Caxtons is urging students looking for last-minute rental accommodation to use a regulated lettings agency to avoid being exploited or living in a neglected property.
With thousands of students looking to return, or start, university in the next few weeks, the rush is now on to find accommodation before term begins. According to the government's Higher Education Statistics Agency, around half a million students in the UK rented privately last year, which equates to 29 per cent of all students.
However due to time and financial constraints, and lack of local area knowledge, many students can fall victim to unscrupulous private landlords who charge too much for poor accommodation.
A significant proportion of students will also register with unregulated lettings agencies, which means they won't be fully protected throughout the letting process and tenancy.
Caxtons' student lettings manager, commented: "Currently there is no compulsory regulation of lettings agencies, which means anybody can set up as an agent without any relevant qualifications, training or accreditations.
"In towns and cities with high student populations we regularly see a large number of unlicensed agents who view students as an easy target.
More Regulation Needed as Complaints about Rogue Lettings Agents Soar
Complaints about lettings agents have more than doubled over the past five years according to figures released by a property watchdog.
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) received 8,334 complaints in 2012, up from 3,739 in 2008 - a 123 per cent increase. In comparison, complaints against estate agents have fallen from 6,067 in 2008 to 4,261.
Complaints about lettings agents now represent TPO's largest workload, around 53 per cent of all enquiries. Alan Stewart director and head of Residential Lettings & Management at Caxtons said: "These figures are very disappointing and it saddens me that landlords and tenants are being ripped off by unscrupulous lettings agents.
"The huge rise in complaints reported to TPO is yet more proof that the lettings industry should be regulated. What is more concerning is that unless some form of regulation is introduced soon, the situation could become worse as the ongoing economic conditions force more people into private renting."
Industry Adopts Independent Regulation. A rise in buy-to-let and build-to-rent developments over the next few years will see more people becoming leaseholders, and has lead to the industry adopting its own independent regulation scheme.
There are already around two million leasehold flats in England and Wales, and leaseholders collectively pay around £2.5bn a year in service charges for the upkeep of the communal areas of their buildings.
Yet, currently, managing leasehold properties is not subject to any form of regulation or accreditation scheme, meaning many leaseholders experience poor levels of service and extortionate fees with no redress.
While some managing agents do belong to an industry body, there are thousands that don't, and that leaves leaseholders who have a problem with the conduct of their agent with nowhere to go.
The Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA), and a number of its members, have long campaigned for government regulation in a bid to drive up standards. However, the government has so far resisted industry regulation.
Now ARMA and its members, which includes Caxtons, are implementing independent regulation and producing a consumer charter, known as ARMA-Q, which will be launched in the next few months. This will be the first time the industry has codified standards for managing agents.
The new charter is designed to ensure ARMA members provide quality customer service, promoting honesty, fairness, transparency and timeliness as well as stringent standards in property management.
One of the most important developments in protecting the interests of leaseholders will be independent regulation of ARMA members. The regulatory panel, which will not be connected with ARMA or its members, will monitor issues involving corporate conduct, service charges and commissions, vet the member accreditation process and enforce compliance.