Widely-publicised cases of dodgy landlords leaving tenants in slum-like conditions have led consumer body Which? to compare the gamble tenants take when choosing a landlord to a game of roulette, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to describe the lettings sector “like the Wild West”.
The government has responded by launching an enquiry into the private lettings sector, which will investigate the possibility of compulsory regulation of landlords and lettings agents.
Unstable tenancies and run-down properties are in no-one’s interest and there’s no question that most landlords are responsible, honest and principled - just this week the London School of Economics even published a report showing what a force for good they can be.
Even so, as it stands, there’s no way of knowing when you move into rented accommodation whether your landlord is responsible or irresponsible – it’s Russian Roulette renting.
At the moment a handful of really bad apples are destroying our reputation. As a result the only time you see landlords on the telly they’re Rogue Traders or Rigsby.
But there’s actually something a good deal more serious at stake. If we don’t get our house in order there’s a very real chance that someone else will put it in order for us - maybe even through a Leveson-style intervention.
Something as simple as a voluntary code of conduct, compliance with which would allow landlords and agents to display an easily-recognisable logo giving tenants piece of mind that their landlord is competent, reliable and trustworthy would have a huge impact, and show that the industry is taking these problems seriously. Plumbers and electricians use them, so why not us?
People comparing the lettings industry to the Wild West have a vested interest in saying that – they want to be the sheriff! Personally I don’t think that solutions they suggest are adequate.
On the other hand I certainly don’t want to see statutory regulation. For one thing, how would it be funded and enforced? Inevitably the costs would be passed on to the tenants, one way or another.
There are currently more than enough laws protecting tenants and landlords alike, they just aren’t necessarily being enforced effectively. I’m not remotely convinced new laws would change that.
One thing is for certain, doing nothing is no longer an option. Our industry needs to show that it takes these problems seriously.
Ajay Jagota runs KIS Lettings, which manage properties for 700 landlords across the North East from branches in Sunderland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside.