An open invite to John Healey MP - come and see just how protected Tenants are when they use legitimate agents

Why our tenants are much more protected renting property from us than buying a fridge-freezer

Dear John Healey MP,

In the ongoing 'battle of the soundbite' you chose to recently state that people have 'fewer rights renting a family home than you do buying a fridge-freezer'. Shame on you.

Whilst many housing ministers can claim lack of experience & hands-on knowledge, you were the Minister of State for Housing June'09-May'10 followed immediately by the Shadow position until October. You then held the position of Shadow Minister for Housing & Planning Sept'15-June'16 and have been Shadow Secretary of State for Housing & Planning since October 2016. All of this means that you should be much better informed & factual when commenting on any element of housing- rental or otherwise.

Before I go in to more detail as to why I feel your soundbite is so flawed- let's look at some key points when buying a fridge compared to renting.....

I have spent hours searching for the protections on consumer products and I can't come close to finding anything that remotely supports this statement. Of course, you are free to substantiate your claims.

The main protections I could find when buying a fridge-freezer are:

Consumer Rights Act- the right to return faulty goods for a refund within first 30 days of purchase.
Renting- you do not have this protection when renting property (although landlords must still repair/replace faults).

Consumer- Thereafter, the purchaser has a right to a repair, replacement or credit- as dictated by the store.
Renting- a landlord is obliged to repair any faulty elements provided in a timely manner. Failure to do so can result in withheld rent, compensation and possible legal action by the tenant and/or local council.

Consumer- consumers are not protected when an item is sealed (such as a DVD), perishable (plants & food) or bespoke.
Renting- landlords could argue 'perishable' as wear & tear must be allowed for and 'bespoke' could also often be argued with many tenancies having specific requirements (such as requiring a landlord to install items or supply furnishings specific to that tenancy). Yet Landlords do not have these protections and are required to maintain and repair regardless.

Consumer- after 6 months the legal onus is on a buyer to prove 'fault at purchase' to receive the above protections.
Renting- no such time frame applies when renting. Landlords are contractually obliged to repair/maintain/replace anything they supply throughout a tenancy and laws protect around the essential elements such as space heating & hot water. This may be caused by a fault of the tenants (lack of due care to malicious intent)- but unless tenant accountability can be proven they must undertake the repair and foot the bill.

Distant selling regs- buy something online & you have the right to return it within 14 days for a full refund. It must still be packaged & consumer must (often) cover logistical costs.
Renting- whilst many tenants (understandably) want to view a property in person there are plenty who take a property based on a listing. Often these are people relocating from abroad who need a home ready when they arrive. These Tenants have the very same protections & can surrender a tenancy in the first 14 days as long as the property is handed back as found.

Of course, there are standards as to how new appliances must be made, what materials can be used, how they are wired as well as safety disclaimers such as 'don't use your electric fan heater in the bath' but these don't go above the protections in place for tenants. Yet these apply to all appliances supplied within a property- so these protections are transient.

Now ask yourself- what protections are in place when you buy a 2nd hand appliance because, let's face it, not many rental properties are brand new?!

In all, there are over 400 pieces of legislation and regulation Landlords & Agents should comply with when renting out a property.

Just some of the key legislation protecting tenants include:

Gas Safety Laws
Legionnaires Checks
Smoke & CO laws
Furniture safety laws
Legal standards for space heating & hot water
Protections for quiet enjoyment
Deposit protection laws
Section21 (notice to terminate) legislation
Protection from 'revenge evictions'
Enforcement orders by Environmental Health Depts of local council.....

This is just a scratch of the surface of the laws to protect Tenants. In fact, the UK rental market is one of the most legislated on the planet.

What is more, it is only unlicensed as successive governments (both parties- so no finger-pointing please) have refused time & time again to license agents despite repeated calls from the industry for this. NAEA/ARLA have been asking the government for this almost since inception- yet the government refuse. Why?

The simple reason is- no enforcement framework. Much of the legislation in the rental sector over the last 20 years have been knee-jerk reactions to media coverage of a slum landlord & his colluding evil agent. That's not to say many of the recent laws haven't (by and large) been for the general improvement of the sector. Yet, they have continued to fail to tackle the issue at hand: rogue landlords.....and there is only one institution to blame for this: government.

Why do I say this? Of course, being an evil letting agent, I'm surely just looking to point the finger elsewhere right? Away from my fee-paying clients and, well, anywhere else. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As an agent, I have championed tenants since we launched our company in 2004. In fact, one of my key reasons for starting the company was the fact I hated the way many tenants were treated by landlords & agents alike.

However, the industry I work in today is a galaxy away from what it was in 2004. A host of new legislation, and the digital economy/universe have made certain of that. Yet, despite the raising standards, and the staggering burden placed on legitimate & professional agents & landlords alike, our industry is still failed and dragged back to the murky depths by the rogue few.

But who is really to blame? Renting is no different to any other area of life- a few strive to set the standard, most sit somewhere in the middle and the remaining few play the system to line their pockets any way they can, getting as much for as little as possible & to hell with the consequences.

This is where the government must stand up and accept liability. It is the staggering lack of enforcement that has seen the targeted/intended rogue element sidestep the changes. Whilst the rest of us update in-house procedures, attend regular training courses, adopt new systems, alter contracts, educate tenants & landlords..... the rogue element do nothing. Why? Because they know no one is about to knock on their door. They know no one is about to conduct a lengthy audit whilst trading is suspended. In short, they know there are little or few consequences for those who continue to flout the rules.

Look at it another way- if you got rid of 95% of all police officers what would happen to society? Sure, the majority would still be decent people but how would the rogue population behave? Would their behaviour curtail or blossom under unenforceable legislation? Would more people slowly slip in to the 'naughty column'- especially if they saw their income taxed and cut back at every turn by doing what was right?

I'm not saying renting is perfect. It probably never will be- what is? We could use some more laws but, before you do that, look at how to enforce the framework in place.

Licensing our industry could be the silver bullet for this. The revenues produced, could be used to fund enforcement teams focusing on both agents and landlords alike. In fact, to work I would suggest that all such funds be ring-fenced to ensure they are only used for this purpose and cannot be allocated elsewhere (which would possibly destroy the sector if this were to happen).

So please, please stop making baseless and inaccurate statements about our industry and sector and, instead, look at the few easy steps a government could take to radically improve standards almost overnight. Look at your local councils and ask how on earth are they to implement & enforce this with no budget?

You may want to read other thoughts on renting in my open letter to London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, here.

So, John, why don't you come & spend a day with us in our Shoreditch based lettings agency? Or any quality Lettings agency across the UK to better understand us and our clients. You need to see that we are allies, not enemies, and you need to understand the amazing work we do and the complex framework our landlords must abide by. It's probably the only way you'll learn to implement effective change in place of pointless sound bites.