The property ombudsman has called for urgent reform and stricter regulation in the lettings industry after a 26% rise in the number of complaints received in 2011.
Lettings agencies need to be regulated in the same way as estate agents to protect tenants and landlords, says the ombudsman Christopher Hamer.
Last year 7,641 complaints were received - of these 25% were related to agencies that were not registered with the property ombudsman redress scheme. This meant there was nothing the office could do to resolve them because companies within the lettings industry aren’t legally obliged to register with an official scheme.
But Hamer says this law could be easily redefined to include all forms of tenancy, which would enforce lettings agents to conform to the official code of conduct laid out by the ombudsman and give greater protection to landlords and tenants.
"Consumer awareness is the key and 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," says Hamer.
"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," he adds.
Ian Potter, spokesperson for the association of residential lettings agents (ARLA), says he is "disappointed" with the rise.
"It comes as very little surprise given there is no national regulation in place to stop rogue agents setting up shop and taking advantage of what is a fragile market," he adds.