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Agents like Jeremy Leaf & Co, who are members of RICS, ARLA and the Ombudsman service, may represent landlords but also have a duty of care to look after tenants. For instance, agents must prove tenants have been issued with the government’s recently updated ‘How to Rent’ guide which sets out their rights and responsibilities (as well as those of landlords) before taking up occupation. If not, landlords could lose ‘section 21’ rights to repossession and/or face a substantial penalty. The deposit too, must be paid into one of three government-approved schemes otherwise tenants could be entitled to compensation of up to three times its value!

There’s an expectation that deposits will be refunded to the tenant at the end of the Agreement so it’s even more important to ensure tenancies are clear, unambiguous and understood by all parties at the outset.

Less scrupulous landlords could try to avoid payment without registering the deposit.

We look after tenants’ interests too by only using Assured Shorthold Tenancies and ensuring smoke and carbon monoxide alarms as well as gas and electrical safety certificates (where relevant) are provided.  Landlords and/or agents have to prove smoke alarms and carbon monoxide are in good working order ON THE MOVING IN DAY.

We also carry out inventories, Right to Rent checks, arrange utilities and council tax payments as well as act as go-between with landlords to deal with repair or maintenance issues.

Although the government wants to ban lettings agents from charging tenants to grant, renew or continue a tenancy as well as for Right to Rent checks, references, inventories etc from next year, some tenants may be asked for sizeable fees until then. The maximum six week security deposit cap could mean some landlords are reluctant to accept tenants who are more likely to cause damage, such as those sharing, or with pets.

The ban will mean agents cannot charge for references but the legal requirement for them to be requested remains and to establish tenants have a legal right to rent in the UK under the Immigration Act 2014.

Tenants who are not charged fees may make offers on various properties with landlords and agents bearing the costs instead. If tenants have to pay, they’re much more likely to ensure references are in order.

Agents will not be able to inflate the first month’s rent or create new types of fees to get round the ban. A varied level of rent can only be charged if agreed with the tenant after the tenancy begins.

Landlords or their agents also have to provide an “adequate response” to tenants’ written complaints about repairs within 14 days to ensure a ‘Section 21 Possession Notice’ under the Housing Act 1998 giving automatic possession, can be served.

Our professional indemnity and client money protection means landlords and tenants can have confidence that monies paid will be fully protected.

If a tenant is unhappy with service received from the agent, redress is available via the Ombudsman which will adjudicate impartially for free. The decision is binding on the agent and may include an award of up to £25,000 in compensation. On the other hand, if a dispute arises when renting direct with the landlord, tenants will have no option but to seek redress through the Courts.

The Property Ombudsman confirmed agents will still owe a duty of care to tenants irrespective of whether they receive fees from them.

Reputable agents have to keep up to date with changes in legislation as well as undergo training to ensure they have appropriate knowledge.

Given the regularity with which relevant case law, legislation and rules change, the importance of using a professionally-qualified agent like Jeremy Leaf & Co cannot be underestimated!

Jeremy Leaf, a former RICS residential chairman & independent North London Estate Agency owner.
Summer 2018