The Private Rental Sector

Forcing the private rental sector to change

CoVid-19

Standing in the middle of a prominent high street pub at 9.01 pm on Saturday 21st March I was struck with the realisation that my life and the lives of my friends and family were about to change. As the wave of industrial cleaning solutions disappeared from the empty pub the wave of missing conversations and vacant interactions was intoxicating. As a self-confessed workaholic I took out my phone made a snapchat video with the caption ‘first weekend off only took a global pandemic”.  So, what about my family and friends? Where were they? What were they doing? How were they going to cope?

Almost six months and we are still dealing with the fallout of the Coronavirus and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected directly or indirectly by the pandemic. I have been very lucky and the only person I know who has lost their life as a result was a teacher of mine at secondary school. Equally my cousin thankfully recovered well after a spell at ICU in Stoke Mandeville on ventilators. I am aware that there are sections of the community that have underplayed its significance and continue to argue that the ‘stay at home’ lockdown was too severe. (Incidentally that is a luxury which the 41,499 who died and 2.7 million people who are now claiming unemployment benefits cannot).

Personally, I assisted behind the scenes in a limited capacity to provide short term accommodation for the two NHS hospitals in the local area. I extend my thanks once again to ‘Mycasa’ & ‘Congar Housing’ for donating their accommodation free of charge during the lockdown period. It annoyed me to see organisations posting rainbows in their windows or on social media and not contributing anything to assisting the local community.

I am so proud of Wycombe Homeless Connection and the local authority for coming together during this period to ensure that every homeless person on our streets had a bed during the worst of the crisis. It is such a shame that this statement I cannot say is true today and the most vulnerable of our communities do not have housing. As we ease lockdown restrictions and return to the status quo I know that part of the reason we cannot say homelessness in High Wycombe does not exist is that we are in the midst of a longstanding housing crisis in both the public and private sector.

The truth about the Tenant Fees Act 2019

Since the 1st July 2019 tenants no longer have to pay administration fees to letting agencies when they move. This piece of legislation is still not widely known by tenants and there is still a sector of the market that mistakenly avoids using reputable agencies because they think they have to pay for it. I genuinely do not understand why tenants continue to look in dangerous online marketplaces.

 Who do you trust?

I do not have to look far to find out why the consumer is distrustful of letting agencies. Google is a great platform for customer reviews and quite frankly the reviews are shocking. Some of these reviews of Wycombe Lettings agent purport negligence, mismanagement and in some cases even fraud.

Moreover, of the 31 agents on Zoopla listed as providing lettings services in High Wycombe only eight companies are regulated by the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). The Association of Residential Lettings Agents is a very important organisation for a letting agency to belong to. Members must be members of a redress scheme (this is the law), have Client Money Protection (this is the law), have at least one member of staff that has undertaken basic formal training in lettings & property management and more importantly processes and procedures that promote/adhere to best practice in the industry. When you consider that the basic qualification for Lettings is a level 3 qualification (equivalent to an A level) it is quite frightening how many companies are allowed to operate without it! I will also point out that of the four corporate estate agencies only half of them have active staff in their branches that hold this.

Are you at risk?

There are over 180 pieces of legislation that housing must comply to. Unfortunately, I do not have time (and I am sure you do not have the patience) to discuss every single one of them. So, I have picked three which I think every tenant and landlord needs to be aware of.

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998

“The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 deal with landlords’ duties to make sure gas appliances, fittings and flues provided for tenants are safe” (Gas Safe)

Thankfully it is quite rare for me to meet a landlord or a tenant that is not aware of the necessity to provide safe gas appliances in rented accommodation. (Mainly because it is a criminal offence). Yet how many safety certificates have I seen in the last decade which do not meet the requirements of the legislation. At its most basic I have regularly seen missing signatures, engineer numbers and dates. At its most severe I have seen missing appliances and more importantly I have seen warning notes and advice ignored.

The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 

‘The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 came into force on 1 June 2020 and apply to all tenancies created on or after that date in England from 1 July 2020’ (Propertymark)

The coronavirus pandemic has undermined this important piece of legislation as some landlords, agents and tenants do not know this is now the law. It has not helped that the date of enforcement has been changed three times as a result of the pandemic but all tenancies that have started since the 1st July 2020 must be electrically safe for use. The only way I know how to prove a house is electrically safe for use is to have two very important certificates; A Portable Appliance Test (PAT) and an Electrical Condition Inspection Report (ECIR).

The Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) regulations 2015

‘By law, landlords must provide fire-detection equipment for each property and there should be at least: One working smoke alarm in the room which is frequently used by tenants for daytime living purposes. One functioning smoke alarm in every circulation space, such as hallways and landings’ (Propertymark)

This should have been in place when I started working in Agency in 2004 and I feel this is very much like legislation to get people to wear seatbelts. It saves lives. Yet I am still surprised that the bare minimum of fire safety is not widespread and effective. The amount of home I enter which do not have the minimum detection systems, out of date sensors and missing alarm units is scary.

So why have I have I decided to express some of my own thoughts and feelings on aspects of the local housing market? The truth is that the community demands more from the private rental sector. Consumers demand more from their trusted advisors and representatives and my fear is that not even the coronavirus pandemic can make that change.

(I have written this article in good faith, all of the opinions and beliefs are my own. Where I have cited information it is only because it is widely available and recognised in the public domain. If you would like to discuss any of the potential issues raised in post please contact me on the details below)

Ian Thomas MARLA

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