By Steve Roulstone


In the past week, several articles have been published which frankly slate my industry for what at best can be described as ‘sharp practises’ This hurts, not only on behalf of my own agency, but also on behalf of all Letting Agents that take their role and profession very seriously.

It is clear that there are real foundations to these reports and the launch of Shelters recent campaign to remove all Tenant charges in the UK is behind the surge in focus. What is being missed is the number of Letting Agents that are professional in how they carry out their business and who as a result of this negative journalism, are seeing their own reputation suffer.

There seems to be a general call from those who are adding their weight behind the criticism for Letting Agents to be regulated or meet the same standards as Estate Agents, but I feel it is time a step back was taken and the current situation looked at with a less reactive eye.

Those who take the time to read my Blog will already be aware, that we wholeheartedly back the call for professional registration of both Agents and Landlords. No argument and nothing more to be said, just a Government needed to be strong enough to introduce the realistic workable legislation.  

But act in the same professional manner as Estate Agents?

Granted they are better regulated (please see the last paragraph) but when I first started most Estate Agents did not get involved in the rental market, seeing it as their poorer relation. Now of course, they dare not ignore it as it has ensured their business is shored up following the collapse of the sales market. But at the time I started, it was also well known that the Agents who charged the greater fees, were indeed Estate Agents who were also involved in the Rental Market.

So here is the rub, over the last few years, nearly all Estate Agents have realised they can no longer ignore 20% of UK housing stock in the private rental sector and during these same years, the complaints about overcharging have grown and grown. Now I may be simply putting 2 and 2 together here, but I think it would be far more informative to see just how many (as a %) of the complaints came as a result of charges levied by Estate Agents who Let, as opposed to Letting agents who do not sell.

There is no doubt that the correct way forward is an open fee structure. Tenants should pay their share of costs, but the key word here is ‘share’. Fees should be transparent and Tenants should not be made to pay additional fees during a Tenancy unless they request a service which should rightly be chargeable.  What is missed is that by charging Tenants a higher percentage of the overall costs, Agents can charge Landlords less and appear to offer cheaper services, but that is another story! In the meantime, let’s do a little more work on those figures, and look a bit closer at which sector is causing Tenants to complain.


By Steve Roulstone


Last year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) changed the regulations on the size of water tank for regular inspection for Legionella disease, which had the implication that all rental property is now included within the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 legislation. I wrote at the time that what the industry needed (Rental Industry) was a clear and defined method of dealing with the implications of this change, well the results are in and Landlords are once again facing the bill.

We all know that the risk of a Tenant catching Legionella within a residential property is slim, I doubt anybody would sensibly deny that, but what cannot be denied, is that the HSE are quite clear in their advice on the subject, that it is clearly the responsibility of Landlords to ensure that all precautions are taken to avoid any risk at all. This means all houses must be considered for Health and Safety checks and as Agents we have no option, in fulfilling our obligations to our Landlords, but to advise that check be carried out.

There is a difference here in that the decision as stated in the legislation, lies clearly with the Landlord and therefore whilst we have to recommend the inspection, every Landlord has the right to say no and as long as we can confirm the instruction, then our position is clear. The point being, it is not our decision, but we always have to give best advice and can never confirm that a property does not need investigating.

The Code of Practise change states that to comply with the law in this area, it is required that all rental properties must have had a Legionella risk assessment, so only if the disease occurs would failure to comply become an issue. What the decision by the HSE confirms, is that no risk is to small to escape their attention.

What is not considered is where do you stop? Just how many checks and precautions do you carry out before you accept that life carries risks and no matter how you live your life, you run the risk of being caught out at one time or another, by something outside of our control? Just imagine for a moment that it was found that by cleaning every carpet every year, that asthma was cut by half. Does that also become the responsibility of the Landlord as well? Or does the Tenant accept the risk, or, have the carpets cleaned themselves.

This for me is where this legislation falls down, by all means make everybody aware of the risks in private houses, but let’s have a situation where the Tenant decides if the check should be carried out and if they feel it should, let’s have the price shared by both parties if the Tenant wishes to have the risk assessed?

I once again turn to the sales industry, has anybody suggested that private houses should have this investigation before they are sold? The answer of course is no, but I fail to see what the differences are and why once again, the rental industry has been signalled out for action. So this additional burden has been placed upon all Landlords, but I repeat, no matter what I believe, in our position as a professional management agency, we cannot ignore compliance issues, particularly in relation to the health of Tenants and in the interest of safety.

By Steve Roulstone MARLA

R&L Insurance

Landlords Legal Expenses and Rent Guarantee (LERG) Insurance is a vehicle that has been available for many years to protect Landlords from loss of rent and the cost of taking action against Tenants not fulfilling their obligations. The knowledge their income is protected has to be a serious consideration for all Landlords.

Only one way do it – the right way.

As both a Landlord and a professional Letting Agent holding LERG cover is a position I always recommend. Almost all LERG policies as a prime benefit of full management carry professional referencing as a prerequisite to being able to take the insurance so further credence is given to the Tenant wishing to rent your property when a pass is achieved. In fact, it could be said Landlords without LERG are taking unnecessary risks if, when presented with the option, the Insurance is not taken out.

Security in the System.

Yet amazingly, I have been advised of situations where agents acting on behalf of a Landlord, instead of offering referencing services to their client, simply requested ‘Referees’ from the prospective Tenant and then asked for a Guarantor, presumably because they did not like the look of the Tenant!

Renting your House or Home

I wish here to give as much credence to the ‘Agent’ as possible, but as a Landlord, I would not be happy committing the security of my property to somebody who decided themselves if the person in front of them was a good Tenant or not. We all think we can take such decisions because we have the necessary experience and after the years I have spent in this industry I would consider myself to be a good judge, but I would never put myself in the position of taking a risk with somebody else’s investment! This is simply not a good idea where referencing is concerned.

Follow the professional recomendation.



If industry bodies such as ARLA recommend referencing and or simple credit checks to ensure security through agents, then surely all agents should make such arrangements to protect their clients. But let’s look from an even simpler prospective, if you are supposed to provide professional services as an industry representative, no matter what the industry, surely, you should always offer the best service possible? If instead you cut corners, how can you call yourself a professional?

By Steve Roulstone

Shelter part 5


The Governing Bodies.

As a member of ARLA and TPO I will restrict my review on professional bodies to these two organisations and what they recommend, but I have to state at the very beginning, how much easier it would be if legislation was passed which embodied such recommendations in the same way as RICS codes of practise are adopted by the Government.

There is no doubt that bodies such as ARLA and TPO will have to come off the fence and state their opinion. Because at present, the advice listed is about clarity and visibility if fees, not about the level of fees. RICS who the Courts would turn to for guidance in any court case, agree with my opinion, Peter Bolton King in an RICS Blog on the subject states: Shelter’s proposal does little to protect exposed renters to all manner of unethical practices on the part of unscrupulous agents.

Another vote for legislation and a weighty one at that! But consider the opposite for a moment? If Shelter get there way, Tenants will lose the protection that they possess as a fee paying customer, there interests will still be subject to the correct duty of care and from what seems to be happening in Scotland, yet another barrier between Landlord and Tenant will not be introduced. All of this, in an Industry that would still remain unlegislated, for their recommendation, whilst supporting legislation, does not include it. Surely what Shelter should be doing, rather than just shooting from the hip, is working with the Industry, to push for the legislation those who believe in professionalism are seeking already.

There is another area where I believe Shelter to be wrong and that is in the area of choice. Some 20% of UK housing stock is now available through the private rental stock. That is choice in anybody’s book and to state that Tenants are forced down the route of high fees is not true, certainly not in my town. Through choice, Tenants can walk away from high fees, just as Landlords have the choice to resist Agents that charge unreasonable fees to Tenants. Only yesterday, I drove past an office advertising to Landlords, that they could rent their property at no cost to the Landlords at all!

It is clear from such instances that Shelter has some justification for what they are attempting and I must make it clear that I agree in principal with their case. What is also clear is that I do not agree with their assumptions and methods, but whilst some agents advertise in this manner, they will always have an ear. What is needed is debate and discussion as the more people who are made aware the better for the industry. All could take action in their own way, hopefully against those who give credence to Shelters cause.

In summary, I was always taught that it is better to lean on an open door than try to smash them all down? The picture painted is I believe unreasonable, but not without cause. The aim however is somewhat misguided and would do better and I believe achieve much more, if accompanied by legislation that was enforceable. In the meantime, healthy debate will spread the knowledge of what is happening and I encourage everything that is done to further healthy knowledge.

By Steve Roulstone

Shelter part 4

High fees.

As a Letting Agent of some fourteen years, I am happy to confirm that my Wife and I now make a good living from the Business that we run. It has taken many years of hard work and long hours but this very statement is subjective and as two people who started their working life in a two up two down terraced house, I know that our description of a good living is well below the expectations of most when using these words to describe their lifestyle.

This is the point, what some call excessive, others call standard. Add this to how you differentiate between differing more expensive to live areas of the Country and the question of ‘what is acceptable’ becomes difficult to answer! You can then add to this, the level of service provided and the reflective charges made for higher quality services. They do exist and should not be ignored.

What however cannot be ignored and where I am totally in agreement with Shelter, is where charges levied are beyond what is reasonable and where the service delivered does not justify such charges. I would add, especially where Tenants are charged in order to advertise reduced prices for Landlords.

There is no doubt this is seen as a marketing strategy and an acceptable way in gaining those all important new Landlords. Locally to me, we have vehicles carrying Company logo’s proudly stating how low there charges are. I am not aware of what they charge their Tenants, so would not point the finger, but as the market becomes more and more competitive, more and more Agents respond by cutting prices. The fact remains, the opportunity to reduce charges to Landlords whilst increasing Tenants fees exists with no restraints.

I would associate this practise to how rouge agents who do not deal with Tenants deposits correctly are dealt with. Does that mean all Agents should be tarred with the same brush?

I think not and believe that a fair charge can easily be configured, even with the option for Tenants who wish to sign up for higher level services, which we should not remove from the market place. Let’s look to application fees again for Mortgages. They operate well from an industry that is well regulated, yet the choice is out there and we all know that fees need to be considered. Is it really outside the realms of possibility that a similar situation could not be delivered for Letting Agents?

If they are transparent, capped in law and understood what the minimum available for the fee that is charged is, then surely we have a framework for Agencies to be included in a professional industry, through which, licenses are offered for compliance.

Get it wrong, the license is revoked. Service levels need not be affected; proper fee paying diligence would be a consideration for both sides and recourse still available for the Tenants. I call that a win win!

Finally, a look at the Professional Industry view will be the focus of Part 5.

By Steve Roulstone

Shelter part 3

Agent and Landlord fees.

I think it a good starting place to look at why charges are introduced to Tenants. Letting Agents unlike car rental Companies for example, do not own every house and therefore reap no benefit from the rent. Yes of course, the end result is to provide a service for the Landlord to provide a Tenancy that is acceptable, insurable and above all efficient as far as care of the property and payment of the rent is concerned, but that is not to say that the Tenant does not benefit from the process by ensuring their needs are covered through the process.

We discuss affordability before any fees are taken, to ensure they approach referencing in the right way, the need for guarantors and additional supportive paperwork to get them through the process, which is all treated with confidentiality and respect for their own circumstances. Time is taken to discuss and arrange further visits to the property to cover their requirements and to measure for curtains or furniture as part of the service. If this element is removed, I do not see how this will benefit any Tenant or procedure of renting a home. Rather, by being a fee paying part of the process, they have rights and they need to be respected during the process that they pay towards.

I cannot help but feel that Tenants would be better served by Shelter, if they looked to ensure they received better service for their part of this process, rather than this sledge hammer approach.

So let’s look at what the Landlord is charged for that service.

He also pays a fee up front, which on average should be split down the middle between Tenant and Landlord. If the service commissioned is a ‘Tenant find’ service, then the Landlord will usually pay a substantially higher fee, but the Tenant fee should remain the same.

The Landlord then, in the case of a fully managed property, continues to pay a monthly fee against the rent collected. I can only comment on our office, but in order to provide the best service for our Landlords, which Shelter do recognise is where our legal responsibility lies, charges made to Tenants during Tenancies are wherever possible, reduced to the minimum, reflecting the work being undertaken, or indeed avoided if at all possible. This means we do not insist on new agreements and the evidence is that Tenants like the option of choice this gives them, as in reality, our Tenants appear to stay longer than the average. Shelter believes all Tenants should be given much longer Tenancies. I doubt many would wish to sign for the five years they feel should be available and I say this as a Tenant myself.

The tenant pays to be referenced, which apart from confirming the affordability, also ensures the Landlord can take Insurance against any unpaid rent and to cover legal expenses if action needs to be taken. From the Tenants perspective, the affordability is no different than the assessment made when applying for a mortgage, yet I see no claims that Mortgage companies (the financial beneficiary) should pay for application procedures in the same way.

Tenants also pay for the documentation raised to move them in. This more often than not reflects their individual situation, regarding pets or lifestyle, as well as being enshrined in Law to ensure they are protected.

Therefore, reasonable charges are in my opinion justified and rather than challenge the legitimacy of any such charge, it is the level of charges that should be addressed and this will be the subject of part 4.

By Steve Roulstone

Shelter part 2

The Shelter perspective:

Shelter answer many questions within their report, far too many for me to comment on in these pages, but clearly they see high fees as the issue, but do not support a reasonable charge, rather preferring that all Tenants should be able to rent property at no charge. I do not understand why and see the reasoning behind their assumption as a strike against any organisation that has to be able to make a profit rather than a conclusion that makes any sense.

They fail to recognise that many Agents are reasonable and charge fees far lower than what they call unfair, making charges easily visible and making it possible for Tenants to remain within the property of their choice with very little financial impact for the life of the Tenancy. At Castle Estates, as a Franchise organisation, we were all taught the need to have fees which are justifiable. We are now independent offices, but the replies I received to my question of fees before writing this Blog from our offices, all confirmed rates around half of the average quoted by Shelter.

Whilst on this tack, what about the information they make this judgement upon? Where did that come from? They state on two occasions in the report that 1 in 4 people in England and Wales have complained about being overcharged by Agents. But then, if you read carefully, confirm that the 1 in 4 is actually based upon those who responded to a request for information in the first place and so forgive me, but in my opinion, it is better described as from the complaints received, 1 in 4 related to Agents fees, because unless Shelter can tell me differently, people who have nothing to complain about, would rarely respond or contact them? Perhaps they can confirm to the contrary?

They also state that a complete ban on Letting fess is the best solution, because they have conducted many surveys and mystery shopping schemes around the Country, but do not actually give any other figures or conclusions about the surveys other than the 1 in 4 figure. I would like to see this figure clarified and further proof of why  a total ban is the only solution, because the impact they see from what has happened in Scotland is clearly only considered from the Tenants point of view and for any change to be fair, surely all sides need to be considered?

The implications I know of, without having to check many sources, is the that many Tenants are now aware that they can pursue more than one property at no cost to themselves and decide which property is more suitable as the process continues. In one case, a Landlord paid for four sets of referencing fees before finding a Tenant that would complete. In one case, being advised the day before a Tenancy was due to start that they were not preceding. The result in another case was the property was taken of the market in support of a prospective Tenant, for four weeks and yet they still advised the Agent concerned, that another more suitable property had become available.

There are those who would say so what to these details, but Landlords, who Shelter clearly agree are desperately needed in the housing market, are having to now respond to the whim of Tenants. Is that what Shelter wish to propose through the whole Country?

I could go on, but will just restrict to asking again, why are reasonable fees not an acceptable solution? Shelter state because they could be challenged through the Courts! Well forgive me, but I thought the point of the Courts was for all practises to be able to be challenged? Rather, legislative restrictions to fees would be created through the Courts. Is that not a fairer way rather than a total ban?

By Steve Roulstone

Shelter part 1

The introduction:

Two weeks ago, Shelter launched a campaign to remove Tenant Fees from the current standard practise of renting a property through Letting Agents. The outcry from the Industry could be heard loud and clear as calls to action were sounded. What is needed is a realistic look at the reasons why and the current practises of the Industry and through several Blogs I will look to state the case for those concerned as it currently exists, along with my own take on the subject.

The Blogs will mainly consider Shelter’s stance as the impact of and reasons why the campaign was launched at all is considered from all sides. This is a debate that will run and run, but one that could have been tackled already if the Government of the day had listened to the clamour for licensing that is supported by those who link themselves, through professional bodies and through our membership of approved recourse agencies, to the word ‘professional’ at all levels.

I will also comment on the impact of the process in Scotland where such legislation was introduced as far back as 1984, but as Shelter recognises, only truly took effect with legislation allowing recourse last year.

Shelter make many claims in their report, but one thing stands out quite clearly in how they describe both the industry and what they believe should happen and that is that they do not fully understand the industry and how it should operate. I say this because they clearly recommend that legislation could be introduced alongside the existing Estate agency legislation that oversees that particular section of the industry, but fail to recognise, that for many years, the majority of those who charge high fees, are in fact Estate Agents who Let property as well.

Even the suggestion, that an industry that deals with such complicated legislation as Letting Agents do, should be dealt with by linking us to Estate Agency legislation makes no sense. Rather, what this industry requires is legislation to ensure that not only are Letting Agents registered, but that they are also qualified. That is legislation that needs to stand alone and indeed, only then, could Estate Agents who, let’s face it, have turned to our industry for survival after the collapse of the sales market, be seen to understand and be aware of just how complex this market is.

Of course the problem with such statements is that there are plenty of Estate Agents who do know and have always known how to run a Lettings section. Just as there are plenty of Letting agents who have spent years taking advantage of Tenants. I admire and object to both accordingly, but to suggest that some ‘bolt on legislation’ could solve the overall issue, is short sighted, in my opinion.

Indeed there is plenty wrong on all sides and what this campaign does do is give the opportunity for the overall scenario to be discussed. I for one welcome that opportunity and by writing what I hope will be an informative article, hope to clarify some of the statements that are currently flying about.

I do however fully understand and accept that in many cases Tenants are overcharged for the process. The most worrying fact that has come out of the report is that many Landlords are not even aware that charges are levied upon Tenants and surely therefore, would not be aware, that many Tenants are starting Tenancies in their property, feeling they have been taken advantage of and somewhat cheated from day one! As a Landlord, that is a situation I would wish to avoid, at all costs!

By Craig Smith


There has been yet another court case due to confusion around tenancy deposits and this one has sent the lettings industry into a spin about what does or doesn’t need to be done.

The case in question is Superstrike Vs Rodrigues where the Landlord had issued a section 21 notice for the tenants to vacate. The tenancy started before the tenant deposit protection came in on 6th April 2007. The issue with this case is that the tenancy actually started before 6th April 2007 and became periodic after that date. Once the tenancy had become periodic, it was deemed to be a new tenancy in the eyes of the law and therefore the deposit should have been registered. In turn, this meant that the Landlord could not rely on their Section 21 notice for the tenants to vacate.

The tenants challenged the notice that was issued as the deposit had not been protected in line with the Housing Act 2004 legislation. As the wording isn’t all that clear, a lot of Landlords could find themselves in a bad position if they have had long term tenants.

Right now, there will probably be a lot of Landlords checking their files to make sure they are within the law and with good reason! By not registering the deposit as it should have been a Landlord can find themselves not only unable to give notice to the tenant (they could but they would lose if it went to court!) but also having to pay back more than 3 times the deposit amount to the tenant.

Back in November 2012, there was a similar case that caused Landlords to make some important changes to their processes. The deposit may need to be protected, we already know that, but once the tenancy has gone to a periodic status it means that a new set of Prescribed Information needs to be issued to the tenants. This information should already have been provided to the tenant at day one and needs to be given again at the first periodic stage.

This is a process that we, as an agent, have already been doing for our Landlords to ensure that they are protected and not at risk from such cases. It is a very rare instance but one that could have major consequences for any Landlord involved. The deposit protection schemes are yet to release anything further on what they advise Landlords to do.

By Steve Roulstone

Perfect Tenant

I have just finished reading an article in a magazine called the Negotiator, designed for the industry, most articles are centred on some professional within the trade, being given the opportunity to sell their wares. In this article the case was being made for referencing potential Tenants and how this particular referencing agency boss was convinced that the better the level of referencing carried out, the better the Tenant that would be produced.

There is of course an easy case to be put forward to support this argument, but in reality I do not feel this is even half the case that needs to be considered. To me, referencing is an absolute must, but in the interest of the Landlord, this is so that the Tenant concerned can be insured through a rent and legal expenses insurance. It really is that simple. By referencing, past performance is assessed, affordability is confirmed and future actions can be insured. Not a difficult decision.

But is this enough to find the perfect Tenant? That was the gist of the article and where I would have to disagree.

We have a very simple policy with Tenants. Look after them well and they will look after our Landlords property. I speak from the position of being a Landlord and at present a Tenant as well, so it is with personal experience that I know our policy stands up to the actual reality of living in rented property.

That reality is that although as industry professionals we know that what the Tenant is paying for is the right to live at the property concerned, all Tenants need to feel that they are also paying for a level of service which, whether through an agency or renting direct from a Landlord, if they are left feeling that this relationship is one sided, they will be left feeling it has not been delivered and that nobody cares.

I cannot recall how many Landlords have informed me about how disappointed they were at the state of a property when a Tenant left, but too many times when I ask if they have visited that same property during the Tenancy, or been in touch with the Tenant, the answer has been no. If the Tenant does not have an outlet for their findings when living at a property, the feeling of being abandoned slowly turns to a feeling of anger. The rest is human nature. If nobody else cares, in their opinion, why should they? 

That is why we ensure Tenants have a voice. This principal does not mean that we should comply with all Tenant wishes, not at all, but that those wishes should be given time and a platform. By working with your Tenants, they will respect your role and in my experience the property as well. The objective of this principal for us is simple; happy tenants look after the property and pay the rent. That, we know, is exactly what our Landlords require. That, I believe, is much closer to a perfect Tenant.