Is it time for letting agents to improve their image?

Although landlords and their tenants don’t always see eye to eye, there is one thing that unites them: their mutual dislike of letting agents. 

Just like estate agents, letting agents have gained a bad reputation over recent years. They are stealing news headlines for the wrong reasons, with highly-publicised cases involving professionals who are letting their industry down. 

Unfortunately, it’s the practices of some agents that mar the credibility of the entire sector.  The industry is clearly struggling to shift this stigma; so, is a collective effort required to encourage agents to clean up their practices and give the sector a better name?


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Burdensome for tenants and landlords

One example of a high-profile case saw agent Martin Marcus of Bushey, Hertfordshire, be found guilty of the fraudulent pocketing of over £220,000 following a four-year investigation. Property118 reported that he used many aliases and fronted numerous letting agencies between 2009 and 2015, managing to pocket £221,000 from over 60 tenants and landlords. 

Marcus often offered tenants properties he didn’t have a right to let, gained deposits from numerous tenants for the same property, and used a number of deceitful ploys in order to retain thousands of pounds in rent money and deposits. 

As the website details: ‘Good letting agents despise characters like Martin Marcus because it is people like him [who] tarnish reputations of a generally very fair industry.’ 

The Channel 5 series, Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords, has exposed a plethora of letting scams in the UK. One case involved landlords Mr and Mrs Bailey of London, who were scammed by a ‘Jerome Baker’ after they signed an agreement with his phony rent-to-rent company. 

When the landlords tried to come out of the agreement, Baker broke into their property to change the locks, New View Residential explains, before subletting the property to numerous tenants. The police were informed but they were told that there was nothing that could be done, as the issue was a civil matter and not a criminal one. 

The landlords found themselves over £16,000 out of pocket and have since learned that Baker has carried out a number of similar scams under different names. 

Another case for concern 

While landlords and tenants appear to bear the brunt of agents’ unlawful practices, what is it like to work for an agency whose bottom line is their only priority?

Last month, the Debrief shared an article penned by an anonymous writer, entitled ‘What I learned from my summer working as a letting agent.’ In it, the writer talks of how trickery and deceit were essential parts of the job, which involved advertising properties that didn’t exist, charging sky-high fees for simple tasks and sometimes, undertaking illegal practices. 

The writer poignantly explains: “They reap the rewards of our broken housing market and make hay, while people in search of a home for themselves and their family have no choice but to agree to their outlandish terms.”

Complaints on the rise 

Perhaps as a result of the increasing publicity of letting agent scams, more and more tenants are voicing their opinions and filing complaints. Statistics released by the Property Redress Scheme (PRS), cited by the Mirror, reveal that complaints between renters and letting agents have jumped by 40% in the past year alone. 

The government body – set up to resolve disagreements between renters and agents – explained that objections surrounding deposits was the second most-common complaint, accounting for 27% of the total. 

What needs to be done?

Two things are clear from these statistics and aforementioned cases; firstly, that public awareness of the illicit practices of agents is increasing due to these high-profile cases. Secondly, it seems that money – more specifically, the fees imposed on both tenants and landlords – is the crux of the problem. 

The government’s plan to ban letting agents from charging administrative fees for moving into a property or renewing a tenancy agreements will undoubtedly go some way to improving the credibility of the sector. But letting agents, for their part, must promote good practice at every level of their business, in order to instil confidence in the landlords and tenants they work with. 

Letting agents should ensure they have the the appropriate accreditations in place, are transparent with all clients, and work hard to build a positive track record that will contribute to helping the sector improve its reputation. 

At Stride Let Protect, we give letting agents the opportunity to develop a new income stream by providing a range of specialistic cover that will protect landlords and tenants. This specialist cover will help to give the clients you serve peace of mind that you are reputable letting agent offering a quality service. Get in touch today to find out more. 

Sources: 
http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/real-life/what-i-learned-from-my-summer-of-working-as-a-letting-agent-20170767810

https://www.property118.com/scam-letting-agents-jailed-for-over-four-years/88374/

Published: 14th July 2016 (GG)
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