Letting agents have come under heavy fire this week following a research study by Which?, which found that bad practices were rife in the industry.
According to the report some 66% of private tenancies involve a lettings agent, and the industry has seen many new start-ups recently as the rental market has outperformed. But with the increasing prevalence of agents has come an increase in bad practice, triggering a 25% increase in complaints for the property ombudsman.
Which? found widespread bad practices including misleading and out-of-date advertisements, aggressive sales tactics and bad customer service including missed appointments.
But worse than that Which? found that both tenants and landlords have lost money through agents not passing on rent, unfairly handling holding deposits or failing to put deposits into protection schemes, as they are required by law. Which? also found evidence of unfair and unexpected fees, with only 29% of agents providing information on fees before being asked, and only 32 lettings agents out of thousands had information about tenants fees on their website. Meanwhile 41% of tenants think upfront fees are unfair.
According to the report tenants and landlords are leaving themselves open to such shoddy behaviour by failing to conduct checks on lettings agents. Incredibly 62% of tenants and 45% of landlords surveyed by Which? didn't know whether their agent belonged to any professional bodies.
Of course, this is no excuse for bad practices. To combat what can easily be likened to a disease, Which? wants the protected afforded to people buying and selling property to be extended to those renting, bringing lettings agents under the same legislation governing estate agents, which requires them by law to join an ombudsman scheme. It would also give the Office of Fair Trading power to ban rogue lettings agents.
Further to that Which? wants to see increased transparency, including full details of upfront fees not only made available at point of sale but included in the headline price, and terms and conditions of the agreement shown to the tenant before they pay any upfront fees.
Richard Lloyd, the charity's executive director said: "People searching for a rented home through a lettings agent are too often hit by unexpected and unfair fees or unacceptably bad service. With the private rented sector now the only option for millions of people, it is vital that more is done to protect both tenants and landlords from rogue lettings agents."