Several councils have chosen to set up rental accreditation systems rather than use landlord licensing to improve standards in the sector, with the new London Rental Standard making a particular pitch to attract letting agents to join.
The LRS is particularly important because it applies to such a large private rented demographic – one estimate puts 40% of inner London households, with two million individuals, in the sector.
The LRS is a voluntary set of minimum standards to establish a consistent quality of rental property and level of service. It sets out expectations for landlords but for letting agents it requires these principles of good practice (which the best in the industry already uphold):
- a written statement being available, preferably online, showing services to be provided and their charges to tenants and landlords;
- maintaining professional indemnity insurance and have in place client money protection insurance cover through a designated scheme;
- giving prospective landlords and tenants advice on the level of charges and rent they can expect to pay, arrange for relevant safety checks of properties and inform clients of defects, and take a deposit where instructed;
- collecting rent if instructed, keeping a separate clients account to hold all money, belong to a client money protection scheme;
- offering tenants advice on their options including reviewing the rent, serving correct notice, and dealing with return of the deposit in a prompt manner;
- operating a consumer complaints procedure and offer a means of independent consumer redress through an appropriate ombudsman scheme;
- providing training to letting agents and having at least one member of staff accredited in each branch;
- taking “all reasonable steps” to ensure that advice to landlords, tenants and prospective tenants is accurate and legally-compliant;
- ensuring accredited letting agents continue to meet requirements for accreditation and a process for disciplining, removing or unaccrediting those who fail to meet the requirements of the scheme.
Meanwhile in the Lake District the Cumbria Landlord Accreditation Scheme has been launched by five district councils in the region working with the National Landlords Association.
“Landlords in Cumbria are now able to access educational and developmental resources that will set them apart from other landlords, and provide assurance to tenants that they’re dealing with a professional that understands their responsibilities and obligations,” says local NLA representative Ruth Rowntree.