Rents fall for third successive month

Meanwhile, the Office of Fair Trading uncovers problems in lettings market

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The Independent Online

Rents fell in January for the third consecutive month, according to the latest figures from LSL Property Services.

According to their statistics, the average rent in England and Wales fell by 0.3 per cent in January to £732 per month. However, rents in January were still 2.8 per cent higher than a year ago.

The largest fall was in the South East where rents dropped 1.5 per cent, followed by Yorkshire/Humber with 0.9 per cent. The largest rise was in the East Midlands (1.2 per cent) and the West Midlands (0.9 per cent).

The figures come as the OFT launches a report highlighting a range of consumer protection issues in the lettings market after analysing nearly 4,000 complaints made by people renting a home as well as those letting out a property.

It found that both tenants and landlords were concerned about fees and charges levied by agents, poor service provided and that 'surprise' charges were introduced or 'drip-fed' once contracts have been signed.

Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of Goods and Consumer at the OFT, said "Our findings shows that tenants and landlords are often dissatisfied with their agents but we also know that most agents want to do the right thing. It's important that tenants ask for key information, but we also believe that Government, industry and enforcers working together can have a real impact and improve overall standards in the lettings market."

Ian Potter, Managing Director of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA), said: "The OFT’s report highlights some of the problems with the rental sector. It is expanding as home ownership becomes out of reach for many; however lack of regulation, and pressures on housing supply, mean some unscrupulous landlords and agents are able to take advantage of consumers, and are driving down the reputation and standards of the sector as a whole.

“We have long-called for a central system of regulation, and would agree with a number of the OFT’s recommendations to help improve the market. In particular, agents should always be transparent about the fees they charge, and the services associated with those fees. In absence of Government regulation, we would urge tenants and landlords to always consult with an agent who is a member of a recognised body like ARLA, which has a redress scheme and other consumer protection mechanisms in place."

Peter Bolton-King, Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors Residential Director, added: "The OFT report adds yet another voice to those calling for changes to the lettings market. However, RICS remain concerned there is still no recommendation for clear, consistent and targeted regulation for all aspects of the UK residential property market. Such an holistic approach is long overdue, since ultimately it is about the provision of shelter, a basic human requirement."