27 May 2016

Working together to improve tenants’ rights in the city

Brighton & Hove City Council’s Trading Standards has been working on a Lettings Agent Project to ensure all local letting agents are complying with new laws.

Last year new rules were introduced to support tenants seeking accommodation from letting agents. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 changed the way letting agents must operate their businesses. The new rules require letting agents to display all fees charged to landlords and tenants, both on their website and at their premises. In addition, it is a legal requirement for all letting agents to be a member of one of the three approved redress schemes; The Property Ombudsman, Property Redress Scheme and Ombudsman Services: Property. Failure to comply with these laws can result in a fixed penalty fee of up to £5,000.

The Letting Agents Project was started by the council’s Trading Standards to ensure that businesses making agreements between a landlord and a tenant for rental of residential property were complying with legislation to prevent tenants from being exploited.

Trading Standards have been working with Home Sweet Home, a local campaign group, to identify letting agents which are not following the law.

Letting agents were sent a letter advising about the requirements of the legislation. In the following few months, the website and membership status of every agent was checked and those that were not compliant were sent warning letters and followed up on. Home Sweet Home carried out mystery shopping exercises to check which agencies were displaying their fees and charges in their offices.

Councillor Anne Meadows, Chair of Housing and New Homes Committee, said: “This is an excellent example of joint working between the council and local residents to identify issues and then address them to ensure that both businesses and consumers are not disadvantaged.  In a city such as Brighton and Hove with a large private rented sector, it is crucial tenants and landlords have the information they need and confidence to make an informed decision when deciding which agent to use.”

When the project began, fewer than 10 per cent of the 116 agents identified were displaying their fees and several were not members of an approved redress scheme. Almost all of the known local letting agents were willing to work with Trading Standards to meet the standards of the new legislation. Work continues to make sure the few still operating outside the law are aware of the consequences and take appropriate action.

Councillor Tracey Hill, lead councillor for Private Rented Sector Housing, said: “The summer months are a busy time, as many rented properties change hands over the next few weeks. Thanks to this joint project, people considering using a letting agent in the city will almost certainly have a clear idea of what fees and charges they will have to pay. They will also have access to a redress scheme which makes complaining about poor service from a letting agent much easier. This is part of the council’s ongoing commitment to supporting tenants renting in the city.”

Tenants or landlords can report any complaints regarding the conduct of their letting agent to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506.

More information about Home Sweet Home: www.homesweethomebrighton.org