Office of Fair Trading
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OFT consults on draft guidance for letting agents and landlords
The OFT yesterday launched a consultation on draft guidance which aims to help professionals in the private rented sector, including letting agents and landlords, to comply with the law.
The OFT's draft guidance seeks to clarify how the law applies to the lettings market. It identifies trading practices that could breach legislation, such as not giving sufficient information to tenants about what fees they will have to pay, or making misleading statements about a property.
The draft guidance sets out the OFT's views about how the legislation might apply at each step of the lettings process: from when lettings professionals first advertise their services, to the interactions they have with tenants prior to moving into a property, through to when a tenancy agreement comes to an end.
Demand in the private rented sector in England has grown in recent years. In 1999 around 10 per cent of households were rented privately and this figure has risen to around 17 per cent in 2011/12, with the number of households renting privately overtaking the number in the social rented sector.
Cavendish Elithorn, Executive Director at the OFT, said:
'The private rented sector is vitally important to millions of people, whether they are students, young professionals or families. Rental contracts can be the largest financial commitment some people have and letting agent fees can be hundreds of pounds.
'Our earlier report into the lettings market found that both tenants and landlords were concerned about the clarity of communication from agents including about fees and charges and poor service.
'Traders should always provide full disclosure of relevant information upfront, including a clear statement of the costs that will be incurred over the course of the rental. This guidance should ensure that businesses enable people to make decisions based on full information about the property and the agreement they are entering into, when they are looking to rent.'
This draft guidance follows the OFT's Lettings Market report which found that there was a need for clear guidance on how current legislation applies to lettings professionals.
The OFT welcomes comment from lettings professionals, tenants and other interested parties on the draft guidance. The consultation will close on 10 December 2013. A copy of the draft guidance can be downloaded from the consultation page.
The draft guidance focuses on four pieces of legislation - The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs), The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs), The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCRs) and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (SGSA).
The OFT analysed complaints made by people renting a home as well as those letting out a property as part of its report on the Lettings Market . It found that both tenants and landlords were concerned about fees and charges levied by agents, such as 'surprise' charges introduced or 'drip-fed' once contracts have been signed, as well as poor service.
The OFT's report found that many problems may be solvable through greater compliance by letting agents with existing consumer protection legislation. The OFT's recommendations included encouraging better compliance with legislation already in existence; initiatives which make it easier for landlords and tenants to assess quality and agents' services; a general redress mechanism and more widespread use of client money protection mechanisms; and better compliance with the mandatory Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes.
The statistics used in this press release come from the House of Commons Committee and Local Government Committee: The Private Rented Sector. First Report of Session 2013/14. 'In 1999, 9.9 per cent of English households rented privately. By 2011/12 the figure had risen to 17.4 per cent with the number of households renting privately overtaking the number in the social rented sector'.
In April 2014, the Competition and Markets Authority (the CMA) will become the UK's lead competition and consumer body. The CMA will bring together the existing competition and consumer protection functions of the Office of Fair Trading and the responsibilities of the Competition Commission, as amended by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. The CMA, which is a non-Ministerial government department, was established on 1 October 2013 but will not be taking on responsibility for cases or other work until 1 April. Click on the CMA's homepage for more information.