Letting is booming, and so are complaints by tenants

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Landlords in Yorkshire are falling foul of increasingly complex rental property legislation.

Research by the county’s biggest residential letting specialists, Linley & Simpson, reveals that in some local authority areas the number of complaints investigated is now more than five times higher than it was a decade ago.

Prosecutions and legal notices are also at an all-time high, with some landlords paying fines of more than £20,000 after being convicted of serious breaches of the law that were judged to put their tenants’ lives at risk.

Linley & Simpson say it carried out the research as part of its campaign to drive up standards across a burgeoning industry that still remains unregulated. It also keen to raise awareness among both landlords and tenants of the importance of only using letting agents who are members of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), the National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS) or the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

It is also warning tenants who let direct from landlords to be wary and to check that gas and electrical safety checks are up-to-date, energy efficiency reports are available and bonds are being kept in tenancy deposit schemes.

The campaign comes as experts predict that a record one-in-six UK homes will be supplied through the private rented sector by the end of this year.

As part of the Freedom of Information Act, Linley & Simpson asked councils across the areas of Yorkshire in which it operates, including those in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Harrogate and York, to reveal both the number and nature of prosecutions brought over the past ten years. It also assessed how many court actions were against individual landlords and how many were brought against professional letting agents.

“Our research shows that the spiralling rise in demand for rental properties over the last decade is matched by an upsurge in complaints and prosecutions,” says Linley & Simpson director, Will Linley.

“This trend is in part down to the increasingly litigious society in which we live, and in part down to the increasing burden of red tape associated with being a landlord.

“The lesson to be learned from our research is that landlords are best served by employing only an accredited agent. If they don’t, and they are not armed with all the necessary knowledge needed to let a property, they are exposing themselves to legal action and big fines.”

“Nobody books a holiday with a travel agent who is not properly accredited and registered, but, as ever-increasing numbers are finding to their cost, this isn’t always the case in the rental market where the stakes are far higher.”

Mr Linley said tenants and landlords wanting the ultimate peace of mind should rent properties through agents that had met strict membership criteria laid down by organisations such as ARLA, NALS and the RICS.

He also urged local residential letting agents to back the recent launch and roll-out of the SAFEagent client money protection scheme.

“The SAFEagent kitemark now makes it far easier for landlords and tenants to differentiate between the good, the bad and the plain ugly among letting agents.

“Only those agencies which are guaranteed to safeguard client money will be able to display it. Those who are not, and who continue to tarnish the reputation of the sector, will be exposed.”

Mr Linley added that private landlords who are members of the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) also offered reassurance as did initiatives run by some local councils to vet well-intentioned individuals who manage their own buy-to-lets, such as Wakefield Council’s Responsible Landlords’ Scheme.

The Linley & Simpson research also revealed:

Leeds has mounted the most prosecutions, with more than 135 prosecutions in the last two years alone. A total of 132 cases were against private landlords, with just three against letting agents. In Bradford, all but one of the 19 prosecutions brought in the last two years were against private landlords.

Bradford has witnessed the biggest increase in complaints, rocketing from 263 in 2000 to more than 1,313 in 2010. A total of 1,130 of these complaints were against individual property owners, and 183 against letting agents.

The biggest reported fines included £20,000 plus costs for a case brought successfully by Bradford District Council; £17,000 for breaching rules concerning Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in a prosecution made on behalf of Leeds City Council; and £10,000 plus costs resulting from action taken by York Council.

The most common breaches which lead to legal action involved the failure to licence HMOs; not meeting strict health and safety regulations; financial mismanagement of tenants’ deposits; and harassment and illegal eviction of tenants by landlords.