Letting agents were quizzed by landlords and tenants at ACORN‘s meeting on 14 April, attended by about 20 people. Victoria Edwards, a property manager from Space, told the meeting that “the industry needs a lot more regulation, and to be pulled up by its bootstraps.”
At least one attendee said that they had been hit by sometimes huge and wildly varying fees between letting agents, which added a significant cost when moving or renewing.
“I agree that fees need to be regulated, and all letting agents are required to display their fees clearly, ” said Ms Edwards.”But we do have costs and we need to run as a business.”
When asked about the number of estate agent boards in some places, Ms Edwards said that there is a 14 day limit on how long they can be up for, which is strictly enforced by the local council.
One former landlord asked if a solution to expensive contract renewals could be longer tenancies. Jenny Burgoyne from Nicholas estate agents said that although longer contracts could be an option if requested, 12 month contracts were the standard to avoid either landlord or tenant getting into financial difficulty when “life got in the way,” such as in relationship or job breakdowns.
One renter in the room recounted how difficult it had been to persuade his landlord to fix a hole.
“It’s not in letting agents’ interests to ignore a serious problem such as blocked drains or a leaky roof, as the property may need to be re-let at some point, but landlords can be unwilling to do it,” said Ms Edwards. “If the property is dangerous or unhealthy to live in, then the council’s environmental health department might be useful.”
The letting agents estimated that about 5% of their tenants were troublesome, which usually meant they refused to pay rent or tried to damage the property.
“Landlords can wait from 8 to 10 months to get rid of a bad tenant,” said Ms Burgoyne. “During this time a landlord can be hit by cost after cost.” Ms Edwards said that her company sometimes referred problem tenants on to the council or social services.
Several attendees pointed out that letting agents and landlords have the upper hand in negotiations with tenants because rental housing is in short supply and many tenants are inexperienced in renting and in negotiation.
“We can’t hold their hands,” said Ms Edwards, about tenants. “If tenants want something, then they have to tell us, and we can see what can be done.”
Both letting agents agreed that standards in their industry were mixed.
“You get people straight out of college becoming letting agents who don’t yet even know how to fix a plug or tighten a screw, let alone understand the law,” said Jenny Burgoyne from Nicholas estate agents.
“We need to press for mandatory qualifications to prove you are a fit and responsible person to be a letting agent,” said Ms Edwards.
ACORN also invited the following letting agents to the meeting, although they didn’t come.
A1 Property Management
Adams Estate Agents
Farmer and Dyer
Haslams Estate Agents
Hastings Estate Agents
Martin and Co.
Mr Sales and Lettings
Parkers Estate Agents
Patrick Williams Estate Agents
Reading Estate Agents
The Flatman Partnership
Vanderpump and Wellbelove
Walmsley Estate and Lettings Agency
Woodleys Estate Agents
- Katesgrove letting agents’ business practices under scrutiny
- ACORN Reading
- The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)
- RBC advice for tenants
- RBC environmental health
- Reading Citizen’s Advice Bureau
- Landlord and letting agent rating websites
- HMG letting agents and property managers redress schemes