What Is A Letting Agent Responsible For (A Landlord’s Perspective)?

On the surface, questions don’t get any drier, and perhaps even simpler. But that’s the thing with blissful ignorance, it can make almost anything seem mundane.

If you boil it down to the core, this is the answer you’d probably expect:

A letting agent is responsible for managing properties for private landlords.

Depending on the level of service acquired, the agent’s responsibilities can include finding tenants, collecting rent, and fully managing the tenancy.

But the reality is, it’s not that simple (even though it should be); there’s a lot of misconceptions, and that’s precisely why I’m taking on this silly little question.

My assumption is, if you’re a landlord trying to enlighten yourself on this subject matter, you’re either looking for an agent and trying to decipher ‘how much bang you’ll get for your buck’ before splurging on the hired help, or you’re in disputes with one (and now you’re trying to find out if they’re responsible for whatever is you’re bickering about). If it’s the latter, you may also want to jump over to the blog post where I discuss how to make a complaint against your letting agent (but only after you’re done in here).

If you asked me what letting agents were responsible for 10 years ago (before I became a landlord), my answer would be completely different than today’s. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even think I was the answering the same question. It would be like comparing apples with dildos. (Yup, that’s the level you should expect.)

So why isn’t a straightforward question to answer? Well, just like most other industries that want to remain profitable in this day and age; letting agents are now offering digital/online solutions, so the game has been completely flipped on its head. To clarify, that’s a good thing for the consumer!

Page contents:

The Landlord = Client

Firstly, just to be clear, the landlord is the letting agent’s client, and not the tenant. Landlords pay the service fees, so that means Letting agents are contractually obliged to put the landlord’s best interests first.

What is a letting agent NOT responsible for?

I think it’s equally as important to discuss what a letting agent is NOT responsible for.

Actually, scrap that, it’s more important, because there’s too many common misconceptions floating around about what agents are responsible for, and that’s why agents aren’t short of disgruntled customers.

Who’s to blame? Are agents mis-selling, or are consumers just failing to do their homework and expecting too much? I suspect there’s a little bit of both going on.

Anyways, putting aside the finger-pointing, generally speaking agents aren’t responsible for the following (even if they say they are as part of their sales pitch)…

  • Landlord legal responsibilities – it is always the landlord’s responsibility to ensure their legal obligations are met.

    Every good agent will guide and advice accordingly to ensure their customer (the landlord) is legally compliant, but in the event of a shortcoming, the landlord will almost always be held responsible in the eyes of the law.

    While I don’t want to go nose-diving into what letting agents are notoriously known for, which is, to be snake-oil salesmen that massively overcharge and spectacularly under-deliver, that has been the unfortunate reality for a few bazillion people, and in order to give some perspective I need to be transparent by saying there’s often a massive difference what is promised/expected and what is delivered.

    So my point is, while many agents will initially say they’ll help ensure you’re ticking all the legal boxes, when it boils down it, you won’t be able to escape responsibility if you fall short. To be specific, the landlord is liable for everything done by the agent – so long as this comes within the ambit of his ‘ostentsible authority’. Here’s a nice blog over at the Landlord Law blog which explains it in more detail.

  • Rent arrears & problem tenants – yup, same as above!

    While an agent should do their utmost to find decent and respectful tenants that pay rent on time and keep the property clean and tidy, unfortunately if the tenant crosses over to the dark-side and goes rogue, it’s not the agents’ responsibility.

    Of course, every good agent will try their best to resolve the situation (assuming you’ve opted in for a fully managed service). But ultimately, the burden is on you.

On a sidenote, you wouldn’t be totally mindless for shuffling through my guide on how to choose a good letting agent if you’re currently in the market for one. Due diligence is most definitely required, and it will help avoid a buttload of misfortunes.

Different types of agents and services

Ok, so now we know what agents aren’t responsible for, let’s move onto the services they offer!

I think the golden rule to remember is that every letting agent is different, and each agent tailor their own products based on their own set of variables. For example, ‘Letting Agent A’ may offer a fully managed service that includes a property inventory, but ‘Letting Agent B’ also offers a fully managed service, but they don’t include an inventory.

There’s no set standard, so before signing the dotted line, ensure you know exactly what you’re paying for (and not necessarily assume you’ll get what you expect).

Online letting agent services

More and more landlords are ditching the traditional high-street agent for the shiny new and significantly cheaper online letting agents, and it’s actually due to the rise of online agents for why the responsibilities of a letting agent have become somewhat unrecognisable from some years ago.

I won’t bother regurgitating the details of what, where or how an online agent works, but I will quickly recite the basics: an online agent works similarly to a high-street agent, but the main difference (besides from the price-tag) is that an online agent doesn’t have a psychical presence on the high-street, so you can’t just walk into a local branch. They operate out of a central office and provide support through email and telephone.

If you’ve been living under a rock and unfamiliar with the whole concept, I strongly encourage you to, at the very least, flick through my guide to online letting agents. You genuinely may end up saving yourself a small fortune.

So, how is that relevant? Ok, I was just getting to that!

Depending on which type of agent you decide to work with (online or high-street), the responsibilities generally vary, even though the goal is the same (i.e. to help landlords manage their rentals to whichever level is required).

General responsibilities

Here are a list of the general responsibilities you should expect from all letting agents, regardless of type, or what service you’re opting for:

  • All letting agents are legally obligated to be a member of one of three government-approved letting agency redress schemes, and each scheme defines a code of conduct, which they must abide by! Basically, they must provide a good and fair service.

    Failing to do so can lead to penalties and other kinds of bad stuff.

  • Guidance on tenancy agreements.
  • Guidance on landlord legal responsibilities.
  • Provide general knowledge about tenancies.
  • Best practises

Letting services & responsibilities explained

Yes, each agent is different, and each agent tailor their own products, but there common products/services among letting agents, which include a lot of the same features, and they’re the ones’ I’m going to discuss below, so you get an idea of what responsibilities letting agents take on…

Tenant-find service

Overview: this service only includes finding tenants and creating a legally binding tenancy agreement.

However, it’s important to note that a ‘tenant-find service’ provided by a high-street agent is generally very different an online agent.

A High-street Agent’s ‘tenant-find’ service typically includes:

  • Advertising & Marketing
  • Photography and Floor Plans
  • Tenant viewings
  • Tenant Referencing & credit checks
  • Tenancy contracts
  • Inventory

An Online Agent’s ‘tenant-find’ service typically includes:

  • Advertising & Marketing (on Rightmove & Zoopla)
  • Photography and Floor Plans (this is usually charged as an optional extra, approx £100)
  • Lead generation (i.e. the online agent sends the landlord leads from prospective tenants, and then the landlord takes the viewings)
  • Tenant Referencing & credit checks
  • Tenancy contracts

You see the distinct difference, right? Good, good!

Please note, some online and high-street agents offer much more elaborate “tenant-find” services, which comes with a bunch more features! I just covered what I believe to be the core basics.

Yes, you’re definitely expected to do more of the ‘legwork’ with an online agent, but that’s reflected in the massive price difference. I mean, shhhiiiit, you can currently try an online agent for free, no strings attached, while the average high-street agent will charge the crap out of you with a pricetag of 8-10% of the annual rent. Ouch!

Once again, here’s my guide on online letting agents if you want to know more (which you really should at this point!).

Fully managed service

Overview: this service includes the full management of the tenancy, from finding tenants to the day-to-day management.

As with tenant-find services, while online agents do offer fully managed solutions, the service is generally different from a high-street agents, so I’ll quickly cover both:

A High-street Agent’s ‘fully-managed’ service typically includes:

  • Advertising & Marketing
  • Photography and Floor Plans
  • Tenant viewings
  • Tenant referencing & credit checks
  • Inventory
  • Tenancy contracts
  • Register tenancy deposit
  • Rent collection
  • Regular property inspections
  • Maintenance handling & co-ordination
  • Notice processing
  • Final inspection & deposit dispute handling

An Online Agent’s ‘fully-managed’ service typically includes:

  • Advertising & Marketing
  • Photography and Floor Plans
  • Lead generation (i.e. the agent will send the landlord leads of prospective tenants, and then the landlord takes the viewings)
  • Tenant referencing & credit checks
  • Tenancy contracts
  • Register tenancy deposit
  • Rent collection
  • Maintenance handling & co-ordination
  • Notice processing
  • Deposit dispute handling

The major difference you’ll notice is that most online agents don’t include any of the in-person services, like viewings and property inspections. But once again, that’s reflected in the price; you can currently get an fully-managed letting service from an online agent for £35 per month, while a high-street agent typically charges between 12-14% of the annual rent.

Letting agent Terms & Conditions

Remember, and I can’t emphasise this enough, always read the terms and conditions of your agreement with your letting agent before signing on the dotted line!

Everything your agent is responsible for should be written in your contract with your agent, and if it’s not, then it’s unlikely to be included in the service (despite what you may or may not have been told).

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