Very soon, new legislation comes into force in Scotland that will be a big shake-up for the private rental sector. Amongst the provisions of the housing bill are a new single form of tenancy and the introduction of a new tribunal which will handle all disputes. A further change is to be brought in in 2018, requiring all letting agents to be registered.
Scotland is often seen as a pioneer in housing policy – the fees ban hit agencies north of the border five years ago – and there are strong indications that, in time, the rest of the UK will follow the Scottish lead. At the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced that English letting agents would also have to be registered.
It is time for change
Our industry is facing an onslaught of bad press. Much of this is the result of the so-called rogue element, but even if most lettings agents are decent and responsible, we can’t expect to avoid new regulations. The appetite for change is there, and as the proportion of renters continues to grow, the protection of tenants will increase. There is simply more weight behind the arguments in favour of reform.
Although reforms might increase the administrative burden and cost for lettings agents in the short term, it could work in our favour. Registration is far more than a box-ticking exercise and requires relevant qualifications. If an agent has existing qualifications which are more than three years old, a further 20 hours’ training will be necessary before the September deadline. Once registered, there is a code of practice which must be adhered to. It will be a criminal offence with stiff penalties and the possibility of a custodial sentence for anyone convicted of working as a letting agent without registration.
It could be a stressful few months, but the changes will give agents the answer to their critics. They will be qualified, registered and controlled and the talk of unscrupulous agents should begin to wane. This is a further move towards increasing professionalism within the property rental sector. Some might see it as unnecessary interference, but this is the direction that politics, housing policy and public consensus wants us to go. If we were to oppose changes like this, we’d be doing it at our peril.
To Sajiv Javid, we say “bring it on”. And we’d like to thank Scotland for paving the way.
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