Letting agents in Scotland face criminal sanctions if they do not sign up to a mandatory register, laying down a marker for what could happen in England if licensing were introduced south of the border.
The official guidance warns: “It will be a criminal offence to do letting agency work if you aren’t on the register. If you’re convicted, you could face a fine of up to £50,000, up to six months imprisonment or both.”
All letting agents operating in Scotland will have to sign up to the register by the end of September next year. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 also requires letting agents to abide by a statutory code of practice, while key individuals will be required to undergo a new minimum standard of training.
New guidance by the Scottish Government has been published, explaining who will be required to register.
Housing bodies are warning agents that fulfilling the requirement in relation to training will mean that letting agents must plan ahead.
They are also warning that some agents seem unaware of the tough new regime.
Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “A Registration Guide is now available from the Scottish Government to help letting agents understand what letting agent regulation will mean for their business.
“With under a year to go until letting agent regulation begins, letting agents must start to take steps to make sure that they comply with the Code of Practice and have the necessary qualification and training.
“I would encourage those who must meet the training requirements to sign up with one of the qualification providers (LETWELL or Propertymark Qualifications) as soon as possible.”
The new Register of Letting Agents will make it mandatory not only for agents to sign up, but for others doing letting agency work – and in Scotland this particularly includes lawyers. The requirement may also apply to individuals managing rental property on behalf of family members.
Wales already has mandatory licensing of letting agents under its Rent Smart Wales scheme.
In England, there have been repeated denials by housing ministers that licensing will be considered. However, similar assurances that there would be no ban on letting fees – as exists in Scotland – were overturned by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement which announced exactly that, a ban on letting fees charged to tenants.