We have recently come under pressure from a group called Acorn Communities to sign the Ethical Lettings Charter. In what has become an increasingly unpleasant situation for the whole Letlivehere team, we have decided not to become members. Here, we explain our reasons why.
A representative of our company attended a public meeting earlier this year in Heaton to discuss housing provision in the area, which was attended by ourselves and two other property businesses, alongside Acorn Communities. Acorn (the Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now) is a pressure group which started life in the United States in the 1970s and claims to campaign to end unethical lettings and build communities.
At the meeting, the three businesses in attendance were encouraged to sign up to the Ethical Lettings Charter, which is billed as a series of criteria for property agents to conform to, to promote a fair and ethical private rental market.
While our representative expressed interest at the meeting, after giving due consideration to the Charter afterwards at a meeting of our board, we decided not to sign up at that stage and politely declined the opportunity. Our managing director spoke to Acorn Communities directly and explained our reasons why we would not be comfortable to become members.
As a family-run lettings business, which has more than 30 years’ specialist experience of student and professional lettings in our team, we are deeply committed to offering the very highest standards. We are well known and respected in the communities in which we operate and have had many hundreds of satisfied tenants over the years
Having gone through the Ethical Lettings Charter point by point, we decided we already fulfil every requirement, and in fact exceed the criteria specified within it. We did feel it is heavily focused on the needs of tenants, whereas as a lettings agency, we need to equally consider the needs of landlords. The Charter is not accredited by any legal bodies, so does not give us any additional endorsement to what we already have.
We are a member of the National Landlords Association (NLA), the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) – an independent body to give tenants and landlords alike protection and reassurance – and have had membership of the Property Ombudsman for six years, so are governed by the recognised legal regulatory bodies. We lodge deposits with the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), giving tenants financial peace of mind. Furthermore, we have a strong relationship with Newcastle City Council and their environmental health department, with whom we work closely.
We have sought advice from the Council, the NLA and NALS on this matter, and all three advised us against signing.
However, since declining membership of the Ethical Lettings Charter, we have been subjected to pressure from Acorn Communities to succumb to their demands for us to sign it.
Through a series of negative reviews on our Facebook page from members of this organisation, our rating has been reduced from 5 stars to 3.8 stars. Acorn Communities members are being encouraged to leave identical bad reviews and 1 star ratings, and we have been warned that this will continue if we do not reverse our decision.
Now, Acorn Communities have told us they plan to hold a protest outside our office on Saturday 24th of September, in a further attempt to make us to take membership of the Ethical Lettings Charter. This is a very unpleasant development and one which has caused us great concern.
However, we are adamant that such tactics – which, ironically, are wholly unethical – should not force us into signing the Charter. No lettings agency, and indeed no business in general, should be pressured into signing any Charter in this way. We made our decision not to sign, as many other letting agents have also done, and do not believe we should be targeted as a result. We already operate to the highest standards and know our confidence in our business is shared by colleagues and customers alike.
We pride ourselves in the professional and indeed ethical service we provide and we do not conduct business in the ways we have faced over the past few weeks. This has become an upsetting situation for the whole team here and we are very keen for this to be brought to a close.
We are extremely grateful for the support and understanding from our tenants and landlords at this time.