Buy To Let Updated:
The lettings industry is facing calls to clean up its act, after complaints increased by more than a quarter in 2011.
The figures for last year have been released by the Property Ombudsman, which has renewed its call for standards to be raised across the lettings market.
Lettings agents market landlords' properties for them in return for a fee, but many are falling short of standards, potentially causing problems for owners and tenants alike.
The Ombudsman said it dealt with 7,641 letting enquires over the 12 months – a rise of 26% compared with 2010.
And many tenants face costly legal action to get their complaint resolved as it was revealed that slightly more than one in four complaints concerned letting agents who are not registered with the Property Ombudsman.
"I am concerned that, for those consumers, they may have little alternative but to undertake potentially costly legal action to pursue their complaint, a daunting prospect in the current financial climate," said Christopher Hamer, Property Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman said that it was proposing the formation of a group to develop and promote overall standards.
"Consumer awareness is the key," added Mr Hamer. "Knowledgeable landlords already check if an agent has a separate account for client money and has signed up to a redress scheme, before allowing them to market their property.
"However, landlords who are new to lettings, for example, will no doubt be attracted by lower fees and may not enquire what protection the agent can provide both them and their tenants should problems later occur.
"Agents who protect client money and follow the TPO Code of Practice can give landlords this reassurance."
The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) said that with no national regulation, it was little surprise that rogue agents are 'setting up shop' and taking advantage of a fragile market.
"We have long called for increased regulation in the sector and as such, we are not unsupportive of the concept of a council to help promote consumer understanding of the importance of using professional agents like ARLA licensed members," said Ian Potter, operations manager at ARLA.
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