The Welsh Assembly’s answer to the “housing crisis” in Wales, “Rent Smart Wales”, registration scheme got off to a slow start last week with a new landlord registration and licensing scheme.
Every landlord and agent with properties to manage in Wales will need to register under the scheme.
Aimed at preventing “rogue” landlords and agents from letting and managing properties, but the industry is expressing concerns that just not enough landlords and tenants know about it. This will be a particular problem for those who own rental property in Wales but live elsewhere in the UK or abroad. News travels pretty slowly in the diversified landlord community, so if the word is to be got out, the Welsh Government may have to fork out more taxpayers money to do it.
According to Welsh Housing Minister Lesley Griffiths, “Rent Smart Wales” will raise awareness in landlords, agents and tenants of their respective rights and responsibilities and “drive up standards in the private rented sector”.
Under the scheme all private landlords with properties in Wales will be required to register with Rent Smart Wales. If landlords wish to manage their own properties they will need to show under the scheme that they are “fit and proper” persons to hold a licence, and then undertake, and pass, approved training.
Failing this, all landlords will need to appoint a licensed agent to manage the property for them. If they are to avoid legal action, all landlords and agents will have 12 months to fully comply these new legal obligations.
Welsh Housing Minister Griffiths said:
“With around one in seven homes in Wales now privately rented, a strong sector with good working practices is absolutely vital. I am proud Wales is leading the way on improving professionalism across the private rented sector,’ said Griffiths.
“Our new, landmark scheme will drive up standards by making Wales the first country in the UK where managing landlords and agents are required to undertake training to ensure they are clear on their responsibilities,’ she explained.
“The changes will prevent rogue, and even criminal, landlords and agents from being involved in the management and letting of properties. This will help to protect tenants in the private rented sector, including students, lone parents and young families. Rent Smart Wales will also support good landlords and agents by helping them keep abreast of their responsibilities and legal obligations, and raising the reputation of the sector as a whole,’ she added.
National Landlords Association (NLA) research suggests as many as 65% of tenants in Wales have never heard of the scheme, but the finding also show that 69% of tenants believed, when asked, that they will feel more confident renting from private landlords and letting agents once they are all registered and more than56% believe that the scheme will help them to find appropriate housing.
Richard Lambert, chief executive officer of the NLA has said:
“The NLA will be working to help landlords and agents comply with this new law but we’ve always been concerned that a mandatory registration and licensing scheme will not provide the benefits the Welsh Assembly says it will.
“As the licensing authority, Cardiff City Council must start working with other local authorities from the outset in order to fine and prosecute those who fail to comply within the year’s grace period. Without proper enforcement the scheme will do nothing to stop criminals in the sector but as yet we’ve seen no detail about how Cardiff City Council plans to do this,’ he pointed out.
“Unless they’re quick off the mark, come next November, there’s a real danger that Rent Smart Wales will amount to little more than just a list of names and it will quickly lose the confidence of tenants who expect it to make a difference,’ he added.
The Rent Smart Wales scheme will replace all existing voluntary Landlord Accreditation Wales schemes, which had been operated by Cardiff Council on behalf of all local authorities in Wales.
Councillor Bob Derbyshire, City of Cardiff Council member for environment, has said that “Wales really is setting the standard which will professionalise the private rented sector”.
“By supporting and educating landlords and agents for the benefit of tenants, Rent Smart Wales aims to improve the practices of landlords and agents and help to tackle the bad landlords who give the sector a poor reputation”, he said.
Landlords and agents with properties in Wales should go to www.rentsmart.gov.wales to complete the registration process which should take around 15 minutes to complete for a single let, slightly longer if more properties are involved. For those who are not computer savvy, a paper based system is also available – contact your local council.
Getting a license as a landlord or letting agent will involve an application process, paying a fee, and passing a “fit and proper person check”, followed by completing an approved training course. All details are available on the Rent Smart Wales website.
For those landlords and agents who are already accredited under the Landlord Accreditation Wales will be transferred into the new system and the accreditation training they have already carried out will be recognised for the new licensing.
After one year of operation, enforcement powers in Part 1 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, will apply including fixed penalty notices and prosecutions.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Housing, Mark Isherwood has said of the new scheme:
“Far from ‘smart’, this flawed scheme simply waves a stick at landlords and will needlessly penalise those who do a good job.
“Labour ministers have completely refused to listen to the sector and empower vulnerable tenants.
“It’s extremely important to target bad landlords and root them out – but deterring people who may wish to bring a home back into use through the private rented sector must be avoided.
“Reputable landlord organisations have consistently offered to work with the Labour government to deliver a scheme which will incentivise the supply of quality homes for rent, target bad landlords and give tenants a voice.
“Labour ministers chose to ignore them, avoiding solutions which could’ve made a real difference.”
Landlord Registration Scheme Launched – https://t.co/jmLm7hIg9L
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) November 27, 2015