Blog: At home in your own home – letting agents and renting
By Ellie Hutchinson, private renting project manager at Shelter Scotland
No cooking facilities, leaking roofs, front doors that have been kicked in. No, not a scene from a gritty drama, but real life, here in Scotland, for many renters. In our tenants forum this month, we’ve been hearing from people about the poor standards they’re living with and the difficulties they face in trying to figure out just who is responsible for what.
Letting agents who let themselves in without warning, deposits not being lodged in deposit schemes; amateur, and illegal management techniques that stop a house feeling anything like a home.
Despite huge and welcome changes to the whole of private renting – including upcoming changes to letting agents – many folk who are renting are still living in sub-standard housing with sub-standard management. Poor communication between tenants and letting agents are often at the root of many problems, with folk being unsure who holds responsibility for repairs, and letting agents not providing one named person for tenants to speak to. In the best case scenario, names and details get passed round offices on post-its, and broken washing machines fall through the cracks. In the worst case scenario, the letting agents are purposefully ignoring their responsibilities to ensure properties meet a certain standard and monies are managed correctly.
We hear stories of people living in properties that are neither wind nor watertight, but not being able to pin down exactly who is responsible for these repairs. Letting agents tell tenants it’s up to the landlord, tenants hear nothing back, and the cycle goes on and on until a resolution is forced and an adversarial relationship builds up. Not a happy home for anyone.
A while back, we met with some members of the tenants forum to talk about letting agents, and we talked about the importance of good communication. Knowing exactly what your letting agent can and can’t do is vital in clarifying who is responsible for getting repairs done. Having a point of contact was also seen as important, someone who you could meet and talk to directly about any issues that were coming up. And finally, understanding the selection process of why some folk are “picked” for flats and others aren’t, and what this means if you’re seen as a “high risk” tenant. The lack of transparency on this, particularly in high rental areas, raises many questions about discrimination that tenants would like answers to.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, alongside our work with tenants, we’re also looking at what’s called “social letting agents”; letting agencies that support tenants to access, maintain and sustain a property. With more low-income folk forced into renting, these types of schemes are extremely important in reducing homelessness and maintaining homes. You can read our full report: Social Models of Letting Agencies.
We also know that there that are fantastic letting agents out there, and these agents, like us, know that the bad seeds bring the whole sector down.
Ultimately, being a renter and renting a property is much more than a straight forward financial transaction, it’s about our homes. Like any other relationship trust, honesty and open communication is vital for it to succeed. Without these, as Amy – a member of our tenants forum says – “it’s hard to feel at home in your own home”.