Lettings industry needs licensing system for protection of all
IT is an unfortunate part of the letting agency world that you are often viewed with mistrust. Sometimes would-be clients look at you warily, trying to size you up and decide if you are as straight a businessman as you say you are.
There’s the landlord who wants to know if you’re genuine enough to be trusted to manage his properties and handle thousands of pounds in rents that will be due to him but paid to you. And there are the tenants, who want to be sure you’re telling the truth when you promise to maintain the property that they pay you rent for every month.
Having worked in various aspects of property sales and rentals over the years, it is a sad indictment of the letting industry that such suspicion exists.
House builders, estate agents, surveyors, removal men….none of these sectors of the property world are treated with such doubt. And unfortunately, the reasons for such doubt are clear. Most of the aforementioned professionals are signed up to some professional organisation and code of conduct. Even the lowliest removal man needs a driving licence.
Yet just about anyone can set up as a letting agent. Got a nice line in patter? A website? A small office? Great. Any criminal convictions? Poor credit rating? Not a problem. No one’s going to know that until you either flee with tenants’ and landlords’ cash or simply lose it through incompetence when your agency goes bust.
It’s a situation that allows far too much potential for operators to abuse the trust put in them. My experience alone of so-called letting agent is enough to make any landlord or tenant shudder. But at present, there is no way to stop anyone setting themselves up as a letting agent. That cannot be right. This industry has to become licensed.
We are all human. Misunderstandings do happen and every letting agent will, at some time, have to deal with a tenant or landlord who is not happy with some aspect of the agent’s work. That is inevitable. I’m by no means setting myself up as a knight in shining armour here. In fact, my calls for a licensing system are far from unselfish. After all, if a licensing system came into operation and cleaned up this industry it would make my life – and that of many other genuine, honest letting agents – so much easier. So now you know my motivation, let me outline my wish list:
A code of practice that all letting agents sign up to, enforced by a governing body such as ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents).
Industry-wide agreed terms and conditions for contracts between letting agents and landlords and tenants.
Each letting agent to create bank accounts specifically for their clients’ revenues – with each account audited and signed off every six months by a bona fide accountant and submitted to an industry-wide governing body.
Licences issued to only those letting agents that meet the above conditions who pass criminal record and credit rating checks.
Is this too much to ask? In a world where we regularly hear the claim that business is being strangled by red tape, surely our industry is one of those that need more rather than fewer safeguards.
At Let-Leeds, we regularly have tenants and landlords come to us having been the victims of people who have taken thousands of pounds in rents and deposits and then disappeared or gone into liquidation, leaving everyone they have dealt with out of pocket. That then means that such landlords have to pay back deposits to tenants, deposits that they never held as they went to the now-absent letting agent.
Tenants are left in fear of losing the roof over their heads as the rents they paid in good faith to a letting agent never made it to the landlord. No letting agent can ever claim to be perfect. But the good ones do deserve a licensing system.