Rogue letting agents are continuing to get away with illegal activity as local authorities fail in their duty to prosecute offending parties. The National Landlords Association (NLA) has warned that this is undermining efforts to improve the image of the private rental sector (PRS).
The NLA has found that over half of local authorities failed to prosecute a single letting agent during the four year period from 2014/15 to 2017/18.
The association made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to 20 local authorities, discovering that 53% of them made no prosecutions. A further 32% prosecuted three or less.
The best results were seen from Liverpool City Council, which prosecuted 13 letting agents in total during this period. Then we have Hammersmith and Fulham Council that didn’t even bother to reply to the FOI.
Out of the 20 Councils questioned, 13 responded that they had already introduced landlord licensing schemes.
With around 16,500 letting agents currently operating in the UK, they play a vital role as intermediaries between landlords and tenants. However, some letting agents have continued to act illegally, despite law changes such as the Tenant Fees Act.
Some have been making unauthorised alterations to a landlord’s property, leading to a breakdown of trust between the tenant and the landlord. It has also been noted that certain rogue letting agents have let one property to multiple tenants without the landlord being aware, effectively making it an illegal house in multiple occupation (HMO). Licensing laws on HMOs are even stricter than those for a single occupant property, leaving a landlord liable to fines of up to £30,000 or even criminal charges.
Richard Lambert, CEO of the NLA, says: “It is clear that too many local authorities (are) failing in their duty to prosecute rogue letting agents. These bad ones can really poison the relationship between landlords and tenants. We want to see local authorities take much firmer action.
“We were shocked to find that so few letting agents are being prosecuted by local authorities. While many local authorities have introduced licensing schemes to crack down on rogue landlords, they seem to be allowing letting agents to get off scot-free. This must stop.
“In the meantime, landlords should make sure their chosen agent is reputable and is a member of a client money protection scheme that will safeguard their assets — rental money, deposit or other funds — if they misappropriate them or go bust.”