A clampdown on the lettings sector is needed to stop rogue agents turning it into "the property industry's Wild West", the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) warns today.

Rics says its research highlights the risks of unscrupulous agents cashing in on the rental boom amid "a total lack of effective regulation".

From a sample of 1,000 people who have rented in England over the past two years, it found:

  • Two-thirds said they did not receive an inventory.
  • Some 87% of tenants supported a single compulsory regulation scheme for all lettings agents.
  • Nine out of 10 tenants surveyed were satisfied with their lettings agent, despite the problems they reported.

Demand in the rental sector has rocketed as people have been unable to buy their own home, because they either cannot raise the deposit needed or meet lenders' toughened borrowing criteria. This has pushed up the cost of renting.

The average cost of renting a home nationwide is £663 a month, up by 7% over three years, according to lettings specialist HomeLet.

Four out of five renters wrongly believed agents had to abide by a code of practice backed by either the Government or the industry, Rics found.

But in fact, it's possible to set up a lettings agency without qualifications, knowledge or understanding and it's not compulsory to conform to codes of conduct.

Several calls have been made for better protections for people living in the private rental sector in recent months. Shelter reported in September that almost a quarter of people feel they have been "ripped off" by unfairly high fees for credit checks, renewing contracts and "administration".

'Too many corrupt agents'

Peter Bolton King, global residential director for Rics, says: "There are too many corrupt agents that do not belong to any professional body who are taking advantage of the current gap in regulation, putting consumers at risk.

"We would like to see the Government taking action and introducing a single regulatory and redress system for both sales and lettings agents."

Housing Minister Mark Prisk says: "People living in private rented homes deserve to be treated fairly and honestly.

"We are determined all tenants receive a good service, but we want to avoid excessive red tape that would push up costs."

Prisk says lettings agents are already subject to consumer protection legislation and any tenants who have suffered from poor practice should report the problem to their local trading standards officer or the Office of Fair Trading.