More Calls for a Ratings website to show up Bad Landlords

publication date: Apr 25, 2011
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

More Calls for a Ratings Website to show up Bad Landlords

According to a new report from Consumer Focus, the consumer watchdog, “The private rented sector generates more complaints than almost any other.” They claim that one of the biggest issues is “private renters often know very little about their landlords before signing a tenancy agreement”.  To help to combat this, the watchdog has today “written to some of the largest letting agents and deposit schemes in England asking them to provide online feedback which could empower tenants by giving them a better insight into their potential landlords.”

The report entitled ‘Opening the door’ claims to outline “the information imbalance which works against consumers in the private rented sector”. Apparently:-

  1. Just 15 per cent of tenants surveyed were able to find all of the information they wanted about a prospective landlord or letting agency
  2. Over a quarter could find very little or even no information
  3. A third had found information obtained from the landlord themselves

The report rightly suggests that “by contrast landlords or letting agencies can ask tenants for references, deposits, guarantors or other personal and financial information.”

Kate Faulkner comments that "This isn’t unfair in any way. The landlord has bought a property and they are renting the property out on a monthly basis to a tenant. If that tenant is part of an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, they could pay their deposit, one month’s rent, trash the place and refuse to pay rent for the next few months.

"In comparison, if the tenant makes checks that the property is being let  legally, or only rents through ARLA and NALs registered agents, then their tenancy is relatively safe and they have a third party to go to. Poor tenants on the other hand go from one landlord to another and can take real advantage. Tenants see the place they rent prior to agreeing to hand over any money, that’s why the landlord needs to make checks on the tenant."

"This report seems to assume that all tenants are good and landlords are bad”,
says Kate which is clearly not the case. There were nearly 7,000 cannabis factories set up mostly in landlord’s homes last year. Daily money is paid in the form of Local Housing Allowance to tenants who don’t always pass it on to their landlord. When the local authority is advised of this, they have to wait for weeks if not months for the matter to be resolved as only a few local authorities act quickly to protect tax payers on this issue.

What the report should be focusing on in Kate’s view is simple measures that tenants can take to avoid rogue landlords in the first instance. Secondly, when renting there will always be some form of dispute as it’s not always clear ‘who does what’. I’ve known landlords that have been rung up by tenants late at night to change a light bulb, or demanded to come and ‘fix a toaster’ that the landlord didn’t even provide. When the landlord turned up, they found the tenant hadn’t even plugged it in!

During the recent bad winters, letting agents and landlords have been balled out by tenants because they can’t instantly provide someone to fix their heating should it go wrong – even with all Kate’s contacts, it took four days to sort out her boiler which had broken down. Kate Faulkner continues “many tenants have little experience of running a home and think everything is up to the landlord and I can’t see anything in this report that suggests this has been taken into consideration.

The idea of rating a landlord based on buying a product made by someone else and then delivering it via a tracked third party isn’t a good one. Lettings is hugely complicated and tenant complaints – nor are landlords – aren’t always straightforward to deal with, hence the need for letting agents to get involved in the process."

Claire McAnulty, Policy Expert at Consumer Focus said:-

"Currently the landlord is firmly in the driving seat despite rent being a massive outgoing for many of us. People often sign up with little more than a gut feeling after a cursory tour of the property – if they are lucky, they might have a word of mouth recommendation. The best way to help private renters is to ensure they have the information to know what they are getting into."

Kate’s view is that this isn’t correct. The main thing is to make sure that the tenant does the same level of leg work that the landlord should be doing to check out the property. The problem is that the tenant often doesn’t want to do this because they ‘fall in love’ with a property and in Kate’s experience once that’s happened, however much you tell them about protecting deposits, energy performance certificates, gas and electrical safety certificates and to read and have the tenancy agreement checked, few tenants want to do it.

Follow our 15 ways for Tenants to Spot a Fake Landlord article

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