Landlords and surveyors urge strong enforcement of new letting agent rules

Scotland’s largest landlord membership organisation has urged landlords, tenants and other letting agents to quickly report any non-compliance with new regulations governing letting agents in the private rented sector (PRS).

The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) has welcomed the new regulations and urged letting agents, landlords and tenants to report non-compliance as well as calling on the Scottish Government to act quickly to educate and punish transgressors.

From today, all letting agents must 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 around 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.

SAL is concerned that if the regulations are not enforced it will give free rein to criminal or rogue agents to provide sub-standard accommodation and a poor service to tenants, whilst driving responsible, ethical and professional agents out of the sector.

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. SAL is urging landlords, tenants and other letting agents to report suspected incidents of non-compliance in order to protect themselves and ensure a strong, effective PRS in Scotland in the longer term.

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), said: “Campaigning for 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 a high street, call themselves a letting agent and sell their services to unsuspecting landlords and tenants.

“However, for this regulation to be effective, everyone involved must be quick to check and challenge a letting agent they do not believe is compliant with the law.

“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. Organisations such as SAL and our sister organisation, the Council of Letting Agents (CLA) are also on hand to help our members with any concerns or questions they might have.”

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also highlighted the importance of using regulated agents and welcomed the measures designed to rid Scotland of unlawful or poor management practices by letting agents.

Director of RICS in Scotland, Gail Hunter, said: “Renting in Scotland has been blighted by the bad practices of a minority of letting agents. This has resulted in unsatisfactory experiences for tenants and in landlords receiving poor service. RICS in Scotland therefore welcomes these moves by the Scottish Government to raise management standards.

“However, letting agents who are Regulated by RICS are already required to comply with the RICS Code of Practice and Code of Ethics, which means that, amongst other things, they must act in the best interests of their landlord clients, to act fairly and ethically in their dealings with tenants, and to avoid any conflicts of interest.  RICS regulated agents are also required to undertake at least 20 hours of CPD each year – which exceeds the Government’s CPD requirements – and to hold client money in a discrete client bank account quite separate from the account used to run their business.  Moreover, their membership of RICS brings with it protection for their clients in the form of the RICS Client Money Protection Scheme.

“It remains to be seen how the government intends to enforce these new regulations, but it looks likely that enforcement will be reactive, in response to complaints made by users of agents’ services.  It is worth noting that RICS takes a pro-active approach to member regulation. We have powers to visit member firms to examine records and interview principals and will investigate members of the profession and registered firms when we believe there may be a need to take disciplinary action to protect the public or to uphold standards. It is for these reasons that RICS professionals offer the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to providing services.

“Letting agents who are chartered surveyors have voluntarily undertaken to be regulated to evidence their professionalism and to uphold their reputation and protect their clients’ interests through robust regulation.”