Shelter Scotland has called for regulation to ensure responsible letting agents are rewarded and the bad ones are suitably penalised.
The housing and homelessness charity's Regulating Letting Agents in Scotland report urges the Scottish Government to "drive out the cowboys’ and bring forward legislation to regulate letting agents and ensure that tenants’ and landlords’ experiences are fair, safe and secure.
In the last five years complaints about letting agents to the UK’s property ombudsman have risen by 123 per cent from 3,739 to 8,334.
Shelter Scotland says there are many letting agents who offer a professional and responsible service but see little reward for playing by the rules. it calls for a 'level playing field'' which would benefit reputable agents and ensure the 'cowboys' are driven out.
At present, anyone can set up as a letting agent and there is no requirement for professional expertise or experience. There are no rules governing the way letting agents hold and manage clients’ money, nor is there a system of redress if something goes wrong. The charity says urgent change is needed to protect tenants and landlords.
Of particular concern, says Shelter, is the number of families with children who are exposed to unscrupulous and sometimes illegal practices by letting agents.
During the last 10 years the number of households renting privately has nearly doubled to 290,000 and the number of households with children renting privately has risen from five to 13 per cent.
Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Private renting in Scotland is growing and changing, driven by the fast increasing number of families and individuals looking for a safe, secure and affordable place to call home.
“Despite this, letting agents have been allowed to carry on in an unregulated sector reminiscent of the Wild West, with the flagrant disregard for the law by some causing havoc and upheaval to despairing tenants.
“We’re particularly concerned by the growing number of families with children exposed to unscrupulous and sometimes illegal practices of some letting agents. Not only do they lose out financially but the upheaval and uncertainty of battling cowboy letting agents can mean they’re prevented from laying down roots in communities and schools and getting on with their lives.
“We want the Scottish Government to ensure that agents in Scotland are effectively regulated so that all tenants and landlords get a fair deal and the chance to make a house a home. It’s time to rethink renting and the way letting agents are allowed to operate.”
It is estimated that there are around 500 letting agent businesses in Scotland involved in more than 150,000 private lets a year. That number is set to rise as the private rented sector grows.
Following the Private Rented Sector (Scotland) Act 2011, the Scottish Government says it is working to "encourage a thriving private rented sector, which provides good quality and well managed accommodation, and in which both landlords and tenants understand their rights and responsibilities." Information about its initiatives is avaiable here http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/Housing/privaterent/...