Keep your money safe and choose the right agent

Land­lords and tenants need to check a let­tings agent’s cre­den­tials be­fore sign­ing on the dot­ted line. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - FRONT PAGE -

THE sud­den clo­sure of a York­shire prop­erty agency has sparked re­newed calls for com­pul­sory reg­u­la­tion of the in­dus­try.

Ayr­ton Prop­er­ties, which traded as The Prop­erty Show­room in Fars­ley, Leeds, is now in liq­ui­da­tion af­ter a cred­i­tor’s meet­ing or­gan­ised by Leonard Cur­tis Re­cov­ery

The firm is thought to have man­aged around 80 homes, which means any land­lords and tenants owed rent or de­posits may have to seek rec­om­pense through the liquidators.

The Prop­erty Show­room’s web­site dis­plays both the OFT and Om­buds­man lo­gos, but it does not ap­pear to have been a mem­ber of a reg­u­la­tory body such as ARLA (As­so­ci­a­tion of Res­i­den­tial Let­ting Agents) or NALS Na­tional Ap­proved Let­ting Scheme), mean­ing that it may not have had client money pro­tec­tion.

The Prop­erty Om­buds­man Scheme does not of­fer any fi­nan­cial pro­tec­tion in the event an agent ceases trad­ing. Client Money Pro­tec­tion is only avail­able through reg­u­lated mem­bers of NALS, ARLA, NAEA, RICS or the Law So­ci­ety

Ac­cord­ing to Will Lin­ley, of York­shire’s largest in­de­pen­dent let­ting agency, Lin­ley and Simp­son, at least half of all agents have no pro­fes­sional ac­cred­i­ta­tion, leav­ing their clients vul­ner­a­ble.

“Any­body or any or­gan­i­sa­tion can still set up as a let­ting agent with­out any ex­pe­ri­ence or qual­i­fi­ca­tions,” he says.

“If agents or pri­vate land­lords do not com­ply with strict laws and reg­u­la­tions, homes can be un­safe putting lives at risk, and client de­posit money is not pro­tected as many peo­ple are find­ing out to their cost. Re­search has shown that as many as one mil­lion pri­vate renters have fallen vic­tim to scams.”

Will adds that ARLA mem­bers must un­dergo an an­nual ac­counts in­spec­tion to en­sure that tenants’ de­posits are ring-fenced from the busi­ness ac­count.

“There is an in­creas­ing num­ber of cases in­volv­ing un­scrupu­lous agents ab­scond­ing with clients’ money, or abus­ing it by us­ing it for cash flow as a way of keep­ing them and their busi­nesses afloat. You wouldn’t be­lieve how com­mon the lat­ter is.

“No­body books a hol­i­day with a travel agent who is not prop­erly ac­cred­ited and reg­is­tered but this isn’t al­ways the case in the rental mar­ket where the stakes are far higher.”

What many land­lords don’t re­alise is that if a let­tings agent ab­sconds or goes into liq­ui­da­tion then the land­lord is legally obliged to pay the de­posit or bond to the ten­ant.

“Sadly, not many land­lords and tenants know how to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween and a good and bad agent,” says Will.

The UK pri­vate rented sec­tor has ex­panded rapidly, but it re­mains un­reg­u­lated af­ter the Gov­ern­ment con­tro­ver­sially shelved plans to in­tro­duce a manda­tory li­cens­ing scheme.

The Prop­erty Om­buds­man, Christopher Hamer, who saw a 26 per cent rise in com­plaints against let­ting agents last year, is de­mand­ing that some­thing is done to pro­tect con­sumers and sup­port de­cent op­er­a­tors in the in­dus­try.

Mr Hamer has pro­posed the for­ma­tion of an in­dus­try coun­cil to de­velop and pro­mote over­all stan­dards within the let­tings in­dus­try.

He also called for all the in­dus­try bod­ies to pull to­gether and for the Es­tate Agents Act to be amended to take ac­count of the let­tings sec­tor.

The coun­cil, he sug­gests, would “seek to en­sure that con­sumers un­der­stand why they should avoid let­ting agents who refuse to fol­low a set of in­dus­try stan­dards, such as the TPO Code of Prac­tice, and who do not seek out mem­ber­ship of recog­nised in­dus­try bod­ies such as ARLA, NALS or RICS”.

Mr Hamer sup­ports the new Safeagent scheme, pi­o­neered by lead­ing play­ers in the sec­tor, in­clud­ing Lin­ley and Simp­son.

The scheme, sup­ported by NALS, is the first step in the in­dus­try’s bid to reg­u­late it­self. Com­pa­nies have to meet strict cri­te­ria and en­sure client money is pro­tected to be ac­cred­ited as a Safeagent and to be al­lowed to dis­play the kitemark of re­as­sur­ance. “We’re hop­ing that SAFEAGENT will be un­der­stood by con­sumers and as eas­ily recog­nis­able as the ABTA and ATOL kitemarks,” says Will.

In re­cent months, Lin­ley and Simp­son has helped a range of cus­tomers hood­winked by un­reg­u­lated agents.

CAS­TLE CON­NEC­TION: Bal­ley Beg Barn was once of part of Hornby Cas­tle and is in an idyl­lic ru­ral po­si­tion. It also comes with a de­tached cot­tage.

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