Tracey Hill: Launching a website for the city's renters
The experiences of people renting privately in Brighton and Hove have been a concern for some time.
The experiences of people renting privately in Brighton and Hove have been a concern for some time. Around a third of housing in the city is privately rented, and while many people have a good experience of renting, there is evidence of not-so-good experiences: poorly maintained properties, bad service and sharp practices. While there is good information out there for tenants, many are not aware of it and only begin to reach out after things have started to go wrong.
In March 2015 a scrutiny panel reported to the council after hearing evidence from many different groups and individuals. The panel made a number of recommendations, including use of landlord review sites and surveys, looking at models for ethical letting agencies, accreditation schemes and better information for tenants. Many of these ideas would be unfeasible to progress by the council alone.
So in January I ran a workshop for organisations in the city with an interest and expertise in housing, to discuss how such a group could work together to make some of these things happen. Between January and June through a series of working groups and full sessions, we agreed to do two things.
First we would set up a website to include basic information and advice to tenants wanting to rent in the city, and giving links to the many sources of information and advice that are already out there. I am very pleased to say that this website is now live and can be found at www.rentsmartbrightonhove.org.
Our second task was that we would encourage tenants to use a ratings site to evaluate their letting agent. When looking into the idea of ratings sites, we felt that using an existing site was more feasible than trying to set one up. AllAgents.co.uk has been running for ten years and carries reviews by tenants as well as landlords (and clients of sales agents as well). We want to encourage people to use this site and leave reviews of their experiences. At the moment some agents in the city have a good number of ratings but many only have a handful. This is despite the fact that there are thousands of people renting in this city. We would really like to grow awareness of AllAgents and see the number of reviews go up, so that letting agents can be evaluated in a fair and independent way.
AllAgents is industry-specific, it's fully moderated, only genuine customers of the agent can leave reviews, and agents also have a right to reply. AllAgents has co-operated with us to ensure that all possible letting agents in the city are listed on the site.
Confirmed Rent Smart partners so far are: Brighton and Sussex Universities, Sussex University Students Union, Brighton Housing Trust, Citizens' Advice Brighton and Hove, Sussex Student Lettings and the Southern Landlords' Association.
It has been a real privilege for me to work with the Rent Smart partners, who throughout have been committed and enthusiastic about this great initiative. They all have a lot of expertise on housing, through working directly with tenants, landlords and agents in the city, and understand the plus sides and the challenges of this sector. It is also really beneficial to be working alongside landlords and letting agents committed to improving experiences for tenants. We plan to continue as a partnership and work on new campaigns in the future.
In a city like ours, a partnership like Rent Smart makes so much sense, and I believe it will not be long before we will wonder how we ever did without it. So, please help spread the word about Rent Smart.
We are on Twitter @RentSmartBH and Facebook under Rent Smart Brighton and Hove, and please email [email protected] if you would like to attend the launch event.
Cllr Tracey Hill is a Labour councillor, and the lead member for private rented sector housing on Brighton and Hove City Council.