There’s been strong backing from ourselves and the wider lettings industry for a new ‘best practice’ Code for the private rented sector which has been launched by housing minister Brandon Lewis.
The code – facilitated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and involving 17 industry bodies after a request by the Department for Communities and Local Government – is meant for agents, tenants and landlords. The section for letting agents states that:
- An agent must not engage in any unfair commercial practice by saying, doing or omitting to do something which causes, or is likely to cause, the average consumer to take a different transactional decision.
- An agent should refer to the Competition and Markets Authority’s Guidance for lettings professionals on consumer protection law for further information and guidance on the regulations.
- Agents should make every reasonable effort to confirm a landlord’s identity before accepting instructions. If the landlord operates as a business, the agent should identify and confirm who within the business has the authority to act on its behalf.
- Agents must give landlords written confirmation of their instructions to manage a property on their behalf. This must include details of fees and expenses, business terms, the duration of their instructions; and the extent of the agent’s financial authority to authorise expenditure such as essential repairs/maintenance.
- Agents must give these details to the landlord before the landlord is committed or has any liability towards them. The landlord should be given sufficient time to read and understand the agreement before signing.
- Terms of engagement must clearly state the scope of the work the agent will carry out and any additional responsibilities. The terms must be fair and must be written in plain and intelligible language. The terms of engagement should state that a copy of the agent’s complaints-handling procedure is available on request, together with details of the redress scheme to which the agent belongs.
- If a landlord signs a contract with the agent present at their home; or at another location away from the agent’s premises; or by post or online; or without having met the agent, the landlord must be given a right to cancel that contract within 14 calendar days from the date of signing.
- If the landlord requires the contract to start before the end of this cancellation period the agent must obtain confirmation of this in writing. Both parties should sign and date the terms of engagement. Any subsequent changes to terms of engagement must be confirmed in writing and signed by both parties.
- Agents must provide clear details of their fees and expenses which may become payable, in accordance with the Advertising Standards Authority and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 requirements. These should be published on their website and displayed prominently in all offices where customers enter.
- If the agent does not know the exact amount at the time, they should give details of how it will be calculated. This should include any renewal commission and the method of calculation, making clear that this will only arise where the agent is instructed to renew the tenancy or the landlord has specifically agreed to the agent’s entitlement.
- Agents should state all fees inclusive of tax, a legal requirement where the landlord is not a business. Agents must include any contractual right to interest on late payment in the terms of engagement. The terms of engagement should set out which party retains any interest accruing from client money held.
- Agents who want to appoint a sub-agent must first obtain the landlord’s authorisation. Appointing a sub-agent without authorisation may be considered a breach of duty unless it is contained within the agent’s terms of engagement.
- Agents must follow legislative requirements about documentation to be provided at the point of marketing, during the marketing process or on completion. This must include an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and, where gas is provided at the property, a current Gas Safety certificate.
Amongst those welcoming the agreement, The Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer says the code is, “A milestone for the industry as it provides a set of principles for every landlord and letting agent in the private rented sector to follow.”
Naturally Walton & Allen will be happy to adhere to all of the stipulations set down in the Code in all of our dealings.