Thursday, 24 October 2013

Pickles plans crackdown on private rented sector

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has unveiled an "ambitious package" to help England's nine million private tenants demand longer tenancies, avoid hidden letting agents' fees and get proper protection from rogue landlords.

A proposed "tenants' charter" will set out what people renting private housing can expect from their deal and how they can take action if they are hit by hidden fees or poor standards of accommodation.

Pickles will also publish new regulations forcing letting and property management agents to join a compulsory redress scheme, which ensures complaints about hidden fees or poor service are investigated independently and, where necessary, compensation is paid. Around 40 per cent of agents have yet to join one of these schemes.

In addition, the Government will for the first time publish a code of practice for property management in the private rented sector with a view to making it legally binding and there will be extra guidance for councils on how to protect tenants from illegal eviction, push for tougher penalties for housing offences and plan for new private rented developments.

Finally, a timetable will be set for the introduction of a model tenancy agreement, which landlords will be able to use for tenancies of at least three years to promote greater certainty and security for families.

The proposals are designed to reinforce existing policies, such as the £1bn Build to Rent scheme. As part of the second round of the scheme, bidders will be encouraged to offer longer-term, family friendly tenancies as part of their mix of accommodation.

Pickles said, "The private rented market is a vital asset to this country. It's an important option for the millions of people who want a bit more flexibility, or to simply save up for a deposit so they can buy a place of their own.

"The last thing we want to do is hurt tenants and kill investment by increasing costs and strangling the sector with red tape but tenants deserve better value for money, and dodgy landlords should be under no illusion they can provide a shoddy service with impunity."

The National Landlords Association welcomed the planned tenants' charter but said the Government had "missed an opportunity" to require greater professionalism from letting agents.

Richard Lambert, the association's chief executive, stated, "The Government is right to focus on developing a renting culture, rather than introducing further regulation. The secretary of state's recognition that additional red tape could 'kill off investment' will be warmly welcomed by the landlord community.

"The NLA has long argued that private renting can be far more flexible than commonly perceived and we need to tap into this potential to meet the changing needs and expectations of those who rent. We look forward to working with government to make a success of these proposals.

"While the requirement to belong to an approved redress scheme is a step in the right direction, it does little to protect the financial interest of landlords and tenants working with unregulated agents."

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