According to the Department of Communities and Local Government’s 2007 guidelines on advertising in public places, estate agents may only display one 0.5 square metre board (double boards are allowed at 0.6 sq m) on residential properties for sale or rent, excluding new developments, without planning consent. Boards ‘must be removed not later than 14 days after completion of the sale or granting a tenancy’.

Yet how often do we drive or walk past properties displaying boards for months, if not years, especially outside blocks of flats where agents use the excuse that there is always one property for sale or to let?  If that is accurate, then they should have a single flagboard with To Let on one side, and For Sale on the other. And they don’t need Sold or Let boards because they are already getting free publicity.

Trawling a particular agent’s website, I discovered that – despite having six boards permanently fixed outside a block – not a single unit was available, either for sale or to let.

In some cases, agents actually pay homeowners to allow them to leave boards prominently displayed indefinitely after completion of a transaction. Such practices are, effectively, illegal.

We are already overwhelmed by the number of public notices, much of which are a serious distraction to drivers and completely unnecessary, so frankly, estate agents’ boards are a form of litter and it’s about time the regulations were enforced, especially given that planners already serve Notices on other organisations which display unauthorised adverts. A cull is needed.

I know local authorities have other priorities, but it would be easy and cheap to agree a policy and how it would be enforced:

  • Sold or Let boards will be required to carry the date of the transaction;
  • Agents to be fined and boards removed if the 14-day limit expires and they are still displayed (in practice a 2 day window may be appropriate);
  • Extend Parking Services’ remit to include monitoring boards, since attendants are already driving/walking the streets to check on illegal parking, so costs would be minimised;
  • Launch a pilot scheme from a given date to iron out any initial problems, allowing agents a little flexibility as they plead ‘ignorance’ before fining for repeat offences, per board, after one month;
  • Have a schedule for wider implementation within, say, 3 months.

agents 010Above all, we would need to keep it simple: there is no need to create a huge bureaucracy – any appeals can be dealt with by Parking Services in the same way that they handle parking violations.

Inevitably, there would have to be a period of consultation, but this could be kept short.

We would need to agree how any income would be used, e.g. to help fund libraries or support children with special needs; it must be something which communities and business can engage with, rather than simply adding to the coffers.

Following the consultation, and one month before launching the pilot, we would need to write to all local estate agents, including on-line agents, to advise them of the new policy, how they can comply, and details about enforcement together with the date of full implementation.

At the same time we would need to brief the local press/radio and make a councillor available as ‘sponsor’ of the project, to explain the objectives and keep the media updated on progress. Paid for advertising should not be necessary.

Properly managed, enforcement could be a nice little earner.