Proposed regulations for letting agents in Scotland could lead to an unnecessary cost to the public by adding to the regulatory burden on solicitors, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
The comments come in the Society's response, prepared by a working group set up by the Society, to the Scottish Government’s consultation on a draft statutory code of practice and training requirements for letting agents in Scotland. Previous attempts by the Society to exempt solicitors the new scheme for letting agents as it was being enacted under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 were unsuccessful, but the Society continues to maintain that it should not be applied to solicitors who undertake letting agency work as defined in the Act, in view of the stronger protections for the public already in place under the regulatory regime for solicitors.
Its response is also critical of the terms of the draft code of practice. "We do not believe that the overarching standards reasonably reflect the standards that should be expected of letting agents", the Society states. "A number of those standards as set out in [the draft] are, in our opinion, vague and non-specific, using terms which are central to the standards, but which are undefined" – such as "reasonable", or "threatening". "Clear definitions will remove ambiguity and ensure that letting agents are clear in their responsibilities and tenants are clear as to their rights", the response continues.
Kaira Massie, solicitor at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We support the Scottish Government’s aim to raise standards in the industry and provide greater protection and assurances for those in the rented housing sector. However, solicitors in Scotland are already subject to stringent rules of admission and detailed practice rules covering professional ethics and conduct and we believe the proposed regulations would cause conflicts of interest for our members who also carry out letting agency work.”
She added: “We believe recognition should be given to those professions who already satisfy strict ‘fit and proper’ requirements and are subject to a professional code of conduct, such as the Law Society’s. If solicitors are to be included under the proposed regulations then the Scottish Government must take into account the profession's existing rules of conduct to ensure there is no conflict and that, where similar rules are to exist, the Law Society’s rules should prevail – as in many instances these will be stronger and offer greater client protection."
The Society pledged to continue to work with the Scottish Govenrment to make the proposed scheme "more robust" and to "ensure due consideration is given to our members who work in the letting agency sector".