent adjudicator The Property Ombudsman.
In a year that saw continuing fraud and bad management leading to landlords and tenants losing cash to businesses that often closed without warning, the ombudsman is calling for higher standards across the industry. Only last month Property118 also called for the compulsory licencing of letting agents and started a government e-petition which now has 200 signatures.
The number of complaints hit 7,641- and just over a quarter involved letting agents that were not registered with the ombudsman or any other client money protection scheme, said the ombudsman Christopher Hamer in his latest annual report.
“I am concerned that many consumers had no alternative than to taking potentially costly legal action to pursue their complaint,” he said.
Regulating letting agents is not current government policy, despite a continuing campaign by the ombudsman.
“Consumer awareness is the key,” said Hamer. “Knowledgeable landlords already check if an agent has a separate account for client money and has signed up to a redress scheme, before allowing them to market their property.
In the absence of regulation, the ombudsman proposes an industry council to develop and promote overall standards for letting agents.
“Getting that message across can only be achieved by such bodies pulling together, and bringing in a consumer stakeholder contribution, so that it is made obvious to consumers which firms remain in the minority, intent on operating outside of industry approved standards,” said Hamer.
He points out that laws governing estate agents are more than 30 years old and do not include the lettings.
Hamer suggests these laws could could easily be redefined to include letting agents.
“The consequences of redefining just one phrase “interest in land” would mean that the obligations would become applicable to every lettings agent, forcing them to join an approved redress scheme and obliging them to act in accordance with a code of practice,” he said.
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