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Lettings market has become property industry's "wild west"

89% of voters in key marginal constituencies agree it should be compulsory for agents to register with a regulatory body

A "complete lack of effective regulation" has allowed the lettings sector to become the property industry’s "Wild West" which is putting consumers at risk, according to Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

RICS’ consumer letting survey, conducted in key marginal constituencies, highlights the potential for rogue lettings agents to cash in on the current rental boom due to a combination of consumers’ low expectations and a total lack of effective regulation.

At the moment, anyone can set up a lettings agency without appropriate qualifications, knowledge or understanding of the rental process. Nor is there a compulsion to conform to any code of conduct, provide safeguards or register with a government-approved redress system.

The report shows that 87% of renters support a single compulsory regulation scheme for all letting agents, although 92% of tenants said they were satisfied with their lettings agent. Nevertheless, two thirds said they did not receive an inventory when moving into a property.

Last month, housing charity Shelter revealed how complaints about landlords have risen dramatically: complaints made to local authorities have increased by 27% in the last three years, with over 85,000 complaints made in total over the past 12 months. More than 60% of complaints were related to serious and life-threatening hazards such as dangerous gas and electrics and severe damp. In the last year health services were involved in 781 cases due to the behaviour or neglect of private landlords.

"A good lettings agent can be worth their weight in gold for both landlord and tenant," said Peter Bolton King, RICS Global Residential Director. "However, there are too many corrupt agents that do not belong to any professional body who are taking advantage of the current gap in regulation, putting consumers at risk.

"Choosing the wrong agent can result in tenants encountering all sorts of problems such as lost deposits, broken agreements and excessive charges. What we would like to see is the government taking direct action on this and introducing a single regulatory and redress system for both sales and lettings agents to make sure they are fully accountable. Until this happens, we recommend that tenants use an lettings agent that is a member of a professional organisation."