When society changes, the law must change to accommodate it. Over the past year, letting businesses across the country have had to adapt to a tonne of new legislation.
As a letting agent, it’s so important to stay on top of this. Not only will it do wonders for your reputation, but it’s your responsibility to keep landlords on the right side of the law. They are your clients, and they should always have your best interest.
But with so many key dates to plan for and a hectic schedule to stick to, it’s not always easy to ensure you’re doing everything by the book. Especially when the government rewrites it every year.
So, keep reading HomeHero’s handy guide on how to ensure your letting business stays compliant.
Who’s responsible for what?
Before we delve into the details, let’s clarify who’s responsible for what; the landlord or the letting business? To put it simply, letting agents will have responsibilities that are solely theirs and ones they’ll perform on the landlord’s behalf.
However, it is ultimately the landlord’s responsibility to ensure their legal obligations are met—but it is your job to enforce them. Your clients are paying you for a service, so they’ll be expecting you to guide and advise them on the best ways to stay compliant.
That means providing knowledge on tenancy agreements, the landlord’s legal responsibilities, abiding by recent changes like the Tenant Fees Act 2019 and automatically sending them up-to-date How to Rent guides. So, now that’s all out in the open, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
What changing legislation is there?
So, what law changes should letting agents have on their radar? Well, there’s Making Tax Digital, Right to Rent changes and changes to planning regulations, to name a few.
Keeping your clients in the know is vital—especially since a recent Landlord Confidence Index report found that ‘regulation changes’ were the top reason for landlords adjusting their portfolios in Q4 2020.
While this leaves letting agents with a challenging task, it also allows you to showcase your value and expertise in supporting landlords and property managers through any changes.
EPC Regulation Changes
One change we’d like to talk about concerns EPC regulations. From 1 April 2020, an EPC rating of E or above is required for a landlord to let their property—but this will soon change.
The government will require new tenancies to reach an energy efficiency rating of C from 1 April 2025. The deadline for all existing tenancies to achieve this rating will be 1 April 2028.
Having to jump from a minimum E rating to a C can potentially cost landlords thousands, so it’s a good idea to support them through this—if they fail to do this, they could face a fine of up to £30,000. (What a way to dent the working relationship, eh?)
Here are a few other ways you can ensure legal compliance:
Become a member of a Redress Scheme and Client Money Protection Scheme.
Since 1 October 2014, the government legally requires all letting agents become a member of one of three approved redress schemes:
This is so landlords can file an independent complaint and/or pursue a prosecution procedure if you’re providing them with poor or inadequate service.
You should always make this known to your clients from the get-go and the correct procedure to take should any problems arise. For example, mentioning that it’s completely free for anyone to issue a complaint, whether it’s the landlord or tenant.
You’ll also need to join a ‘client money protection scheme’ to ensure that landlords and tenants are compensated if you cannot repay their money.
Agents that fail to register or have breached a code of conduct could face penalties of up to £30,000, so you must do this. Here’s a list of the Financial Conduct Authority-approved schemes you can join:
Once you’ve received your certificate confirming your membership, you must provide it to your clients—free of charge. You’ll also need to display it in any office open to the public and on your company website.
Keep tenant’s deposits in a scheme.
You’ll also need to place tenants’ security deposits into one of three government-approved tenancy deposit schemes. In England and Wales, letting agents must be registered with either the:
Letting agents will need to do this within 30 days of taking the deposit while guaranteeing that tenants will receive the amount back in full, as long as they haven’t fallen into rent arrears, damaged the property and has complied with the terms of the tenancy agreement.
If you fail to do this, your client could be liable for up to three times the amount the tenant paid for the deposit.
Take out rent protection insurance.
Letting agents can also take out rent protection insurance on behalf of their clients. While this is an optional cover and not a legal requirement, this type of insurance guarantees landlords will still receive their rental income if they start to experience problems.
From missed rental payments to legal expenses, rent protection insurance provides additional relief for landlords who are letting out their properties—especially those who rely on the rental income to make their mortgage repayments.
Once you’ve found appropriate rent protection insurance, your job is to keep up-to-date with its protection policies to ensure your client is sufficiently covered. Additionally, you want insurance with a quick and straightforward claims process and a guide on what protection the insurance offers.
Find good tenants for the long-term.
Lastly, let’s talk about tenancy lengths. A little over two years ago, letting agents viewed a high turnover of tenants as attractive due to the tenant fees and overall financial income.
But when the Tenant Fee Ban came into effect in June 2019, the desire for high-quality, long-term tenants became a top priority for all involved. It’s less hassle, offers more stability and doesn’t burn a bigger hole in your client’s pockets.
As a letting agent, your job is to find these types of tenants on their behalf—from advertising and marketing to tenant viewings and credit checks.
From there, you’ll need to stay on top of rental payments and maintenance requests and, of course, always provide your client with an up-to-date tenancy agreement should they renew the tenancy.