Seven lettings agents in Lambeth have been given penalty notices telling them they could face fines of £5,000 – or more – for not belonging to an approved redress scheme.
A Lambeth council spokesman told News From Crystal Palace: “Since 2014 it has been a legal requirement for all letting and property management agents to belong to an approved redress scheme.
“Lambeth Trading Standards had identified 19 businesses operating across the borough who were acting as a letting or property management agent but were not a member of a redress scheme.
“Businesses were informed that if they didn’t bring themselves into compliance, they would be issued a ‘notice of intent’.
“Follow up visits took place at least two weeks after the advice visit. “Of the 19 businesses, seven were still not compliant.
“These seven businesses were issued a notice of intent. “Under the regulations, the business then has 28 days to appeal the notice. “If they don’t, or the grounds of appeal are not accepted, the business will be issued a £5,000 fine per breach.
“At the end of the internal appeals process, seven businesses were issued with 10 final notices, each valued at £5,000 each.”
Businesses have the right to seek an appeal at the First Tier Tribunal, which has the power to quash or uphold a notice, the spokesman added.
“Anyone thinking of renting in Lambeth is entitled to expect certain things from a letting agent including that the business has joined a property redress scheme.
“”This means if things go wrong, the tenant has an option to raise a complaint with an independent party who will decide on the grievance and may even award compensation.
“And in order to crack down on hidden charges, there is also a requirement to publicise fees a perspective tenant is liable to pay. “These fees should be described clearly, and the notices should be visible and accessible in store and online.
“The private rental sector has been the focus for increased action by Lambeth council as the number of residents living in this type of accommodation continues to grow: latest figure show almost a third of dwellings in Lambeth are privately rented.
“This has included increased use of new fining powers, naming and shaming rogue landlords, and the introduction of a new housing management order license.”
Lambeth’s cabinet member for housing Cllr Paul Gadsby said: “Private renters are an important part of our community and they deserve to be treated with respect and fairness.
“We are determined to make this a reality through a tougher approach aimed at enforcing the rights of our renters and will not hesitate to penalise businesses who fail to adhere to their legal obligations.
“Tenants should be able to complain to a redress scheme if they are treated poorly by a letting agent and no one should be caught out by unexpected fees.
“Our Trading Standards team are working hard to ensure a level playing field for those businesses doing the right thing and protecting the rights of tenants exploited by unscrupulous businesses.
“Lambeth will be consulting later in the year on its private renter charter where we will be asking renters what they want from their council.”
IF YOU NEED HELP: You should report any concerns to the Citizens Advice consumer hotline on 03454 04 05 06. A trained advisor will give you initial advice, as well as alerting the trading standards team where you are based and where the business is based. (Source: Lambeth council’s ‘Love Lambeth’ website)