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20% of Landlords Still not Registered with Rent Smart Wales

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This article has been submitted by the RLA

According to latest figures 20% of landlords still not registered with Rent Smart Wales almost two years on from the introduction of the registration and licensing scheme.

Now Cardiff Council, which runs the scheme, is reviewing its enforcement policy so that the 22 different local authorities can better coordinate their efforts.

Here at the RLA we never expected RSW to achieve 100% compliance across Wales, put simply it’s unrealistic, but 20% non-compliance is still higher than we would like. Having said this there are a number of issues that have contributed to this missing 20% –  enforcement is just one of them.

Communications 

It would be fair to say that the communications strategy of RSW isn’t likely to be nominated for any awards this year. Unless you are an avid reader of the RLA Campaign and News Centre, receiving our emails or an actively engaged landlord, you aren’t likely to have heard of RSW.

Enforcement activity has gained a few headlines but only in the industry press, where landlords are already familiar with RSW. Believe it or not, landlords are normal people too. A good proportion of that 20% are unlikely to be avid followers of the industry news or have that much engagement with the local council.

Most will go about their daily lives without the brilliant insights of RLA news, and some might not even watch BBC Wales Today. If you are reading this article on the RLA website, chances are you are aware of RSW and not in the 20% – if you are in the 20%, get registered here.

Bureaucracy 

There are a lot of landlords in Wales, about 130,000 according to the regulatory impact assessment. RSW requires all of them to be registered, and those that manage the tenancy to be trained and licensed. No easy task.

Here RSW has at least got it half right, focusing on getting landlords registered first and looking at licensing once they are inside the system. The issue here is technical, as any landlord who has battled with the RSW website will tell you.

Having to register each ‘landlord agreement’ rather than just listing all your properties has caused issues. Some landlords have had to make multiple accounts, been locked out of their account, had information go missing, or emails published (we have been assured that this was a one off).

These issues can be solved, but not overnight. They need resources and simplicity built into the system, so that landlords don’t get put off or intimidated when trying to comply.

Enforcement  

Enforcement is a tricky area, it’s about striking a balance between coming down hard on those people obviously flouting the law, and bringing onside those who may have made a genuine mistake. But at the same time, we also want to see the very worst offenders, those make tenants’ lives a misery, tackled first.

Court cases have come forward because of non-compliance after RSW has made attempts to make the landlord aware. Most recently a landlord in Gloucestershire with properties in Cardiff was fined £3,500 and court costs. If RSW has made repeated and genuine attempts to bring that landlord into the system, which it claims to have, then broadly enforcement looks as if it’s on the right track.

Having said this, enforcing in this way against the 20% of landlords yet to register isn’t likely to happen or be very effective. Enforcement is working, sort of, but it isn’t the biggest thing that needs fixing about RSW, nor is it likely to have a big impact on reducing that 20% figure.

This links back to the issue over communications; too often we hear messages along the lines of “landlords in Wales, are you registered?”.

In reality there are plenty of landlords living elsewhere in the UK with properties in Wales, but for some reason Rent Smart Wales doesn’t seem to reflect this.

Take for example, the recent survey from Rent Smart Wales which stated, “All private sector landlords in Wales must register themselves (and the addresses of their properties) – even if they don’t undertake letting and management activities”

Put simply, this is wrong.

If the property is in Wales then the landlord, regardless of where in the world they live, must register the property (as the property is in Wales). If you’re a landlord living in Swansea, but all of your properties are in Kent, you do not need to register with Rent Smart Wales. This is an interesting point, especially considering that some of the more high profile enforcement cases have involved landlords in England.

Conclusion

Cardiff Councils plans to focus hard on enforcing registration across the 22 local authorities, I’m sure is well intentioned, but it won’t make a big impact on that 20% figure. I also don’t believe that 20% of landlords are intentionally breaking the law.

The evidence points one way, communications. The 20% of landlords that are not registered, are also not reading the RLA website (and certainly haven’t made it this far through the article, well done you). They also aren’t attending local landlord forums, nor do they have any trouble with environmental health officers or the council.

We need to re-think where and what we expect landlords to be, they might just be human after all.