Last week, I found myself speaking to over 150 letting agents and their representatives in Glasgow on the value of partnership working. I’d been invited by the Council of Letting Agents in Scotland, who, one year after they formed, already have an impressive membership of over 350 agents. I wasn’t sure how my message would go down.
Shelter Scotland hasn’t always seen eye to eye with letting agents over the last few years, particularly over charging fees to tenants. In addition, calls to regulate the industry on the back of some of the shocking examples of bad practice we regularly hear about from our clients, have been met with alarm from some in the sector (though many have also welcomed regulation).
So I went along, armed with my 15 minute speech to make the case that we value partnership with the sector. Because although some agents could be forgiven for not feeling valued, Shelter Scotland truly believes that letting agents have an absolutely vital role to play in Scotland.
Shelter Scotland has been campaigning over the last two years to rethink renting, and in our vision for private renting in Scotland, letting agents have a pivotal role to play. I set out our menu for reform that would see better information for consumers, more stable tenancy agreements, accessible dispute resolution and proper regulation. A menu that would realise our vision for private renting and bring long-term investment in a sector that has struggled with short-termism. Through reform we can enhance the reputation of good landlords and their agents. We would also sharpen incentives for owners to invest in maintenance and energy efficiency, bring about stable homes for families and ultimately, see private renting as a foundation for community cohesion and neighbourhood quality.
It’s an ambitious objective, and if we can do all that then we really can claim to have rethought renting. But my message was that Shelter Scotland can’t achieve this alone, and arguably, there is more to lose than to gain by striking out alone and not listening to the rest of the sector.
We want to work with the agents and landlords who want to ensure that their professionalism is recognised and rewarded. We also want to work with them to rid the market of poor practice and poor reputation.
Shelter Scotland will always stand up for the people we represent, for the thousands of people who turn to us each year in crisis or who have suffered as a result of poor and sometimes criminal practice at the hands of some agents.
But in standing up for these people, we also know that letting agents can be part of the solution; finding homes for people, stepping in to manage properties on behalf of small-scale landlords, supporting tenants to maintain their tenancy and ensuring that the letting business puts customers at its heart. In fact, we would argue that letting agents could have a bigger role to play in the future, helping to house low income or vulnerable households, as well as acting as professional intermediaries between small scale landlords and tenants.
It was great to have the opportunity to speak directly to agents, and I hope that it won’t be a one off but the beginning of a constructive and lasting dialogue. Shelter Scotland believes in the potential for a shared agenda with agents and landlords across Scotland. We may not always agree on the detail, but we know there is far more to be gained from working together to develop a common vision and in so doing build on the professionalism and engagement that I saw among the 150 agents I spoke to last week.