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Property Ombudsman

publication date: Jul 28, 2010
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keysAs a letting agent you will be providing services to a landlord in finding a tenant for their property, in referencing and in setting up the Tenancy Agreement. Whilst that Tenancy Agreement forms the contract between landlord and tenant, and failure by either party to meet the obligations that the agreement puts on them is a matter between those parties, you as agent will inevitably become involved with the tenants either because there will be the inevitable misguided expressions of dissatisfaction (where you have provided a let only service); or because you are managing the property on the landlord’s behalf.

The following are examples of cases referred to me that involve issues that have arisen in this regard.

CASE 1
The tenant Complainant claimed that she had reported over a number of years to the agent that the property suffered from damp. It was the Complainant’s contention that this information was not passed to the landlord. The agent’s branch file indicated that during their inspections of the property they noted damp/mould in the property. However they did not demonstrate that this information was passed to the landlord. I concluded that the Complainant was entitled to expect the agent to pass on the information to the landlord. The Complainant wrote three letters of complaint to the agent in respect of the agent’s failure to pass on information about the problem to the landlord, but they did not respond to them until I intervened. I made an award to reflect the aggravation caused by the agents’ actions.

CASE 2
The Complainants (the tenants) complained that the agent did not replace the halogen light bulbs and clean the property prior to their occupation as agreed during the viewing. The agent made arrangements for the property to be cleaned on the day the tenancy started but failed to make arrangements for the specialist light bulbs to be replaced in time. In my view, it was reasonable for the agent to make arrangements for the property to be cleaned on the day of occupation due to the bank holiday weekend. However, four weeks into the tenancy the light bulbs had still to be replaced and I concluded that this was unreasonable. I supported a complaint about a communication issue and made an award of £50.

CASE 3
This was a straightforward tenancy which became contentious following the landlord claiming costs for repairs and damages from the Complainants (the tenants), via the member agent, which were over and above that discussed during the check-out inspection which was attended by all three parties. The member agent acknowledged that the Complainants left the property following the inspection under the impression that deductions for cleaning and for rent were to be taken off the security deposit, but that, as soon as they left, the landlord began to list additional deductions. The result was that the member agent presented the Complainants with a claim for £8,770 for repairs and damages, over a month and a half after the tenancy had ended. My review was critical of the member agent’s actions as they should have made both parties aware of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme procedures for resolving the matter, as soon as they were aware that the landlord wished to contest the deductions previously agreed with the Complainants. That they did not and, instead, proceeded to issue letters (the wording of which was supplied by the landlord) to the Complainants threatening debt recovery and legal action, even after the Complainants requested that the matter was resolved via an Alternative Dispute Resolution process.

This ran contrary to their obligations under Paragraphs 12d and 12i of my Code of Practice.

In such a situation I expect a member agent to provide appropriate advice and direction regarding Tenancy Deposit Scheme dispute resolution and to deal with the deposit negotiations fairly and promptly. Had the member agent done so, I considered it likely that the matter would have been resolved without the need for legal and professional debt recovery action. That they did not and, instead, chose to issue letters provided to them by the landlord in their own name, which caused the Complainants distress, aggravation and inconvenience which could otherwise have been avoided. I, therefore, made an award of £400. 

CASE 4
The Complainants (the tenants) initially stated that they wanted an early release from the tenancy as they wished to relocate. The agent advised the Complainants of their on-going liabilities and the landlord agreed to the early release provided a new tenant could be found. The Complainants then claimed that they were leaving the property due to the agent’s poor management and the lack of communications.

My examination of the agent’s branch file indicated that the agent correctly recorded the Complainants’ maintenance concerns, reported them in a timely manner to the landlord, obtained the required quotes, and instructed appropriate contractors to do the work.

I noted that the agent kept the landlord updated as to what was happening but the only recorded contact with the Complainants was their initial call. I was therefore inclined to believe that the Complainants did have to chase the agent to find out what was happening to the reported maintenance issues that they had raised. This caused Christopher Hamerunnecessary aggravation on their part and I therefore made a small award. However, I did not conclude that the agent was responsible for the Complainants’ early departure of the property. This was their decision.

AND FINALLY

To ensure that you can prove an active approach to dealing with tenant issues, you should keep comprehensive records of all contacts and actions (even if you are not managing the property and are simply contacted by the tenant); and certainly if you are managing the property you must ensure that you relay tenant concerns to the landlord as soon as possible – if the landlord cannot be contacted, fails to act or delays dealing with the matter your responsibility is to keep the tenants advised of the situation and why their concerns are not being addressed.



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