Something to sit on the Government website? Questions on the Tenants' Charter

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Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government,launched a series of plans relating to the private rented sector on 16 October 2013.  Perhaps the most important of these was that the government will publish a new code of practice setting standards for the management of property in the private rented sector, with a view to making it statutory to provide greater confidence for tenants in what they can expect.  This is alongside an OFT consultation on guidance for lettings professionals!

My first point is that Lettings Agents must be feeling battered by the raft of announcements coming their way and how they are all linked (if at all).  For example how is the DCLG’s proposed code of practice going to be linked to the OFT guidance for lettings professionals?  Surely it would be better to have just one document which sets out how lettings agents should operate?  Or perhaps that would be too easy!

But with regards to the particular issue of a Tenants Charter this has long been a feature in the social housing sector and according to the DCLG press release the Charter will “help tenants understand what they should expect from their rental deal, and how they can take action if they are the victim of hidden fees or poor standards of accommodation.” A campaign for better awareness of existing laws is being used as an alternative to the full review of the legislation which the Select Committee originally recommended. But I already have a few questions on the Tenants' Charter:

  • The document says it is a draft Charter for discussion but there is nothing that says how people can comment on the Charter?
  • Is this a Charter which will sit on the Government website or is it something which the Government expects agents and landlords to give to their tenants?
  • If the Government expects the document to be supplied to tenants, how will they enforce that requirement if landlords or agents fail to do so?

In relation to deposits the Charter does have some errors.  It highlights the importance of agents having client money protection and refers to SAFEAgent, forgetting that there will be lettings agents out there who have client money protection insurance but are not SAFE Agent members.  And rather surprisingly, given all the attention to the Superstrike decision, the Charter doesn’t say that deposits taken on ASTs pre 6 April 2007 which have been renewed or become statutory periodic should be protected.  The Charter rightly stresses the importance of an inventory and check in report.  But the Charter should make it clearer that if for any reason a tenant disputes the inventory/check in report that they should highlight this at the start of the tenancy. We will feed these comments back to DCLG.

But overall the Charter is sound; it sets out the rights and responsibilities of tenants who are renting a home.  The problem as ever is making sure that tenants fully understand the Charter and their tenancy agreement. 

At the Tenancy Deposit Scheme we see a lot of evidence of tenants not fully understanding what they have signed up to and just publishing a Charter is not going to mean that these problems go away.  I know that in the social housing sector there is a lot of time involved in walking tenants through the tenancy agreement; is this something that lettings agents need to do with their tenants?

I am not sure what the answer is to that question but I do know that just publishing a Charter won’t in itself crack the problem of tenants not knowing their rights and responsibilities.  What’s your view?

Steve Harriott
October 2013

The draft Tenants Charter can be found at:
The new under secretary of state for housing is Kris Hopkins MP

Posted by Steve Harriott, CEO on 17 October 2013

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