At a time when the private rented sector accounts for almost a fifth of all households and for many rented accommodation is the most affordable housing solution, the quality and upkeep of rental property is being scrutinised more than ever.
While the majority of landlords hold up their side of the bargain, there remains a small element of the industry who abuse their position, committing housing offences from electrical safety failings to not having a licence for a house in multiple occupation.
These offending landlords are regularly dealt with by the authorities. In fact, according to Letting Agent Today, there have been at least seven separate incidents of landlords being fined for housing failures in October alone.
Just this month, one landlord was fined more than £400,000 after converting a property into flats without permission, while others were fined for fire safety failures and neglecting licensing schemes.
While it might often seem that landlords are taking all the heat, in recent times it has become apparent that letting agents must remain vigilant of their landlords' properties because if something goes wrong, they might just have to foot the bill as well.
In the past couple of months, alongside the usual number of fines and prosecutions for landlords, there have been a few cases of letting agents being fined.
The cases have reiterated the importance of looking after landlords' properties, especially for agents who are offering a full management service.
When tenants raise problems or make a complaint about the condition of a landlords' rental property the agency must act as quickly as possible. Responding quickly to maintenance complaints has taken on even more significance after the Section 21 eviction process was changed on October 1. A slow or non-existent response from landlord or agent could have a serious knock-on effect if the landlord wants to regain possession of their property.
What's more, if both parties (landlord and agent) fail to do so, they could both face a fine – as we have seen recently. Although it is their property, it is not just the landlord who may be punished.
It's important also for letting agents to respond quickly to any requests for information relating to one of their landlords' properties as failure to do so within a specified period of time could also lead to a fine – whether or not the agent has had anything to do with negligence in the property itself.
There have also been cases recently where a landlord has been hit with a big fine, while their agent is also fined a significantly smaller amount due to their association with the landlord and the rental property in question. Cases like these highlight the need for letting agents to remain vigilant of their landlords' activity and the condition of the properties they are letting on landlords' behalves.
Increased red tape means agents must be even more careful
Due to the nature of the private rented sector and its rapid rate of growth, in recent times the rental market has become more widely regulated. Many landlords pass these new responsibilities on to their managing agents, which increases the need for agents to stay on top of their landlords' properties and administration even more.
As you will be well aware, from October 1 it became mandatory for landlords to fit a smoke alarm on every floor of a rented property that is used wholly or partly as living accommodation. They are also now required to fit a Carbon Monoxide detector in any room where there is a solid fuel burning appliance. Although the majority of landlords already had these fire safety precautions in place, local councils are now able to impose fines of up to £5,000 on those who don't comply.
On top of this, the Government recently confirmed that its Right to Rent scheme, which is part of the Immigration Act 2015-2016, will be implemented across the country from February 1. This initiative will require landlords, or agents acting on their behalf, to check if prospective tenants have the legal right to rent in the UK. There will be hefty fines of up to £3,000 per tenant or even prison sentences for those who don’t comply.
These are just two high profile examples of new measures landlords have to comply with which may well be deferred to letting agents, not to mention law changes to the Section 21 eviction process and on-going landlord licensing and training initiatives.
As we move into 2016, it is now more important than ever for letting agents who offer a full management service to make sure their landlords don't fall foul of the law.