New website will let tenants “rate and slate”….

By Mike White of letting agent Martin & Co Norwich

SF_01_.jpgLicensing of managing and letting agents, and of landlords, looks set to become reality. And, despite the mess that tenancy deposit protection law is currently in, this is to be extended. Assured Shorthold Tenancies are to encompass all tenancies worth up to £100,000 a year – raised from the current threshold of £25,000. This requirement will push a further 150,000 tenancies into the tenancy deposit schemes. By this summer, there could also be a ‘Trip Advisor’ style website where tenants could rate or slate their landlords and properties – and probably agents too. Housing minister John Healey has issued a new policy statement, ‘The Private Rented Sector: Professionalism and Quality: consultation responses and next steps’. It makes clear that the Government intends to establish a national register of landlords and introduce full regulation of letting and managing agents.

The Government will consult on whether regulation is handled independently, or by industry bodies. This is a long overdue response: 14% of the population now live in private rented accommodation and the sector looks set to grow significantly as it becomes more difficult to get a foot on the housing ladder. There is even greater need for a register of landlords, full regulation of agents, and changes to the AST. While I wholeheartedly support the move towards full regulation of agents, I have one big concern. History has shown this Government is great at throwing out myriads of policy papers, new initiatives etc but very poor at the implementation thereof. If they make their usual fist of it we’ll get a bureaucratic scheme full of holes that will soon fall into disrepute and that’ll put the industry back. The Government needs to allow the industry professionals to implement any scheme. The positive reaction of the public to NALS’s and ARLA’s licensing schemes for letting agents has proven the models for self-regulation in the industry.

The prospect of Trip Advisor style website is causing ripples throughout the industry, depending on who you talk to, they’re ripples of mirth or anger. In theory to have a public noticeboard where tenants can share their experiences with others is a very good thing – anything to drive out rogue landlords/agents has to be good. The danger is such a website could (some say, would) end up just being a forum for landlord/agent bashing without them being able to respond in any shape or form. The Data Protection Act would prevent an agent from sharing with the world at large any details to be able to refute any allegations.

I’ll give you an example of how we could receive a good “bashing” as a result of simply doing the job correctly. A current tenant of ours is coming to the end of their tenancy and we are going through the end of tenancy procedures including a formal check out on the last day of the tenancy by the independent inventory clerk. All well and good so far. The tenant phones saying they want to arrange the check out two weeks before the scheduled vacation date and “requires” to have the security deposit back now (so they can lodge a deposit on their new property presumably). Our member of staff politely explains the check out has to take place with keys being handed over as the final act of the tenancy and that we will seek the landlord’s permission to release the deposit from the Deposit Protection Service as soon as possible after they have checked out. At this stage, the tenant goes into a rant and

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says we have prevented them from securing their new property (because we won’t agree to release the deposit before the scheduled date). Again we politely explain that these arrangements were fully explained at the outset of the tenancy both verbally and as part of our written terms of business (which they signed). We pose the question to help them understand our position. “What would be the point of taking a deposit at all, if we released it ahead of formally determining whether or not a deduction needed to be sought?” Unfortunately, this is a real example! If the Trip advisor website was available today, you can only imagine what this tenant would post.

What do you think?

Mike’s on 01603 766860.

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