A call has been made for the best letting agencies and other rental sector professionals to show how they comply with regulations, as a way of exposing the rogue operators who do not.
Neil Cobbold, chief operating officer of PropTech firm PayProp, says spreading the word about how good agencies comply with consumer and trading standards rules will make the public and the industry more aware of those who choose to flout the rules.
Recent research by London Trading Standards shows that a huge number of agencies in the capital have broken the law. In the 15 months to June 2019, no fewer than 46 per cent of 1,922 firms inspected failed to comply with either the Consumer Rights Act or their obligation to join a redress scheme.
This led to £1.2m in fines being issued as well as 14 criminal prosecutions for a range of offences.
"It's positive to see that Trading Standards is taking a proactive approach to enforcement. However, following the introduction of the Tenant Fees Act and compulsory Client Money Protection scheme membership earlier this year, there is now more regulation for them to police" says Cobbold.
"If everyone associated with the industry was equipped with the knowledge of what is required, we could avoid non-compliant agencies and improve industry standards as a whole," he says.
While Trading Standards' efforts to identify rogue operators have succeeded in highlighting widespread abuse, the body needs help from the public, particularly consumers with first-hand experience, Cobbold believes.
However, many tenants may not be aware of what they need to look out for, including agency's fees templates, CMP certificates and redress scheme memberships prominently displayed.
"Although the average renter will be aware of poor service when they come across it, they may not be aware of all the little things which could mean an agency is breaking the law. That's where the leading agencies can help by demonstrating to their customers how they are fully compliant and committed to transparency. This could have a knock-on effect of raising awareness among renters and landlords."
Although it only focused on the capital, Trading Standards' compliance research could have negative implications for the reputation of letting agencies across the country, the PropTech entrepreneur fears.
Cobbold says: ”These statistics should act as a wakeup call for the industry to get their house in order and distance themselves from wrongdoing - more agencies are operating outside of the law than many people may have previously thought.
"At a time when the lettings sector is in the spotlight due to its growing size, the huge number of private renters and its political importance, agents must do everything they can to protect their public reputation.
"This can be done by improving consumer knowledge of what agencies do and what is required of them, as well as operating professionally and transparently at all times," he explains.