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Reform the private rented sector so that it is fit for purpose, says expert

Stronger enforcement and streamlining of legislation in the private rental sector is urgently required to ensure the abolishment of what is in effect currently a “two-tier” rental market whereby thousands of renters are forced to settle for “sub-standard, illegal, or even dangerous homes”, simply because people cannot afford to rent legally let properties that are only available at a “premium”, according to buy-to-let property expert, Kate Faulkner.

Faulkner, founder of PropertyChecklists.co.uk and consultancy Designs on Property Ltd., is urging major reforms in the sector in a report specially commissioned by the TDS Charitable Foundation.

She argues that there are currently a myriad of rules and regulations in the sector that are creating confusion among landlords, letting agents, tenants and enforcement bodies. 

The property expert points out that a typical private landlord in England must now comply with around 150 rules and regulations, and even more if they want to let a property to someone in receipt of benefits.

Faulkner said: “There are 4.4 million rental properties in England alone so reforming the market would help millions of people. Legislation should be streamlined and funding should be put in place to support enforcement.”

She continued: “Legislation varies dramatically across the UK, with different rules for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Landlords are typically over 55, and employed full-time, so often struggle to keep up with what constantly changing legislation they need to be aware of, and what bodies are responsible for enforcing them.

“Trading Standards, the Home Office, the Competition and Markets Authority, and local councils all enforce elements of private rental policy, and there is no single point of guidance for landlords and agencies to make sense of where jurisdictions begin and end.”

As well as a disparity between enforcement bodies, Faulkner highlighted the fact that there are geographical differences from county to county.

In London alone, there is a huge difference in rates of rogue landlord prosecutions; according to the most recent figures available, Newham prosecuted 359, while Lambeth and Hammersmith each only managed nine.

But she insists that local authorities are not necessarily to blame.

Faulkner continued: “The issue needs to be tackled on a national level to ensure uniformity in enforcing laws designed to protect both tenants and landlords.

“Law-abiding agents and landlords are jumping through not inconsiderable hoops, and forking out to meet regulations, while the cowboys know enforcement is lax, and are cutting corners and costs.”

In the report Faulkner is also critical of policy being regularly tweaked or new legislation introduced without the necessary awareness campaigns and enforcement mechanisms.

She continued: “We need a coordinated national strategy on weeding out unenforceable, unclear, and confusing rules, and creating national standards, and enforcement policy. Whoever forms the next government must commit to backing an education campaign for those letting out property to inform them of the law, and how to raise complaints or issues.

“By tightening up on implementing legislation, tenants will know what to expect, and how to bring rogue landlords to heel. By tackling the causes of the current two-tiered rental market, the quality of the UK’s rental stock will increase, providing better homes for tenants, and better standards for landlords and agents.”

  • Kristjan Byfield

    The only way this would be feasible is if the government licensed our sector (agents and landlords) and ring-fenced those funds for rigorous enforcement (there is no way they will massively re-structure the regulations otherwise). However, since successive goverments have made clear for 20+ years, they have no interest in licensing our industry.
    Whilst onerous, the vast majority of the legislation isnt that complex and letting agents can easily wrap their head around it with suitable training. For Landlords, however, especially those with 1-2 properties, this is not a 9-5 for them and the time commitment to understage the legislation and ensure compliance is simply not viable- or even possible.
    The simpelst way forward in this regard is the application of tech. A comprehensive regulatory compliance engine is what is needed to power the back-end of a myriad of applications which can be used by agents, landlords, tenants and enforcement bodies (as well as suppliers to all these sectors) making compliance easy and eliminating a lot of the burden of training. This, in turn, will drive up standards and the perception of our sector. It will also show private Landlords the true value of professional letting agents in today's heavily regulated marketplace and should push a sizeable percentage in to service offerings of one shape or another.
    I recognised this a while back and we have begun building just such a platform which we have called The Depositary. The platform is, by no means, complete as the amount of legislation to build in (and the varying measures for countries & counties) will take time however we have made a good start and plan to launch our first release in the coming weeks/months. We are looking to work with @ 20 agent branches over this Summer to make sure the platform delivers as we hope and, if all goes well, will start rolling out across England from Oct/Nov. From there we will be constantly developing and growing the platform as we add in further regulations both for England but also to deliver compliance platforms across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It's certainly not the sexiest topic but we are really excited about what we have been working on. We have worked hard to look at it from all 3 viewpoints (agents, landlords and tenants) and think we have built something that's effective and efficient.

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