Thursday, January 23, 2014

LETTING CROOKS: Law Society lobbies MSPs against proposals to regulate solicitors connected to Scotland’s ‘widely corrupt’ letting agent sector

Against regulating solicitors who turn out to be secret landlords of multiple properties – Law Society. THE Law Society of Scotland bhas today urged MSPs to rethink proposals to regulate ‘widely corrupt’ letting agents sector, where tenants have encountered systemic problems with rogue landlords, rogue letting agents and solicitor landlords who in some cases have hidden their ownership of multiple properties through offshore trusts and dummy companies.

Adamant the legislation should not go through, the Law Society claim that as drafted, the proposals will create an unnecessary dual regulatory regime for those solicitors who undertake letting agency work.

The Housing (Scotland) Bill proposes to require Scottish Ministers to establish and maintain a register of letting agents and grants them the power to issue a code of practice. Proposals also provide Scottish Ministers with the power to remove a registered letting agent from the register if they are satisfied that the person is no longer a fit and proper person to carry out letting agency work

The Law Society considers it unnecessary to include solicitors in this new regime, as they are already subject to stringent rules of admission and practice and detailed rules covering professional ethics and conduct.

After giving oral evidence on the bill at the Scottish Parliament today, Wednesday, 22 January, Michael Clancy, Director of Law Reform at the Law Society said: "We believe the proposals need a rethink. Although we support the government's attempt to regulate the letting agent industry, we don't think it makes sense to include solicitors in this new regime. Solicitors in Scotland are already subject to stringent rules of admission and detailed practice rules covering professional ethics and conduct and many other aspects of practice.”

Clancy, nicknamed “Access all Areas” for his abundant contact with MSPs who disappear after a trip to his office, continued: "Solicitors are subject to a comprehensive system of regulation, which far exceeds the measures proposed for letting agents. There are also a range of consumer protections already available for those who use solicitors; for example, solicitors are subject to an independent, statutory complaints body, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Furthermore, under the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, the Law Society of Scotland maintains a wide set of public protections including the Master Policy for professional indemnity and the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund, which provides compensation in the event of dishonesty.”

The Society has also recommended that the system for non-solicitor letting agents is made more robust as there is no detail in the bill about letting agents' qualifications or training, nor the rules which will govern their practice. There are also no details about a system of complaint or redress.

"We think the bill could be more robust; for example, by providing a system of complaint or redress for the consumer. The bill could also set out the required qualifications or training for non-solicitor letting agents. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to improve the bill."

Part 4 of the Housing (Scotland) Bill creates a register of letting agents and requires letting agents to register operating as a letting agent without registration is a criminal offence.

The Housing (Scotland) Bill can be viewed here

The Law Society of Scotland's written evidence on the Housing (Scotland) Bill can be viewed here

Michael Clancy, Director of Law Reform at the Law Society, gave oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee on Wednesday 22 January (yuk, no one wants to see that! – Ed)

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