Good news! Private renters are starting to see the impact of the Letting Agent Code of Practice. This was introduced on 31 January 2018 and spells out what standard renters should expect from a letting agent.

Renters can complain directly to a letting agent if they think the Code of Practice has been breached. If this doesn’t resolve the issue they can apply free of charge to the Housing & Property Chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal who will make a decision on the complaint.

Importantly the Tribunal can make awards of compensation and order a letting agent to do certain things.

Two recent Tribunal cases – one involving repairs and another concerning unlawful holding fees – demonstrate the positive impact the Code is having in its first year.

Failure to satisfactorily resolve a complaint about repairs

In August the Tribunal found that a letting agent had failed to comply with several sections of the Code of Practice when handling a tenant’s request to fix a water leak in their home.

The Tribunal found that the letting agent took too long to take action after hearing about the leak from the tenant. The letting agent was also found to have failed to inform the tenant of the action they intended to take to fix the repair, along with the likely timescale. In addition the agent failed to inform the tenant of the delay, and the reason for it – another breach of the Code of Practice.

Taking all this into account the Tribunal decided that the agent should have responded to the enquiries and complaints “as quickly and fully as possible” and that they had fallen significantly short of the standards expected in the Code of Practice.

They decided to award the tenant a rental refund of £150 to cover the period they were unable to live in the property due to disrepair.

Unlawful holding fee

In another case a prospective tenant handed over £1,200 to secure a property – unaware that this type of payment was an unlawful “holding fee”.

They decided not to take the property and tried to get the money back from the letting agent – but they refused to return it. They applied to the Tribunal who agreed that the letting agency was in breach of both the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Code of Practice.

The Tribunal ordered that the letting agent should repay the money to the tenant in full.

What does this mean for renters?

This shows that where renters believe their letting agent has breached the new Letting Agent Code of Practice and they have evidence to support this, then it’s worth making an application to the Tribunal.

Of course renters shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of practice in the first place and, with time, these decisions should act as a deterrent to other letting agents to up their game – sending a clear message that failure to adhere to the new Code of Practice will not be without consequence.

Ultimately, this is good news for Scotland’s private renters and a sign of real progress.

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