There have been significant changes in the private rented sector (PRS) over the past few years aimed at improving transparency, providing additional security for tenants and creating a simpler environment for landlords.
Whilst landlords and letting agents have welcomed the majority of these changes and campaigned for many of them, there is one simple fact that must be borne in mind – any system of rules and governance needs effective enforcement to punish and deter transgressors.
This is something that both the Scottish Association of Landlords and our letting agent wing, the Council of Letting Agents, have called for repeatedly over the years. We want to see rules enforced to drive rogue and illegal players out of the market and allow the PRS to carry out its role, which is to deliver long-term, high quality rental housing across Scotland for those who want it.
From 1 October, all letting agents will require to be registered with the Scottish Government. Letting agents are also required to comply with the letting agent code of practice.
The code includes; bans on any discrimination; requirements on adequate and timely information; regulations regarding fees and service charges for landlords; the need for clear terms of business and advertising standards; and rules to protect tenant and landlord money.
Crucially, it also requires that key members of staff in letting agent businesses hold an approved qualification.
This increased professionalisation of letting agents is something the PRS has campaigned strongly for over the years and we are delighted it is finally coming into force.
Prior to this, almost anyone could put up a sign in the high street, call themselves a letting agent and sell their services to unsuspecting landlords and tenants.
Until now there has been no guarantee of service provided by letting agents to their customers, which in some cases has engendered a sense of mistrust amongst both landlords and tenants. We must rebuild the trust.
If this regulation is to be effective then everyone involved in the PRS, landlords, tenants, professional advisers and, yes, other letting agents, must be quick to check and challenge a letting agent they do not believe is compliant with the law.
The register of letting agents will be kept and maintained by the Scottish Government and it will be easy to check if an agent is on it. So, tip number one for anyone engaging with a letting agent – check the register first.
If the letting agent is not on the register, immediately inform the Scottish Government team through their online form and ensure you use a different agent who is on the register.
If you are an existing landlord letting your property through an agent, or a tenant renting via an agent, and you believe a letting agent is breaching the code of practice, then take the same action and inform the agent then lodge an official complaint.
If you don’t, you are not only putting yourself at risk of poor service but putting others at risk as well. You deserve a good service for your money, so make sure you get it.
New systems put in place last year make it much easier to make a complaint about a letting agent through the housing and property chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT).
This new judicial process is simple and straightforward – you can represent yourself and applying is free of charge. Find out more via www.housingandpropertychamber.scot. This is the time for action to ensure a strong, effective PRS in Scotland delivering high quality housing. The new regulations give us the tools to ensure that this is delivered and that rogue and criminal activity is stopped.
We all have a role to play whether, letting agent landlord, tenant or, local authority. It is now easier to understand the rules and raise an effective complaint.
So, if you believe your landlord or letting agent is acting illegally then get involved, check the regulations and make complaints to the relevant authorities.
Use the FTT to ensure you are getting the service you deserve and pay for. Not only will you be protecting yourself but you will also be helping everyone else involved in trying to deliver a strong, effective private rented sector.
John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords.