Getting tough on the rogues - it’s about time
For the last 2 years, I have been lucky enough to take part in a Channel 5 show called ‘Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords’. Not only has it given me the opportunity to highlight some of the most scandalous cases, it has also given me the opportunity to educate landlords and tenants on the risks they face when they don’t properly prepare for a tenancy. And, it’s not just landlords and tenants that are shown as rogues in this show.
I always make it my mission to expose one unscrupulous letting agent and series three, which started on Sunday 5th March (8pm), is no exception.
How to avoid rogue letting agents
In the first series, I acted for a lady called Margaret. She was owed more than £20,000 by a letting agent in Bicester called Christopher Stanley Lettings. They had managed two of her properties but failed to pass on the rent. We were so incensed by their poor behavior, I even got Margaret to walk up and down Bicester High Street with a sandwich board warning the public not to use the agent. Sadly for Margaret, despite our absolute best efforts, she never received her money back because the agent, like so many others, simply stopped trading and shut up shop. Hopefully there will be some justice as the Trading Standards officers are continuing to pursue the director under criminal action.
One of the biggest problems the industry faces, is not only weeding out these rogue agents, but also educating landlords and tenants on how to avoid those that slip under the radar and continue to operate. All too often consumers are unaware that they are instructing/handing over large amounts of money to rogues who systematically go out to rip-off the unsuspecting public.
Most people don’t even instruct a painter/decorator these days without checking out their credentials, getting a reference and seeing if they are part of a trusted trade association such as ARLA Propertymark or NALS. Yet still far too many people forget to be as cautious when entering into a transaction with a letting agent.
Questions to ask a letting agent
First and foremost, do they belong to a redress scheme? It is a legal requirement for all letting agents to be signed up to a redress scheme, such as the Property Redress Scheme, which I sit on the Advisory Panel for. This means anyone who feels they have received a poor deal from their letting agent can take their complaint to the redress scheme, and could receive compensation. Agents should clearly display which redress scheme they are a member of in their branch and on their website.
Does the agent have Client Money Protection? This means that if the agent goes out of business, landlords’ rent and tenants’ deposits are protected. We hope this will be made mandatory next year, which would be great news for the industry.
What is their reputation like? Check out reviews on websites such as allAgents.co.uk from landlords/tenant, or even see if you can speak to someone who has used them. Look at their social media platforms, what are people saying about them?
Of course, education is key because without business, these rogues property agents won’t be able to operate, but we also need to do more to rid our industry of these bad eggs.
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Official consultation on rogue property agents and landlords to avoid scams
The government has just closed an official consultation process on a package of measures to crack down on what it calls ‘rogue property agents’ and ‘rogue landlords’, including implementing banning orders.
Banning orders would be put in place when rogue letting agents or landlords commit serious offences, mostly against tenants. This could include failing to carry out work required by the council to prevent a health and safety risk to tenants, threatening tenants with violence or illegally evicting them. It would also include more serious criminal offences such as using the property to grow cannabis, theft or criminal damage, making fraudulent housing benefit applications, renting to an illegal immigrant or tax evasion.
If a landlord or property agent is subject to a banning order they could be prevented from letting or managing a property indefinitely. Their name would also be included on a national database.
Where someone has been convicted of a banning order offence, the local authority can apply to a first-tier tribunal for an order banning a landlord or a property agent from being involved in the letting and/or management of a property. These banning orders will be used as a last resort, if other punishments from the magistrate courts fail to work. The local authority will have to apply within 6 months for a banning order, from the date of the offence.
If a banning order is imposed, it will be at least for 12 months. This means that if it is a rogue landlord, the council can take control of that property, the landlord has no control of the property and cannot earn a profit. This will protect the vulnerable tenant most definitely. You only have to watch “Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords” for some great examples of those that would qualify for a banning order. Sadly, we still have a way to go before such as bill is passed through the House of Commons. I just hope when/if it does come in, the councils have the resources and knowledge to take over the management of the property correctly.
Regarding the rogue letting agents, who for too long have given good property agents a bad name, I’d like to see more information on how they would enforce a banning order. If an agent is a repeat offender and banned from trading for 12 months, what happens to the hundreds of properties under let and management? Will they simply go into the office, change the locks like a bailiff does and pass over the business to a good accredited agent, a bit like an administrator? Obviously, this is a last resort, but there will be many people affected like landlords, tenants and even innocent staff, so the logistics would need to be clearly understood.
As well as more information on enforcement, I’d like to know how joined up the enforcement teams would be with the local councils and the trading standards officers. Feedback from reputable agents and landlords I work with has been positive, but their concerns are that there is not enough enforcement of the legislation we have in place now, so can the authorities handle even more? And if not, what’s the point?
One criticism I have of the proposed ‘Banning Orders’, is that the database list can only be accessed by the Local Authorities and not the public, which I mentioned at the original consultation meeting. I think all the trade association and redress schemes should be passing their information of banned members over to the list. If we want to improve standards, surely the 9 million tenants and 1.8 million landlords need protecting by being able to carry out a simple check on a ‘Rogue List’?
The last thing a landlord wants to do is hand the keys to his/her property over to “Nick-it and Scarper Lettings” without prior knowledge that they could’ve been guilty of past housing offences.
I’m sure rogue letting agents and landlords will continue to find loop holes and carry on trying to scam the public, but it’s important to continue taking positive steps towards change for our ever-growing industry. However, this only works if the powers that be can match their plans with robust enforcement.
Watch out for the latest series of “Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords” on Channel 5. On one of the episodes I questioned one dodgy agent about stolen rent of my landlord I act for and they tried locking me in their office.