Blog: Letting agents: Have your say
By Ellie Hutchinson at Shelter Scotland
Coming together, talking about outdated kitchens, getting turned down for properties without reason, having to decide there and then if you will take a property, getting evicted because of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) delays- these are all the everyday experiences of everyday tenants.
This week we hosted a coffee and a chat event with our forum members to talk about letting agents. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on their proposed letting agent regulations, and it’s important that tenant’s voices are represented within this process.
Some of the things that they are consulting on include training, communication, repairs and management, and many of the issues that have come up by forum members so far revolve around poor communication and lack of enforcement.
We all know that if our boiler breaks, or the toilet doesn’t work we call our letting agent. But what if they don’t come? What if it’s winter, if you have a baby? What if they still don’t come? Do you wait a week? Two weeks? What happens if you don’t have the money to fix it yourself? This isn’t simply a rhetorical question, but a real life experience of people using Shelter Scotland’s services, highlighting the kind of difficulties people are experiencing because of poor practice and mismanagement.
Another issue we touched upon was the need for training for letting agents. Training letting agents in equalities legislation, or in welfare systems could help to remove the discrimination and prejudice that many tenants face. Some agencies are branding lone parents as “high-risk”, or letting agents are advertising for “No DSS”. Not only is this an outdated acronym, it’s an outdated understanding. With the private renting sector (PRS) becoming home to more families and those in receipt of LHA, the sector can no longer pretend that it’s only client group are students. Not only does it make business sense to understand the needs of all their clients, it makes legal sense too – discriminatory practices should not be acceptable in the PRS.
There are, of course, stories where the right thing has happened and these stories should be celebrated and promoted. Learning from when it has gone right helps us to formulate what a good, fit and fair PRS would look like, and give all of us working in the sector; agents, landlords, third and public sector bodies, a bench mark to work towards.
Good communication, transparency and clarity are, not surprisingly, key. It’s that simple. A named person in the office, a transparent and acted upon agreement of how long repairs will take, knowing what sort of relationship your letting agent has with the landlord go along way in making people feel at home in their house.
The tenants forum is as strong as its members, and its important that those who rent privately are able to participate in policy and practice that impacts on them; that they know what the legislation says, where they can go for enforcement, and that there are others in the same boat. Or, in this case, house.