A new Letting Agent Code of Practice began on 31 January 2018.
This is a set of rules that all letting agents must follow to make sure they give a good service to tenants and landlords.
The Code explains the minimum standards a letting agent must meet when:
- dealing with tenants
- marketing and advertising a property
- managing a let
- collecting rent
- handling repairs
- ending a tenancy
If you're a tenant the Code will help you understand what you should expect when dealing with a letting agent. It will also help you challenge them if you don't think they're meeting the standards in the Code.
Register of Letting Agents
Everyone carrying out letting agency work needs to join the Register of Letting Agents by 1 October 2018 if they want to continue doing it. The register is run by the Scottish Government.
From 1 October 2018 it will be against the law for a business to carry out letting agency work without having applied for registration.
Before they can add them to the register, Scottish Ministers will have to decide whether the people in charge of a business applying to the register are 'fit and proper' persons to carry out letting agency work. Certain key people working in the business also need to have had a minimum standard of training.
To decide if someone is a 'fit and proper' person, Scottish Ministers will consider a range of information about that person including whether they have been convicted of offences involving fraud, violence, drugs, firearms, sexual offence or broken housing law.
Once the register is fully up and running, you will be able to check whether the letting agent your landlord uses is allowed to carry out letting agency work.
If they're a registered letting agent, they'll have a unique letting agent registration number that they must put on all their communications and advertising. You can use this number to check whether they're registered.
If you have a problem with your letting agent
If you're a tenant and you're dealing with a letting agent instead of directly with a landlord, there are a number of things you can do if you aren't happy with their work.
Check your tenancy agreement
The first thing you should do is look at your tenancy agreement to find out who's responsible for the service you're having problems with.
For example, your landlord might have decided they want to handle certain parts of the let themselves, like repairs.
Your tenancy agreement should tell you who to contact if you're having a problem.
Check the Code of Practice
Your letting agent has to follow the Letting Agent Code of Practice.
If you've checked your tenancy agreement and it says your letting agent is responsible for the service you have a problem with, check what the Code of Practice says about that service.
If your agent has failed to do what the Code of Practice says they're expected to do, you can make a formal complaint to them.
Make a formal complaint
You can make a formal complaint to your letting agent if you think they've failed to either:
- do what they agreed to in your tenancy agreement, or
- follow the rules of the Letting Agent Code of Practice
If you're seriously concerned about your letting agent's behaviour, you might want to speak to your landlord directly about it. If they only have a little involvement, they might not be aware of any problems you may be having.
The Code of Practice says that all agents must have a written complaints procedure. If you don't know your agent's procedure, they should be able to give you it.
Your complaint should be in writing, and you will need to give the agent a reasonable amount of time to respond.
If your letting agent belongs to a professional organisation or redress scheme, you may want to make a complaint to them.
Apply to the housing tribunal
If you think your letting agent has broken the rules of the Code of Practice and you can't resolve the problem with them (or they don't respond within a reasonable time), you can take your complaint further.
You can do this by making an application to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber).
The Tribunal is a legal body that looks at disputes between landlords and tenants when a lettings agent doesn't meet the standards of the Code of Practice. More information on applying to the Housing and Property Chamber is available on the Tribunal website.
Letting agents must have applied to join the Register by 1 October 2018 to continue to operate. They still have to follow the Code of Practice from 31 January 2018 though, so you can still take a case to the tribunal even if they aren't registered yet.
There's no fee to make an application to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will be informal and the proceedings will be flexible to help resolve issues.
You don't need a lawyer to represent you – you can do it yourself, or use an advocate or other person to help you. You can also bring along someone to act as a supporter for you – they can, for example, give you moral support, take notes for you or help manage your documents.
If the Tribunal agrees with your complaint, they can issue a 'letting agent enforcement order'. This instructs the letting agent to carry out a set of steps to fix the problem and make sure they're following the Code.
It's against the law for a letting agent to not follow the instructions of an enforcement order. They can be prosecuted if they ignore it.
The Tribunal will also let Scottish Ministers know if the letting agent hasn't carried out the order. The agent could be banned from doing any more letting agency work.
Get more information on the Register of Letting Agents and the Code of Practice.