Working in the private rented sector can sometimes feel like a pretty thankless task. Letting agents and landlords now need to abide by over 145 Acts of Parliament, Health and Safety requirements, and hundreds of different regulations, making the job complex and at times difficult.
Meanwhile, reading the papers or checking social media can also make for depressing reading. Unfortunately, the stories that appear about our sector are often negative ones. Shelter’s campaigns are powerful and hard hitting, but only show one side. Likewise, campaigns like Generation Rent’s ‘#VentYourRent’, sweep across social media, with pictures of people telling their horror stories of renting.
With so much focus on the bad guys, the public perception is that rogue landlords are the PRS.
So perhaps it’s little wonder that public perception of the private rented sector is mixed at best. At NALS we are working hard to change the negative view that many have of our industry, to support our agents with skills and training, and to educate the consumer on how to choose a professional letting agent and rent safely and securely.
THE GOOD NEWS
We know renting isn’t all bad, and it’s not the lesser choice. Renting is often portrayed as an expensive, inferior option to owning a home, when for many it’s convenient and hassle free, with no worries about extra bills or maintenance.
In fact, the private rented sector is thriving, providing more and more homes to people.
The latest figures from the English Survey of Housing show that in 2014-15, 19 per cent of all households were private renters, which equates to 4.3 million households. Perhaps most importantly, the sector has increased by 82 per cent since 2004-05 when 11 per cent of households were private renters. This is phenomenal change in just ten years.
Our young people rely heavily on the private rented sector too, which is unlikely to change. Currently, the PRS has a higher proportion of younger people than other tenure types. In 2014-15, 70 per cent of private renters were aged under 45, compared to 36 per cent in the social sector and 25 per cent of owner occupiers. If the sector continues to grow in this way, we need to make sure we are prepared and we are creating sector that fulfils the needs of these people.
Things are changing too. With the growing presence of Build to Rent in the market, tenants have more choice than ever. So it’s up to us as an industry to show who is delivering excellence and always encourage the consumer to choose these agents and landlords.
Of course we’re not naive enough to think we have a perfect sector. We know there are rogues and criminals out there, who steal landlords and tenants money’ or act unprofessionally, but these really are in the minority. However, with so much focus on the bad guys, the public perception is often that these rogues ‘are’ the sector. For the tenants who don’t use professionals, they see no change in their treatment or property condition, which only adds to this view.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
As an industry we’re good at talking to each other, but we need to look outwards. When an agent’s service is not up to scratch, landlords and tenants have every right to complain – but they need to know where to go and what their rights are. We need to ensure agents are providing this information, and that we’re educating the consumer so they know where to look for help if they need it.
Earlier this year, NALS saw a need to support cash-strapped councils protect local residents using the private rented sector. Following the cuts that left some local authorities without specialist knowledge of the PRS, we created our Effective Enforcement Toolkit. The kit has everything needed to help local authorities regulate and enforce standards in the PRS, from letters to letting agents who are failing to comply with legal duties, right through to advice on highlighting criminal cases to the local media.
There is also the excellent work of SAFEagent, the initiative by agents for agents that NALS administers, which campaigns for mandatory client money protection. This campaign speaks directly to landlords and tenants and is a fantastic example of agents working together for the benefit of the consumer, helping to differentiate themselves from those agents who meet no compliance requirements.
Look out for more from NALS over the coming months, as we work to change perceptions of our industry and create a more positive sector. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on what else can be done.
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