Tough new watchdog needed for crackdown on dodgy estate agents with power to slap on fines, experts demand

Tough new watchdog needed for crackdown on dodgy estate agents with power to slap on fines, experts demand

UNSCRUPULOUS letting agents face a crackdown with experts calling for a watchdog to be created that can fine dodgy firms.

A new report also wants estate agents, letting agents and managing agents to be forced to hold formal qualifications and abide by a code of practice.

Currently, anyone can operate as a property agent regardless of qualifications or whether they are a member of an official body.

And while many take a professional approach or sign up to standards of practice through membership to a professional body, others don't.

This leaves tenants, homebuyers and sellers open to being ripped-off by unfair charges and unprofessional services.

Because of this, a group of industry experts, who were asked to report their findings to housing minister Heather Wheeler, are calling for the introduction of a property watchdog.

How to complain about a property agent

IF you have a complain about a property agent you first need to complain directly to it.

If that you're unhappy with the agent's response or they don't reply within eight weeks – and the agent is a member of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme – then you can submit a complaint to the service for free.

If the agent isn't a member of the service, check if it's signed up to any other complaints body and submit a complaint to them.

If the agent isn't a member of any complaints schemes then you can complain to your local authority's trading standards team.

This watchdog would also make sure leaseholders are told of any service charges and fees involved when buying a property.

A leasehold property – typically fats and new-build homes – is where you own the home but not the ground it stands on.

Here, you often pay a ground rent and service charge to the landowner – known as the freeholder.

But leaseholders can be left unsure of what they are paying for, how their contribution compares to others, and whether the costs are justified.

The sale of leaseholds on new homes was banned by the government last month – but it won't take force until legislation is put in place and there's no timescale on when this will be.

Heather Wheeler MP said: “Everyone should be able to have full confidence in their property agent when selling or renting a home.

"While the majority of agents offer a good service, it’s high time we take action to tackle a minority who are letting the sector down.

“So I am grateful to Lord Best and the members of the working group for their work on this important topic, and will carefully consider the recommendations made in the report.”

A new watchdog has already been set up to make sure rogue letting agents don't rip-off tenants after a ban on unfair fees came into force on June 1.

The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team (NTSELAT) can take agencies to court if they are found to be fleecing renters.

But it doesn't have the power to look into individual cases.

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