How to run the cowboys out of town…

By Mike White of Norwich based Letting Agent Martin & Co

AK_3_MIKE_WHITE.jpgI saw recently that a lettings agency (not based around these parts) had wound up in the High Court following an investigation by the Insolvency Service. Amongst other things, numerous complaints had been made by landlords and tenants about withholding rents and deposits. The company in question had also been making false claims purporting to be members of industry bodies and were “operating” a non-existent tenancy deposit scheme.

I know nothing about the agency in question but doubtless the proprietors were very plausible and put on a good front. So how do you sort out the good guys from the bad when selecting an agent? Currently, there is no mandatory requirement for letting agents to be regulated which frankly, is a disgrace given agents can be handling large sums of clients’ money and managing valuable real estate assets. This lack of regulation is currently under review by the government and the sooner it becomes mandatory, the better for the lettings industry, as a whole. In the meantime, here are some simple things to check when selecting your agent :-

  1. Do they voluntarily belong to a regulatory body? The two main ones in the UK are ARLA and NALS. The former is a trade body being the Association of Residentials Letting Agents and the latter is the government sponsored, National Approved Letting Scheme. Both set their members very strict criteria for membership in terms of ensuring the protection of clients funds, setting professional standards etc etc. We at Martin & Co are members of NALS and we are subjected to regular independent audits, we have to carry client money bonding together with appropriate professional indemnity insurance.
  2. Ask to see confirmation of current membership, note the membership number and then check it independently
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    with the regulatory body.

  3. Make sure they’re registered with the ICO in respect of the Data Protection Act. If not they’re trading illegally! I checked the register recently and was surprised to see that over a quarter of Norwich based agents are not registered which is staggering.
  4. Check which of the Tenant Deposit Protection Schemes they belong to. At Martin & Co., we only use the Deposit Protection Service as we believe it is the fairest scheme of the 3 available, in terms of its transparency and security. Since the launch of The DPS in 2007, 640,000 deposits have been protected, worth over £480 million pounds.
  5. Ensure they use a professional referencing agency to provide the tenant reference reports. This will give you comfort that they’re not just making up the results but always require to see the final reports. Some agencies don’t like to share the reports with the landlord often citing the Data Protection Act – I wonder why? – see 3 above!
  6. If you’re able, get a recommendation from another Landlord who uses that agent but find out from them things like, “how quickly does the agent pay over the net rent?” The longer it takes to pay you the weaker are the accounting procedures they have in place.

Mike’s on 01603 766860 or at 13 St Giles Street Norwich.

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