Lettings Agents – Ask Sharon


 

Letting agents

  ASK SHARON

Scroll down to find the advice you are looking for. Most recent questions and answers are listed first.


Annual service charge

I have let a property for 18 years. The current management company, for the 3rd time, failed to send me an invoice for the annual service charge. I received a letter from a debt company asking for the outstanding balance plus about 25% in their charges.

I have never received an invoice. On receipt of the debt company letter, I immediately telephoned the management company and paid the service charge. The management company have no evidence that an invoice was raised or despatched to myself. It appears to me poor practice – they have my home address, telephone number and email but have made no communication – though the letter from the debt company arrived. I dispute the charge made by the debt company, given that the service charge is now paid and poor practice. Where do I stand legally as I do not believe I should pay the debt company charges.

I really think this is something you need to raise with your managing agents. You are aware that you have the option of the small claims court against the agents; their poor practice should mean they would be very unhappy should you take this course. You should make as strong a case as possible to them – that as soon as you were aware of the debt, you settled it; that this has happened twice previously – their practices should have ensured that this did not happen a third time – I cannot understand why they would not do whatever they can to make sure you were invoiced as soon as possible. But I also have to say, why you did not make your own arrangements to ensure you were in a strong position to remind them of their poor practices, I do not know. I hope the agents pay up on this one, but think I would be inclined to change agents.


Renewal fees

I had a letting agent place a tenant in my property in 2009. I had a one off meeting with the agent to instruct him to do this. No mention was made of renewal fees and no contract was signed. I left the UK the next day and have not since returned. A letter of instruction was posted by the agent the next day stating the terms including renewal fees , I never received this letter and would have terminated their services immediately had I been aware of the renewal fees. After the 1st year I informed the letting agent I no longer require their services as I was returning to the UK and taking up residence in my property, however, my plans changed and the tenant lapsed into a periodic tenancy.

Now, 3 years later I have had to evict the tenant and approached the agent to release the deposit from the DPS , they have refused and are now taking me to the Claims Court for the last 2 years of renewal fees.
My questions are:

  1. Am I required to fly back to the UK to defend my case. How does the Claims Court normally deal with defendants living abroad?
  2. Do I have a reasonable case to defend considering there is no signed contract?

I think it will depend very much on what paperwork you have. You say you informed the letting agent after the first year that you no longer required their services. Was this in writing? Did you keep a copy? Presumably you would have expected, following this, some acknowledgement from them?

I am afraid I cannot advise on 1 – I would think cases where a defendant lives abroad are quite rare. I think you could make your case far better in person, though you may be able to get someone to stand as proxy for you – ask the question, see what response you get.

The case you have will depend on the paperwork you have. The agent will almost certainly have something which will show that in their view, there was a contract, signed or not. If they are able to provide invoices for the last 2 years, your case will be quite light, though you can make a case on their poor business practices.


Who is responsible?

We own some flats which are let through a letting agency who take commission. One tenant did not pay rent for 3 months and a notice was served. The tenant said she was going back to Nigeria. Letting agency changed locks and all possessions removed and disposed of. Tenant is now back and has paid her arrears and wants her possessions returned. She has seen a solicitor who has told her she has a case. Who is responsible? The owner of flat or the letting agency?

I think this would depend very much in how much involvement you had with the decision to change locks. From the brief details, it appears the agent has acted in good faith. Where it falls down is – having been notified that your tenant was returning to Nigeria, why were the keys not returned, why was a relinquishment of tenancy not signed, why were arrangements not made for the disposal of goods and signed by the tenant?

Just on the bare facts of the case, I wonder whether her return to Nigeria was heresay only, accepted as fact because she had fallen into rent arrears. If this is the case, the action should have been service of a notice to quit, giving 28 days for her to contact the agent. Her failure to do so would mean on 29th day, the locks could be changed with at least some safeguard against future actions against you. The tenancy agreement should have stated this was an eventuality when abandonment is suspected.

It appears the agents may have acted wrongly in this, but they, of course, will say they acted on your authority. Certainly, if they have proof that they discussed this action with you and had your agreement, arguing you were not responsible will not be easy. Unfortunately, having a solicitor involved is bad news for both you and the agent – I think they may be able to make a case, which I hope does not involve illegal eviction allegations, which is often the case when the full legal process has not been gone through. You may find it is better to settle.


Withholding rent

I recently used a new rental agent to rent my property, who rented the house to people who ran a brothel from it. They paid the letting agent 6 months in advance, with a deposit, at the start of the tenancy . The agent at no point made me aware of this, telling me they were paying on a monthly basis. When I was notified of the illegal activities the tenants got evicted with the help of the police.

As far as I am concerned the agent broke numerous laws withholding the rental from me especially as they had moved in. Now the agent is refusing to hand over any of the rent he is holding along with the deposit, which surely I am due, as surely this was a breach of the rental contract.

I would like up know where I stand as a legal viewpoint.

As always in disputes with letting agents, the agreement you have with them governs how the management is run. You need to go through their official complaint channels first; if not satisfied, you should then go to the Ombudsman and/or their governing body – ARLA or NLA. I would make the following points:

  • They were probably unaware it was a brothel; however, the payment of 6 months’ rent in advance should have given them some concerns as it usually means a cannabis farm. The fact it wasn’t has probably saved you thousands as they leave properties in a dreadful state – but that does not excuse what can only be seen as carelessness.
  • Any agent worth his salt should, having concerns, arranged to do regular inspections. Clearly they did not as it took the police to evict them.
  • I cannot understand why the agent, having managed the property very badly, is refusing to pay you the rent you are entitled to. I think ARLA would also handle this aspect, but think I would put it clearly in writing to them that you would like an explanation for that. Do it clearly in bullet points and ask for a response within say, 14 days and that after that time, you will be seeking legal advice. That may be sufficient to get a response or even a cheque. If not, there is always the Small Claims Court, but I’d see how you get on with ARLA.

New agreement

I recently changed Letting Agents. Is the AST signed on my behalf by my original agent still binding or should I get a new one signed? If still binding should the original Agent provide me with the copy he retained?

You should get a new one signed. It saves complications if you need to evict and it also ensures the tenants know who they should contact in case of repairs etc. – the agreement they hold will have the old agents on, and that is clearly not appropriate now. However, some concerns – why is your new letting agent not doing what seems a common sense step, to me? They may have a good reason, but it makes no sense for a tenant not to be aware of a change like that.


Poor practice by Letting Agent in rent arrears,
eviction and property
inspection

I have recently evicted some tenants from my property, who have left a considerable debt. In September 2010, the tenants missed a rental payment then, they paid October and then missed November. When the November payment was missed I contacted my agent. The agent was supposed to be a fully managed service and as such I was paying 10% of the rent to them. They had no idea that the rent was missing even though the tenant pays the agent who then pays me. As they were two months in arrears we issued an eviction notice giving them 2 months to get out of the property (on the agents say so, they told us that was all we could do at that stage). When the 2 months passed the tenants did not leave and we began court proceedings, the court set a date which the tenants again ignored until finally bailiffs were used to evict them. This whole process took 8 months causing nearly £6,500 in missed rent. During those 8 months the tenants did pay ~£800 but obviously this does not cover the rent!

In addition, I also had issues with the agents. It took me to notice that rent was being missed and inform the agents as opposed to the other way around. Once this had happened I began to grow concerned for the state of the property. I asked the agents to do an inspection, they said that they could not get hold of the tenant and so could not give notice to do an inspection. After many weeks I suggested they send a letter informing the tenant that an inspection would be done on a date 1 week from the letter. They sent this, however when it came to the inspection day the agent then told me they had no keys as they had given their only set to the tenant. As such, no inspection was done until eviction.

As it turned out, my concerns around the property were fully justified. All of the carpets were seriously soiled, all of the walls were very dirty and the kitchen and bathrooms were awful. The back garden was also completely wild and overgrown. Inspection reports from the agents (over the 18 months rent had been paid with no issues) had always come back as excellent or good. The carpets are in such a state, they can’t have been vacuumed in the 2 years the tenants were there, let alone walls being cleaned or the garden being tended. A professional cleaner cost me £650, two new carpets were needed that cost £480, every wall in the house needed repainting in addition to sorting the garden, front and back and replacing damaged property in the bathrooms and kitchens. The total final cost was nearly £2,000 and the deposit of only £850 falls far short.

The questions I have are:

1. Do I have any way of claiming against the agent for any of the costs or missed rent?

2. I do not know where the tenants are now living, however I do have work addresses. Is there any way I can instruct debt collectors or get the debt added to the credit agencies as I know they have other debts (I have been contacted by many debt collectors) and if they do an IVA or other arrangement in the future I want to be included?

I get very frustrated by the issues that are raised by agents that really don’t seem to know the law. If the tenancy agreement stated “rent payable monthly in advance”, as soon as the second payment date is missed, the tenant is 2 months in rent arrears. At that stage, a section 8 notice should be issued, using grounds 8,10 and 11. This is a 2-week notice, not 2 months. This should be sufficient to show the tenant you are serious and will evict if the rent account is not brought up to date, very fast! It can sometimes take longer than 2 weeks, as the notice must end at the end of a tenancy period (ie tenancy 1st to 31st of the month, the 2 weeks must end on 31st), but a 2 month notice would have the same requirement so may take longer than 2 months.

To answer your questions:

You could try and negotiate this with the agents, but they seem very lackadaisical so unlikely to believe they are in error. What I would suggest is that you ask to see the reports from periodic inspections. I do not believe that the property was excellent 8 months ago and is now in a state. Did you take photographs of all the work that was needed before you repaired/replaced anything? I think you should be making a case to the agents governing body, ARLA or NLA, about this, but whether they would support you on it to the extent of telling the agents they should compensate you, I am not sure. Just as a matter of interest, whilst the repairs and the carpets are a fair complaint to make, most landlords I deal with would feel that after a 2 year tenancy, at least some of the property would need re-painting on the basis of wear and tear.

You could apply for an attachment of earnings order, as you know where they work, but there is an issue of confidentiality and as you know, data protection is looked on very seriously. A Debt Recovery agency will be aware of what the law says about this and should be able to advise you. Certainly, for the amount they owe, it would be worth the expenditure if you could recover anything from them.


Finders fee

A landlord of over 7 years experience managed his tenancies himself without problem. However, he has a property located over 100miles from home for which he used an agent to find a tenant with a payment of the finder’s fee.

This agent has now closed down and another management company was employed. The Manager met the landlord and stated there was a 10% fee. A Landlords Handbook was given and accepted in good faith, though never read and signed.

When the landlord asked about the move in date of the tenant, he was was told they had already give him the keys a week before the AST start date so he could move in his belongings! The landlord was surprised about this as his opinion had not sought on the matter. Then a statement was received to say that the agents had carried out a necessary service on the boiler costing £55, again without consultation. There was another £100 charge for advertising which had not be discussed, but was written on their landlord handbook (which had not been signed) There was a £10 charge for bulb changing and their admin fee of 10%

By the time the landlord was paid what was left, it was only about £70.When the landlord asked to be forwarded copies of the due diligence as per tenant and his refs and guarantor he was told it violates data protection, though there are issues about a tenant which could violate insurance.

The landlord is out of town currently and does not wish to use the agent any longer as he believes they are acting fraudulently with ridiculous charges and has lost confidence. The only money they would refund is the £10 though they apologised for not notifying the landlord of the gas safety check.

As an experienced landlord, I would have expected him to have ensured that all the t’s had been crossed and all i’s dotted on every piece of paperwork given by an agent he was unfamiliar with. It was careless of the agent not to ensure that their Landlord Handbook was not signed. However, it was offered and accepted in good faith, so I don’t think that aspect of it could be pursued, without it appearing that you had deliberately not signed as a “get out” clause.

The issues you mention: 1.It was totally out of order giving the keys before the tenancy start date. If it was given a week earlier, then there was a rental liability from that date.

2. The gas safety certificate is a mandatory, legal requirement. £55 does not sound excessive for them arranging this.

3. I cannot say whether they are correct to deny you knowledge of your tenant though data protection and confidentiality are major issues for everyone, but some insurance policies will not pay out if someone has a criminal record. You need to check the handbook cover to cover to see whether this is discussed. Are they happy to disclose details to your insurance company, if not to yourself?

If you really feel that you cannot keep to the agreement, discuss your concerns with them. If you are not happy with the response you get, you could contact the Managing Agents governing body – usually noted on paperwork or in a logo on the window.


Failure to complete guarantor paperwork

We appointed agents to manage our rental property fully. They found a tenant who was ‘self-employed’ and so they took him on as a tenant on the basis that his parents acted as guarantor. They then failed to complete the guarantor paperwork – this came to light when the tenant defaulted on his rent.

It turned out the tenant had a long history of moving to properties and not paying his rent. He stayed in our property until the bitter end when a court bailiff came to evict him. We are now out of pocket for several months rent and repairs to the property as the agents used the deposit to pay some of the outstanding rent.

The agents are refusing to pay and we are taking them to the small claim court as it is due to their lack of professional skill that we are so out of pocket. Do we stand a chance? The agents say we have to recover the money from the tenant but he has no money to recover (which is presumably why they thought they had to seek a guarantor).

Another one of those cases where the agent appears to have failed in his duties towards owners who have put their trust in him. I would say that the debt is the tenant’s – he defaulted in his responsibility to pay the rent. However, if he has few resources, there is little point in pursuing him – the best a court would order would be a few pounds a week, and the likelihood is that he would default on that too.

I would pursue the agent through his government body (ARLA?) on the basis that:

A Guarantor was asked for but then not pursued.

When the tenant defaulted on his rent, was any attempt made to get the paperwork completed, or to pursue this at that time? A Guarantor can be arranged at any time during the course of the tenancy (though it is obviously most pertinent to do it at the start of a tenancy) and steps put in place to end the tenancy at the earliest legal opportunity, if the tenancy was only granted on the basis that a Guarantor would be in place.

They cannot have done adequate reference checking.

Although you give me no dates, I am assuming that this tenancy has taken place within the last two years; in that case, the deposit should have been protected in one of the tenancy deposit schemes and should not have been used to cover some of the rent arrears; if this is the case, speak to Trading Standards/Citizens Advice – they may be able to pursue this on the basis they acted illegally and obtain some compensation, notwithstanding the issue about the outstanding arrears.

Did they get any details of the tenant’s parents? Would they be prepared to meet any of the debt just because they are decent and honourable, or is it likely they have had enough of the son who has probably continually let them down? It is worth contacting them, if you have the details, just to see what they say. I must also say, though, that I have heard of cases where the guarantor, having signed all paperwork, is either unable or unwilling to be held responsible for what is probably quite a large debt.

Do you stand a chance of pursuing the agent through the courts to recoup some of your losses? Without seeing the details of the agreement you signed with the agent, I cannot say. If it clearly states what references they will take, that they will ask for a Guarantor, it is possible, but if it is more general in its terms, probably not.


Giving notice

I am currently renting my property to a family member on a long term agreement. i used a local agent to do this as the tenant gets help from the local authority and needed a registration number to get this help. However since realising how much they charge I have since registered to become a landlord myself. i am just wondering how long I need to give the agent as a notice period?

That will depend very much on what your agreement with them says. This should be covered. Many agents, however, will have an agreement that binds you into it whilst the same tenant resides in the property. Check the agreement carefully, have an amicable discussion with them, they may not object to your taking over the management yourself.


Unacceptable renewal fees

I used a letting agent to find a tenant for me. I do the property management. Naturally, the letting agent asked me to sign a terms & conditions document. I did this and never really thought much about it.

A year has gone by and my tenants have asked to stay. I was pleased as they are good tenants. I negotiated the rental increase, a very modest increase. I also issued a 12 month AST, rather than let it go to statutory periodic tenancy. I have now been presented with an invoice from the letting agent for a fee (an enormous 8.5% + VAT). I find this totally unacceptable and have refused to pay as I do not believe the letting agent has provided a service.

I have spoken to a solicitor who has advised that a judge would probably side with the letting agent as I have signed the terms & conditions and it is at that stage that I should have questioned the 8.5% + VAT or any renewal fee. The letting agent is taking me to court for the fees it believes are due.

Do I have a leg to stand on and is there a legal defence that would satisfy a judge. If not, how do I get the terms & conditions to terminate without getting rid of a good tenant?

If you have read the previous answer, you will realise that I think this is very tricky if you have signed an agreement agreeing to this. As your solicitor is clearly indicating this too, I think the only thing you could do would be to try and negotiate with the agent. However, if your solicitor is saying this, it is a safe bet their solicitor will be saying the same thing, and they may feel their case is strong enough in court. Your only defence then would be on the unreasonableness of the charges.


Making a complaint

I paid a significant sum for letting agents to act on my behalf. But when a tenant moved in they failed to take picture to back up the inventory and accused me of not providing a key to my premises – the agent found the keys a month later under his shirt in his bedroom.

Next he emailed me to ask advise on a landlord/tenant problem, then realised he had sent this to me by accident. Each month I get paid a week at least late. The agents says he gets paid late by the tenant – but surely my contract is with the agent?

I have cancelled my contract but have to say the service has been stress inducing to say the least.

I am now awaiting my last payment form the agent. He says he has not received payment from the tenant. I really want to take this further. Are they able to pay late each month?

I am usually quite hard on agents, even though I know there are some very good ones. However, in this case I am not sure that they have much to answer to, other than the issue about the keys and the landlord tenant query – which indicates very poor office practice. Did the letting agreement say they would take photographs? I always advise it as good practice, but an inventory may be all that they agreed to.

As in the previous 2 questions – read the agreement very closely. I would be very surprised if the agreement agreed that the agents were liable to pay you rent that they have not received. It would generally be a leasing agreement, if that was the case. You can pursue it through the governing body who may take action if they feel the agent has acted badly.


To whom to complain

Please provide me with details of the governing body for letting agents, as I have a major problem with my lettings company there are a few governing bodies, and it will depend on which one your agent belongs to. I would advise that you contact your agent, in writing, outlining your complaint. Give a certain length of time, say a fortnight, for your queries to be addressed. At the end of that time, ask them which is their governing body and for contact details, making it clear you are pursuing this. They generally have a duty to provide these details.

You might also check with the Housing Ombudsman (www.ihos.org.uk) to see if the firm is covered by the Ombudsman scheme (there is a seaxch facility on the website).


Yet another complaint

We have a terrible letting agent. Our tenant is 9 months into a one year contract and wants early exit. We agreed subject to no cost to ourselves and the agent finding a suitable tenant.

The agent found a tenant who kept us waiting for signatures on the tenancy agreement and for the deposit and rent (he wants to pay 6 months rent in advance!)

As of today he has done both, but the agent has not conducted any tenant checks yet? The agent is holding all of the monies from the new tenant and said he cannot legally let us have the deposit or rent until at least the morning the tenant moves into the property.

This makes me really worried as the current tenant is moving out two days before the new one moves in and if there is any problem with the new tenant the agent said the money will be held and we would have to go to court for it.

I had a good chat with the manager at the agency today and he has agreed to give me a cheque tomorrow as it will not clear until the morning the new tenant moves in but he warned me that I will have to sign a ‘disclaimer’ and that I may have legal problems if the new tenant cannot move in and we do not refund the deposit and rent to him (the tenant). We have all agreed terms and all signed the tenancy agreement, I thought once this happened both landlord and new tenant were committed?

If this is a trustworthy agent, I would not be concerned about getting the rent until he moves in – you have no entitlement to it until then. My concern is that the agent may have been swayed by six months rent and not undertaken credit reference checks, taken full references and the like. I don’t understand why the agent is talking about court cases in this instance – if the new tenant decides not to move in, presumably you will be happy to refund the rent but would expect to take something from the deposit.

As a cynic who has seen a great deal, though, I do wonder whether there is any possibility of a scam, between the old tenant and the new? (for example a new tenant has agreed to move in so that you cannot pursue the old tenant for as much, or for anything, but then the new tenant refuses to move in and you are left with very little). Tell your agent that you want six month tenancies in future and be very clear that full checks must be undertaken. Make sure the deposit is in a deposit scheme, and if anything goes wrong, make a claim under the Dispute Resolution Service. Be prepared to justifying what you are claiming.


Termination over failure

Failure to protect the tenant’s deposit
I let my property through a small letting agent (who unfortunately is not a member of the ARLA or any other body). Four months into the tenancy I requested various documents from the firm, including a copy of the tenancy deposit protection certificate. The agent’s terms and conditions specifically stated that it would provide details of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme to both the landlord and tenant within 14 days of the signing of the tenancy agreement.

Needless to say, neither I nor my tenants had received any such document within 14 days – or ever. When the requested documents arrived there was still no copy of the Tenancy Deposit Protection certificate. I contacted the agent once again to ask for a copy. The firm apologised for the oversight and said a copy would be posted that day.

When I received the certificate, it became apparent that the deposit had only been protected on that very same day – that is over four months into the tenancy. I terminated the agreement with the agent immediately in writing, pointing out that it had failed to meet its contractual obligations and expressing my disappointment in the service that had been provided.

The tenants were in full support of my decision as they too had been experiencing a poor level of service from the agent. The agent sent a letter apologising for the oversight with the deposit and accepted the termination with immediate effect. Eight months later, on the anniversary of the tenancy agreement, I have now received an invoice for a renewal fee because my tenants have decided to stay on at the property. I have written to the agent to remind it that it had been in breach of contract and that my obligations under that contract were discharged as a result. However the firm has responded saying its failure to protect the deposit is irrelevant as is the fact that I had terminated the agreement and it is threatening to instruct solicitors if I do not pay up within 14 days. Any advice on how best to deal with this?

Very tricky. If you are a regular reader of the column, you will be fully aware of the number of problems that people experience with agents. The most frustrating are those where termination only appears to terminate one part of the agreement and charges – i.e. the monthly fee. It appears that the renewal fee can remain in place almost in perpetuity, which is hardly satisfactory.

Without having seen the agreement and what it commits you to, it is difficult to say what is the best course of action.

I feel inclined to say let them contact their solicitor, but that can get very unpleasant.

Speak to your local trading standards, see if they can offer any assistance.

Maybe start the process with a brief letter to the agent, noting the following points:

  1. That you had cancelled the contract because of the agent’s failure to meet its contractual obligations;
  2. That the failure to register the deposit could have had serious consequences for you;
  3. That the agent had accepted this and apologised for the failure (which would have been the time for the agent to advise about the renewal fee);
  4. That should the agent continue with this, you will seek your own legal advice.

I don’t know that it will make the agent retract, but it does clearly state your case, which will be useful if the firm does speak to a solicitor.

Unfortunately, I also believe the agent is correct when they say the failure to protect the deposit is irrelevant – the firm did protect it eventually and neither you nor it suffered any consequences from this. I cannot say that your terminating the agreement is irrelevant without seeing it.

It may be easiest if you can negotiate perhaps a one-off payment of say half the renewal fee, on the understanding it was a final payment. But if the agent really believes it has a strong case, it may not agree.


Pursuing a claim

I am using a national letting agent which has so far provided me with two awful tenants. The first didn’t meet with credit checks, but they got a guarantor so I went ahead with the tenancy.

She moved in at the start of October 2007 and had left the property by the start of February. During the tenancy, she never once paid on time and left a huge amount of work to be done upon her departure – walls painted in all colours of the rainbow, blocked drains, stolen fixtures, damaged carpets and window blinds to name but a few things. I corresponded through the agent with her but never got any more money from her, apart from the £625 deposit, which left me with a shortfall of over £600.

I agreed to try out the agent for a further tenancy although I was unhappy with the firm. My new tenant took up tenancy in mid April 2008 and seemed to settle in well. She gave notice in October that she would be leaving and the agent advised the earliest date would be 17 December.

It now comes to light that she had not paid any rent since September and the only reason I found out about it was that I was checking my bank account and saw no money had been deposited. I contacted the agent which told me there had been some server issues, but could I check again as the firm’s records showed she was only one month in arrears not two as I had stated.

Further investigation has now revealed that she was indeed two months in arrears and as yet I have not received any paperwork to explain this to me.

Not only that, but it was discovered by my father who was driving past the property that the house had been emptied and the large French doors at the back of the house had been left open – in effect the house was abandoned and open for anybody to enter.

I would like to know if there is any action that I can take against the agent and against the tenant – and if so what?

Yes, you can take action against the tenant to reclaim your losses through the small claims court, so long as you have a forwarding address. But my experience of this type of behaviour is that tenants rarely leave addresses where they can be contacted. The agent may have an employer or next of kin address, but even if the agent will release this you must be very careful about using the information as the tenant may start screaming ‘Data Protection’, ‘Harassment’, and the like. Are you a member of your local landlords association? It may have advice.

As for action against the agent – it would probably depend on the terms of the agreement. I think a stiff letter to the firm, making the case for what you feel you are owed, especially on the basis that its accounting systems leave something to be desired, and see what response you get. If the firm denies culpability, contact its governing body, (probably ARLA).

Be fair to your fellow landlords – if you are asked for a reference, though you must be guarded, a basic response, that ……….lived in the property from……..to………… should be sufficient for any landlord worth his or her salt to realise this is not a glowing testimonial!


Disputed repair charges

I am a landlord and have a reputable agent handling our property which is currently been rented out (rent money has been paid upfront, so no problem there). However, when the property was originally let in May this year, we told the agents that a ‘basic electrical check’ would need to be carried out on our range cooker and to replace the cable. I have only just in the last few days been notified by my agent that there is a dispute with the bills from the electrician.

Now that I have seen these bills I can see that other work has been carried out without my agent notifying me. I do not know where my rights are but I know that the agent has to contact us to at least tell us if any problems arise and get a costing before allowing any work to go ahead. Even though we had asked them to get an electrician to check the cooker – our agent did not contact us with costs!

Please could you advise as I do not feel this right and would like to tell my agent that I will go to the Housing Omdudsman to file a complaint.

Before you go to the Housing Ombudsman, you would need to report the agents to their governing body, ARLA probably. This is because where any Ombudsman is asked for assistance, it should be as the last resort, when all other options have been explored I think you need to discuss in some depth with the agents, as it does appear they have gone against the terms of their agreement with you. Whilst I can imagine circumstances where additional work may be necessary, I cannot see why they would not have contacted you to discuss the situation and costs. Good luck.


Terms and conditions unknown

I own a two bedroom house in Hull which I rented out two years ago through the lettings department of a local estate agent. In March of this year I received a letter telling me that they were now a franchise of a well known national letting agent, although all the staff seem the same.

I put the house on the market last year and gave three months notice to the agent, as requested by the agent. I have now sold the house, but the letting agent has told me that I have to pay three months charges as a release fee. The firm has failed to provide me with a copy of the contract for their new business, so that I can check out if it is any different from what I agreed to, so I have no idea if this is true.

They also keep deducting charges for insurances and other ‘services’ without my permission, which I only find out a month or so later when the statement arrives.

They ignore my repeated requests for information (it’s always been passed on to someone else, or no one is available).

What should I do / who should I complain to for results?

See the previous answer – it should be the governing body of the agent. As a national company, they should be a member of something. The case you should be making is that you can only be bound by the agreement you hold – which is not to say that if they had forwarded a new agreement you would not have been bound by that, but they didn’t. You need a calm meeting and to go through the points, one by one. If you are not satisfied, tell them you will take it further and do so – Trading standards may also be interested as they are investigating a lot of agencies at the moment because of the poor practice that has been reported to them.


Dealing with deposits

I recently let my property through an agent and paid 10 per cent commission.

Now the tenants have moved on there is a dispute about returning the tenant’s deposit because of damage they caused. As we could not agree, the agent made a submission to the TDS without discussing with me first the amounts they were withholding. They refunded the majority of the deposit back to the tenants without prior consultation. Can you please advise whether the letting agent was right to do this without discussion with me first?

I think it would depend on the terms of your agreement with them. Certainly, I would expect that there should be some agreement between the agents and owner. However, if they have checked the inventory and the rent was paid, they may not have felt they could justify more than the small amount that was deducted. I think you need to contact the appropriate TDS and see if they will discuss with you – they may be able to put your mind at rest.


Rude and aggressive

In May I complained to my letting agent about the standard of service offered and about an invoice sent for incorrectly high fees – when I had previously spoken to him about this he had hung up the phone on me. The agent had originally agreed to charge me 7.5 per cent for a full management service with no upfront fees or hidden charges.

I asked for a copy of a reference check he said had been made so that I could obtain rent insurance. And I warned him that unless he provided this I would be forced to hand my property to a different agent. His response was that he could not pass this information to be as to do so would be a breach of data protection law.

The agent claims to have received a formal complaint me from a tenant for visiting a property ‘uninvited and unannounced’ without reference him as managing agent. He claims this amounted to harassment and warned me not to ‘attempt access nor contact them in any way directly’.

In fact I had arranged in advance with the tenant to go to the property to effect repairs. As the tenant did not turn up as arranged, and after waiting over an hour, we entered the property to make the repair.

The agent also said the firm had been contacted and warned by the Council and the Eastbourne Housing and legal centre that the property was now registered as a property in breach of regulations in that the fire safety equipment fitted is unsafe. The agent gave me ‘formal notice and full and final warning that we are to have the system repaired by a registered trade person no later that 24 hrs from this email’. Not taking such action would be a criminal offence, he said.

I do not believe any such work was required or has been undertaken.

‘Under no circumstances should you turn up or attempt access without proper authority through ourselves, you should not make further threats of eviction under the terms of the agreements currently in place’.

The agent is rude to talk to and despite the promise of no additional fees has even charged me for a meter reading. Now he is trying to turn all my tenants against me and they’re scared to pay the rent direct to me unless I sign a new contract with them myself.

I am wondering if I can set up new agreements using my company name.

There seem to be so many owners totally unhappy with their agents and it is always very difficult to advise whether their actions are justified without seeing the Agreement you have signed. However, I will do my best to advise under these difficult circumstances.

1. Incorrect invoice and unduly high charges – presumably this was a simple error, addressed when you raised it with them? Should this occur again, or you feel it is an attempt to make fraudulent charges, then raise it with the agent’s governing body, usually ARLA. Any complaints you have about the way you are treated by an agent should also be raised by them. The other place you could go for redress is the local Trading Standards office. Agents are being looked at very closely by the Office of Fair Trading for their trading practices following a case involving unfair contract terms by an agent, reported in February this year. Public enquiries can be made to 0845 7224499, or to: enquiries@oft.gov.uk.

2. Read the agreement you have made with the agent very carefully. Many of the other things you mention should be covered by the agreement and you may find the agent is not actually behaving in an unexpected manner.

3. I understand why the agent would not let you have copies of the reference checks, if the agreement specifies that they will ask for them – it would breach data protection. However, under those circumstances, why are they not dealing with the rent protection insurance? That would surely be a useful part of the service they provide. However, if they refuse to involve themselves in this and this type of insurance offers a great deal of protection for you, you may be better getting your own check done – check yellow pages for a credit referencing agency – it would be as well to sort one out anyway, if you wish to handle yourself.

4. I understand the difficulties of gaining access to do necessary work and the frustration when the tenant, having been given reasonable notice, is absent. Some tenants would not object to your entering and doing the work anyway. This one did. You actually had no right to enter the property without the expressed permission of the tenant. I know of a case where the tenant is refusing access and people have gone to the property 3 times, having written and given an opportunity for the tenant to re-arrange. Only a court can give permission to enter without permission. Under those circumstances, the agent had a duty to advise you of this.

5. Fire safety – if the agent has received such notices from the council, I would expect that they would have forwarded copies of the notices. I cannot say how your council operates, but to require the work done in 24 hours seems extreme – if it was that dangerous, surely the house would have been closed as unfit? I presume that the agent is the one you would expect to have the work undertaken? If so, ask for details of what has been done, rather than doubt it. After all, from the tone of their letters, you would be held responsible so you need to know it has been done.

6. As I say in 2 above, if you have an agreement that specifies you should not contact the tenants etc., then you really shouldn’t – that is why you are paying the agent. Likewise, threats of eviction, whether justified or not, should come from the agent, not you – it can confuse tenants if dealing with two different people, particularly if negotiation plays any part in how or why you are evicting. This could also be construed as harassment of the tenant, which is viewed very seriously.

7. I don’t quite understand how he is turning your tenants against you, when you really should have no dealings with them. In my experience, rent is generally paid to the agent, who deducts his fee and then forwards rent to the owner. Your agreement may say differently.

8. If you legitimately end your contract with the agents, you can, of course, manage them yourself. You should then issue tenancy agreements in your, or your company’s, name. Any deposits should be returned to the tenants and they should then pay them to you. If this happens, you will need to decide which Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme you will use to protect the deposits – there is one custodial, and two insured schemes.

I hope that has given you some guidance to the way forward.



Not passing on the deposit

I am currently in a dispute with an agent that I used to find two sharing tenants.

I specified a six month contract at the beginning of the tenancy, and the agreement drawn up reflects this. A section 21 Notice to vacate after six months was issued and signed by the letting agent and the tenants at the beginning of the tenancy. It was also stipulated that the deposit was to be transferred to myself, as I was managing the property, so that it could be registered with the DPS.

The agents should have taken his fee from the first month’s rent collected at the start of the tenancy, and the deposit and remaining rent should have been transferred to my bank account. He did not do this but registered the deposit with the TDS instead.

I have tried on numerous occasions to have the agents transfer the balance due and the deposits but to no avail. Now we have passed the six month mark, the agents are claiming that we owe them a further six month’s fee.

Do I have grounds to refuse any further payments and terminate own agreement on the basis that they were in breach of the agreement and their own terms of business? Does not the issuing of a Section 21 mean that the tenancy agreement terminates automatically at the fixed period?

Another agent creating dissatisfaction to the client.

If the deposit has been registered with a tenancy deposit protection scheme, there may very well be difficulties in transferring it. The tenant has to be notified within a set period who is protecting it the deposit. If it has been protected by the custodial scheme, they may decline to transfer it to your name. If an insured scheme has been used the agent will have the deposit but will have paid to protect it.

I think you would be within your rights to refuse further payment, but as in the previous one, check the agreement – are you tied in to anything other than the first period of tenancy? Contact ARLA to discuss if you are not clear.

I am afraid that a section.21 notice does not automatically terminate the tenancy should the tenant not move out. You would still have to go to court and obtain a possession order – the agents should have advised you of this. As the first six months have expired, the tenancy converted to a statutory periodic tenancy, which means they still require two months notice, if you are using s.21.


Poor service

I am having issues with a letting agent who is failing in his management of my property.

One tenant has walked out without paying leaving huge debts. I was not informed by the letting agent until a month later and now find he had never undertaken a full check on client or taken an inventory. The house was damaged and the letting agent had clearly not inspected it when said he had. He won’t chase the tenant for what is owed.

A new tenant has now moved in, but again, no checks have been made. The agent pays me late for rent he collects, and his cheques have even bounced.

When I asked for the fee back because of the poor service, the agent said I should manage the property myself.

If I do this, do I still ask the agent to chase the ex tenant for outstanding amounts.

What an unsatisfactory situation. If you read this regularly, you know I suggest that you make a complaint to ARLA. If you decide to manage the property yourself, you can still ask the agent to chase the ex-tenant – but do you really believe he’d do it? Ask him what he has done already, has he had any reference requests? I’d be more inclined to put the debt in the hands of a Debt Recovery Agency – check yellow pages. If you take over management, I think I would serve your current tenant notice, making it clear that you would be prepared for him to remain, provided he can give you acceptable references.


Finding an agent

How can I find references for a letting agent in a particular area? I have a property in Oxford and I am unhappy with the service I have received from my current agent.

Check the agent is a member of a professional organisation – ARLA or NLA. Ask the agent to give you references, or contact details from satisfied landlords. Is there a local landlord association? Ask them whether they can make a recommendation. Give them a very thorough interview, about what their service comprises – do they have an application form for prospective tenants, reference checking, credit reference, criteria for the people they assist ie working, under retirement age etc., how is rent paid, how regularly etc. Good luck.


Using two agents

Is it OK to use the services of one estate agent to find tenants to rent a property and a different one to help sell the property?

I have just asked my local estate agent to find tenants for six months, to make sure I can pay the mortgage on it, the tenancy is for six months during which I want to sell the property. I have used a friend who is an estate agent to help me sell it. Is this OK? Or should I be using just one agent to do all of the above?

Can the agent I’m using to rent the property do anything to jeopardise me selling the property because I chose to use a friend to sell it rather than their company?

Provided there was nothing in the agreement with the letting agent that prohibited you using another agent to sell (ie a clause regarding sale), I can’t see that it would be a problem, though your letting agent would probably quite like both sides of the business, and may feel a little aggrieved. I would not think the agent could jeopardise a sale, but the tenants quite possibly would. It would not be reasonable to expect the tenants to allow viewings during the term of the tenancy, though they may be prepared to allow it in the last month. You need to discuss with the tenants to make sure they are happy with what you expect to do.



Landlord making claim

I am a small letting agent. I was recently employed by a landlord to let her house. A couple wanted to take the property and proceeded with an application. I submitted the application forms to an independent referencing agency together with copies of three wages slips, a gas bill and passport photo. Everything checked out except the employment status.

I was in continual contact with the landlord at this stage, and she decided to proceed as we had copies of the applicants’ wage slips and a larger deposit was paid as compensation. The tenants then moved into the property and maliciously damaged it by turning it into a cannabis factory.

I co-operated with the police as best I could, providing evidence, and also cleared the property of food debris and organised insurance company quotes.

The landlord decided to take all four of her properties away from me after this incident and we parted company. All monies owed to her at that time were paid over to her. I did charge her for 2 month’s management fees while I was overseeing the works – which she wasn’t pleased about.

Three months have now passed and I have just received a letter from a third party acting on her behalf, saying that because she is unsure that her insurance company will pay for the damage to the property she may be making a claim against me. The damage is estimated at approximately £10,000.

I have been asked voluntarily to offer any evidence I have that the vetting process which I used was done properly, but the letter states that it is not a formal letter of claim against me.

Firstly I would like to know if the landlord could possibly have a case against me and secondly should I respond to the letter I have received as it is not a formal letter at this stage. The letter states that it would be prudent at this stage to make sure I have public liability insurance. Would you agree with this as I do not have any insurance as I run my business from home and do not have any staff.

Cannabis farms seem to be an increasing problem, as I have heard of two in my area and some bad instances in an adjoining area over recent weeks. However, back to you. Because you are in a high risk business, where a bad decision could result in the kind of damage you have seen, I do feel some kind of public liability insurance is vital. If you read this column regularly, you will know I often advise landlords having problems with agents that they go to the governing body – I presume you are not registered with one of them either, who could provide some cover.

However, in this case, the owner clearly made the decision. You were obviously concerned about the employment status, but she chose to go against your concerns.

I would rather not advise on whether you should reply to the letter. You have concerns, which is why you asked me. I think you need a consultation with a solicitor.



Keys

Please could you tell me if it is usual and also legal for letting agents to hold keys to rented property? As a tenant I feel very insecure about both the letting agent and landlady retaining keys.

Previously the landlady sent a handyman to work in the garden without notice.

I feel very threatened especially as we have discovered that a building next to our house, which we thought was nothing to do with our property, is owned by our landlady and it appears we are paying for the electricity used – this building that is used most of the time for welding and work that the handy man does.

Yes, it is legal and in many cases, tenants would say preferable, that the landlord or agent holds keys – I would say this should be’ or’ and not ‘and’ – one set of keys may be understandable, but there should not be multiple sets. Tenants often like it as if they lose their keys, it is much cheaper to get copies done than to have to change locks. However, it is not legal for the landlady or agent to enter the property without your permission and knowledge. The keys they hold should never be used without your permission. Rather than feeling threatened, I would suggest you write a firm letter stating you would not like anyone entering the property without your permission, which would not be unreasonably withheld. The electricity supply should be quite separate, so point this out – it is unreasonable to expect you to pay for electricity you are not using. If you are not satisfied with the response you get, discuss with Environmental Services.



Deposit retention

I instructed a letting agency in Colchester to market a property for me. This they did successfully.

The problem is that it has now been well over a month and I have not received the new tenants’ deposit, plus monies owed to me left over for their introduction service. Each time I make contact there are always excuses, like the lady from accounts is away, not in today etc etc. They never call me back when I have asked them too

I have contacted, the OFT, TS, CD, CAB, no one wants to know.

The letting agency I went with is to my knowledge not a member of any regulatory body. I will not use them again

I spoke with the DPS who say that the letting agency is making me break the law as they are not passing the deposit on to me. This I do not want to do

To my knowledge the letting agent has not put the money into a scheme either.

It is always difficult to advise without seeing the agreement, but clearly, you are not breaking the law – you have had no deposit. Write a firm letter to the letting agent stating that you are aware they are breaking the law by not giving you the deposit which you would therefore protect. The tenant is supposed to be advised within 14 days which scheme is being used.

Your letter should make it clear that you will not be a party to this illegal action; it may also be worth mentioning that if the tenant approaches CAB after two weeks and says that the deposit has not been protected, they will assist the tenant in taking them to court – the financial penalty is that the person who has received it and not protected it, they will be ordered to pay three times the deposit level. I would keep copies for yourself and send a copy to DPS, to show that you are not party to this and only want to do the right thing.



Rent paid by council

My wife has a property that has been let for the last fee years by a local letting agent. The current tenant lost her job a few months ago and defaulted on rent. She has since paid the rent arrears and the council is now paying the rent.

The agent is still requesting the same monthly fee – are we in a position to cancel or renegotiate this contract?

I am afraid I always answer the same – it is difficult to know what you are tied into without seeing the agreement. I would think it was doubtful that they were duty bound to release you from the agreement, or reduce the fee, just because the tenant is now on housing benefit. They may be prepared to discuss it with you and make a reduction as a sign of goodwill, but you really need to approach them.



Suing for failures

I have had a problem tenant (not paying rent for four months) and have finally evicted her and gone through the small claims court. Bailiffs are now on their way to her new address but we pretty much know we won’t be getting any of the £3,900 owing to us.

We had an estate agent find us a tenant and manage the property. When we asked to see the file to use in our case against the tenant, we found that no references had been taken. There was a letter stating that the tenant was employed (for less than a month) and was dated the day before she moved in.

A photocopy of her credit card, passport and university ID was also in there. When we asked about references from her previous employment and landlord, they said they didn’t do any as she owned her previous house and was selling it due to splitting up with her partner. The agent had taken her on face value (the agent knew her!!). They also said that the photocopies were reference checks and that’s all they needed to do.

We know that she didn’t own the previous house (the agents told us that a couple of weeks ago) and owes money to her previous landlord. She was also a tenant before that too (again the agent told us a couple of weeks ago – a bit strange that they didn’t tell us this before taking the tenant on!). There are many other things the agents have not done and lied about – such as not getting the tenant to sign an inventory.

I wanted to know, do I have a case against the agents for poor tenant selection (not getting correct references or doing any credit check) and can I sue them for the money the tenant owes?

It certainly sounds as though you have a case. The difficulty may be in proving it. The agent may say she lied to them; you say they knew the tenant – can you prove it? See what governing body the agent belongs to and start there with your complaint. If you wished to sue, you would need a solicitor, so take whatever evidence/proof you have and have a conversation with a solicitor – they would hopefully give you an honest assessment of what the chances are of you winning a case. Alternatively, you could try and take the agent to the small claims court, which would be cheaper.


Continuing contract

I let my property for one year through an agent. The year has ended and my tenants want to stay on, but I do not want to pay the agent. I explained to the agent at the end of the contract that I did not need his services, but he insisted that I am legally obliged to pay him.

I only signed for one year so what is my legal position as they keep sending bailiffs round and the agent using verbally abusive language to me.

Did you check the small print? Many agreements do tie landlords in for as long as the tenancy lasts. If you are sure you are not bound, get in touch with the governing body.


Ending agreement

I have rented out my property for the past two years through a property management agency, paying it 10 per cent of the rent. Over this time I have had four different tenants, most having problems with the agent being slow to respond to problems. I also am not happy with the way the firm has dealt with problems.

It has now just signed in new tenants for a six month assured shorthold tenancy. They were in the property two days when I was informed that the agents had let the property out for £25 less than I had agreed with them.

I now wish to end my business with the agent and manage the property myself. My agreement with the agent requires two month’s notice. How does that affect the tenants, as I am happy for them to continue with their agreed lease?

Would I have to draw up a new lease with the tenants? Would I have to wait until the lease agreement from the agent is over before I can manage the property myself?


I always say you need to read the agreement with the agency carefully. If it allows you to end with two month’s notice, as you say, and does not specify when the agreement comes to an end, I would think two months would be fine. However, your tenant presumably has longer than two months to the end of the tenancy, so you may find it easier to give the agent notice to end when the tenant’s agreement does. You should write to the tenant well in advance, indicating that you are taking over from xxx and will be issuing him or her with a new tenancy, if he or she wishes to continue in the tenancy. I would imagine that as you are saving 10 per cent on agency fees you may be happy to accept the terms on which the agent granted the tenancy, at £25 less than you expected. You would have to issue a new tenancy but this would be for a minimum six months, rather than a continuation of the original tenancy. Remember, if there is a deposit you will need it to be passed over to you and you must then either lodge it with the Deposit Protection Scheme or use one of the insurance schemes, where you pay a premium.



Appalling service

I have had a property rented out through an agent in the South Shields area for the past two years. We went to this particular agent through recommendation, but the service level provided has been appalling. We have continually had to chase payment, communication has been very limited and there has been continual late payment on our monthly rent.

In 2006 we went through a period when no payments were coming through from the agent, even though we know that our tenant had been paying her rent (with help with local housing authority). We have chased this situation continually, over 40 emails on this one issue.

My wife has now resorted to phoning daily the agent for the past month to try and get monies outstanding. The manager who looks after our property will never take calls or respond to messages at all, which has meant my wife has had to go through the head office, which till recently had been helpful.

Eventually we received a statement of account and subsequently agreed a settlement of £1,300 which came through one month ago. Since then nothing. We have now put the property with another agent. This money has been owed to us for nearly a year now.

We have chased and chased, the local agent has now informed the staff at the head office not to speak to us. His PA just continually fobs us off; this is so stressful and frustrating especially as we know he has been paid the money. We have been made aware that although this man runs the letting side of the business, and works under all the banners of the main estate agency group, that he is part of a franchise. Is there anything we can now do? We have the statement from them admitting they owe this money and have kept all email correspondence. No one will help us in any way. I even sent a very lengthy email to the MD and chairman and received an abusive call back from the chairman saying it was ‘Not his problem, and to stop emailing’. The MD has not responded at all. We would go up to the agents, but we live five hours drive away. I have asked
twice for a meeting, but again no one comes back. I really really need to resolve this. Help.

If you read this column regularly, you will know I always recommend that you contact the governing body of the agents, usually ARLA – which has recently merged with the National Association of Estate Agents.

For the moment, forget emails and telephone calls – they are not prepared to respond, so you need to do the old fashioned thing, of writing.

First – check your letting agreement – is it quite clear from that that they are not meeting their obligations under that agreement?

Draw up an account, clearly showing the weekly/monthly rent and what you have received, and the amount still outstanding.

Write a very clear and concise letter, stating you are unhappy with the situation, enclosing the rent account and asking for settlement within two weeks, stating that if a cheque in settlement is not received by that date, you will take further action.

Keep copies of everything and make sure they are dated. Send your letter by recorded delivery.
If you have no response, you can contact ARLA. I would also be inclined to send it to the local trading standards office.

Your final option is the small claims court, but may be difficult given the distance – but you could make a claim online – go to www.moneyclaim.gov.uk.


Tenant problem

A month ago I rented my townhouse property through an agent to four professional people – at least that’s what I thought. I have now found out that none of them live there and the lead tenant has sublet the property to six or seven different people.

I ended the contract but my tenant has not informed the sublet tenants about. The agents are not at all co-operative and keep telling me all these laws which protect tenants.

I paid the agent a full management fee (taken up front) but my tenant has only paid half of this month’s rent. Meanwhile the agent has only served a verbal notice – I am very disappointed to have nothing in writing.

What can I do to get out of this mess? Can I report the agent for negligent and uncooperative behaviour? Lastly, I put the deposit in the Deposit Protection Plan and now I’m stuck because both parties need to sign for it and the tenant is a liar and will definitely not cooperate.

The agent is right, there are laws to protect tenants, but these are illegal occupiers and I would expect the agent to be aware of this. You must instruct the agent to put in writing to the occupiers that they need to leave; put your instruction in writing and keep a copy – you will need this if you put a complaint into the agent’s governing body – there is usually a sticker in the window which shows the organisation to which the firm belongs. The agent should issue a notice to quit and get a court order, though once fully appraised of the situation, the tenants may realise they need to move.

I would contact the dispute service for the custodial scheme regarding the deposit – I am sure it will do it can to help you and will be aware that this sort of situation can occur and deal with it in a professional manner. Bear in mind when discussing with them that the legal tenant has gone and the illegal occupiers are there without a valid agreement.



Tenants stay on


I let my property through a agent for one year. I only signed with the agent for one year and have I explained to the agent I that I do not need his services.
My tenants now want to stay on and the agent insists that I am legally obliged to continue paying him commission – which I do not want to do. He keeps sending bailiffs round and is verbally abusive to me. What is my legal position?

Depends on your agreement. Go through it and, if satisfied that termination of the agreement is allowed, contact ARLA or whichever professional body the agent belongs to.



Problem with a letting agent

In March this year we moved house, and decided to rent the house we had left because houses similar to ours were taking a long time to sell, and we did not want to leave the property unoccupied. We engaged what we thought was a reputable estate/letting agent and they found a tenant within a couple of weeks. At first, we received the rental regularly along with appropriate paperwork, and then in August we received a letter stating that this was the final payment of the let. When we checked our paperwork we realised that they had missed June/July rental. We contacted the agent’s office and after numerous telephone calls and visits to their premises we eventually received payment in October. In the meanwhile my husband was having investigations for a serious illness and my mind was definitely not on the ball. The agents in September asked if the present tenant could extend her contract by two weeks, as she was waiting for council accommodation. I agreed as she was a single mother. Her tenancy ended on a Friday, my agents informed me and said that they had a new tenant lined up and they wanted to take up tenancy from the Monday. I asked what state the property was in and was informed that it would be alright because when they checked the property it was always fine.

I inspected the property on the Sunday, and spent the entire day cleaning it, removing rubbish and trying to tidy up the garden. I spoke to the agents on the Monday and said that the property had been in a mess the carpets were dirty and needed cleaning and the cooker was appalling. They said not to worry the new tenant was aware of the state of the property and was going to get the carpets cleaned personally. The new tenant moved in and had the carpets cleaned, the cooker steam cleaned and fitted three toilet seats and then asked the agent for the money. The agent still had the first tenants bond. In the meanwhile we still had not had the final six weeks rental from the first tenant. After numerous telephone calls and visits to their local offices I finally received this in December after refusing to leave the office, where I was given a cheque, no paperwork forthcoming. In the meantime, the new tenant withheld her rent in November because the central heating was not working properly and despite the agents sending someone to fix it, it was unsatisfactory for about two weeks, also she wanted the money for cleaning the house and the toilet seats. I did not find this out until the New Year when I finally got to speak to someone from the company as I had had no rent from the new tenant. They also said that they were going to pay for the cleaning of the house out of the first tenants bond, but had not as she denied the house needed cleaning.

After talking to a solicitor he told me to change agents. I visited the agent’s offices and was informed that the letting once again had nothing to do with them, but they did know some money had been placed in my bank account. I checked my account and for three months rental from new tenants which should have been £1400 they had deposited £620. I wrote to the agents telling them that I did not want them to manage my property from that date and that I gave them a week to for ward any monies they owed me and all relevant paperwork, or I would take legal action. They wrote back saying they would do that shortly but that they were having problems as new tenant had not paid rent for November, and old tenant disputing over bond. In the meantime I have found a new letting agent, who has told me that they have clients who were previously with my old agency and had encountered similar problems. My tenant has paid the last two months rent, but informed my new agent as to why she withheld payment. In the meanwhile through the Internet I made a claim against my old letting agent in the small claims court, asking for the difference in rent I am owed, my new tenants bond and the money from the first bond to cover the house cleaning. They have defended their claim and said they only owe me £9.16, they cannot pass on to me my present tenants bond as it is hers, and will release it if she contacts them, they dispute the rent owed as they say they cannot give me rental when the tenant does not pay, and as my first tenant is taking them to court over the first bond they cannot pay twice. My new agent has written to my tenant and told her to contact the agent and to ask for the return of her bond.
If I want to pursue the matter further it will cost me more money, and I have a week to reply to the courts. I realise now how stupid and naive we were, and that we never had any contract in writing, and no inventory was documented.

I am so sorry that you have had this experience and really don’t think there is anything you can do now but go through the process. Ending the agreement with the agents whilst still in the middle of the dispute has probably not helped. Contact the governing body of the agents (possibly ARLA) and see if is can help. I am afraid that, as always, doing the paperwork, ensuring that there is an inventory and that it is part of the agent’s responsibility if you do not provide your own, seems like hassle you can do without – until something like this happens. Good luck.


High fees, low performance

I am currently experience a nightmare renting my house out with a company of letting agents based in south east London. Examples of incompetency include taking over three months to forward the inventory, rental income being received late or not at all, not executing correct credit control procedures and no ability to of communicate internally and externally. All this and more examples of unprofessionalism – and for a fee of 16 per cent?

If you follow this column you will know how many complaints are made about agents. From the details you give, this does seem expensive and poor. All I can suggest is that you check which governing body the firm belongs to and contact them.


Unauthorised tenancy

My company were recently instructed jointly with a number of local letting agents in finding tenants for a landlord. After a short period of marketing, we found potential tenants and informed the landlord, who was extremely pleased that we had worked quickly. We agreed to take an agreement to let deposit from the potential tenants and the landlord contacted the other agents to inform them the property was now let. After a few days, whilst referencing was taking place, the landlord called us to say that upon entering the property to do some last minute decorating, she found the property occupied. The occupants explained that one of the other agents had agreed to let them move into the property, creating a 12 month tenancy agreement in the process, duly signed by those agents on behalf of the landlord.

Needless to say the landlord was extremely angry. When she confronted the agents, they simply stated that they had found tenants at a higher rent and were ‘working in her best interests’.

The landlord now has tenants which she knows nothing about; no references were obtained and she did not give the agents any verbal or written authorisation to proceed.

Has the tenancy been created under false pretences and therefore can the tenancy be terminated? If not, what legal position does the landlord now hold with:
• The current tenants;
• The agents involved; or
• My company (which is now being claimed against by the tenants we initially had found)

Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

It depends on what paperwork the landlord signed to allow the agents to look for tenants. It does not seem that they were working in the best interest of the client, which would be to get references to try and ensure the property was safe, rather than getting extra rent. Definitely discuss with ARLA, if they are a member. They will tell you which agreement can be terminated – the one between yourselves and the agents or the tenancy agreement, though I cannot see that the current tenants can be held responsible at all and I don’t think you can end it. If you are being claimed against, then pass that over to the other agents – claim in the same way against them.


Ceasing to trade

I have a letting agent that has ceased trading and is not meeting its obligations. It is not contactable: its website is now defunct, its offices are closed, and nobody answers its telephone. I have sent letters seeking action but have received no response.

I have now made direct contact with my tenant, who was unaware of any problems, and will start to pay me direct with immediate effect. He’s completely up to date, but the letting agent hasn’t paid me and they now owe me approximately £1,800 for four month’s rental. I have two questions.

1. What is the most effective method to seek payment? Should I go through the small claims court, incurring the costs, with a high likelihood that I’ll never get my money, or is there an alternate, less expensive route?

2. What can be done to stop agents like this defrauding landlords? I know that I am one of 30 landlords who are owed money by this agent. I also now know that the owner’s husband has a bankruptcy order against him arising from failure of an estate agency that previously operated out of the same address.

1. My understanding was that small claims court was the cheapest option. You would expect that the costs would be awarded to you, but if you think there is little chance of getting the money, I can see why you would be hesitant about going that route.

2. Was he registered with one of the governing bodies, for example ARLA? If so, contact them, they may have some form of insurance scheme that might assist. I would also get in touch with Trading Standards – they may not be able to get any money back, but they at least will be aware of the guilty parties, if they start trading again.


Unhappy with service

About two years ago I started a new career and had to lease out my flat as I could not make ends meet while training. However, I have had repeated problems with my letting agency.

Because I am working away from home for most of the year I gave my mother’s address as a point of contact and also my email address, just in case. At least three times last year my rent was more than two weeks late, and not only did the agency not think to inform me of this but wasn’t even aware of the fact until I told it. A tenant moved out for three weeks and I wasn’t told until I chased it up.
This was bad enough but worse was to follow.

As I have been earning more money recently I decided to move back into my flat. I gave three month’s written notice – as advised by the agency. Through the agency I subsequently extended the notice for a week at the tenant’s request. When I later telephoned the agency to arrange to pick up the keys I was told that tenant had been granted an extension and had already paid for the next month’s rent. When I complained I was passed to the person who was supposed to be dealing with my property who started telling me that he had been trying to get in touch with me to say that the lodger was out of the country and that they had been trying to get him out. I asked if the form always take a month’s rent from people who weren’t supposed to be in there.

His reply was nothing short of waffling. At one point he even said that the reason they hadn’t moved the tenant out was because they didn’t have another one bedroom bed flat to let him.

When I pointed out that I wasn’t interested on whether they continued to make money out of the tenant and that I only wanted my property back, his reply was that if he went to another agent it would take months for security checks.

Quite frankly I don’t believe a word the agency tells me any more.

The fact that I’m not back in my flat is bad enough, but to not find out until a few days before the tenancy was finished that the tenant was still there is a disgrace. I had arranged a £16k loan to get a new kitchen, bathroom and carpets, and as it stands I might get my keys in a few weeks – just before I have to fly out for a three month assignment abroad. So not only will I not be any further advanced when I come back but I will be liable for the council tax whilst away.

Is there anywhere that I can place a complaint against this company, as people should be warned about cowboys like these.

This has got to be the governing body again, or trading standards. Put your complaint in writing to the company first, to give it a chance to explain how this has happened. Keep a copy, because any further complaint to ARLA will need to have the original complaint with it, to show you have given them an opportunity to explain.


Tenancy renewal

I instructed an agent to find me tenants 10 months ago. They found some excellent tenants who wish to stay on. My agent (who has not had to do any further work in this matter) has written to me asking if I wish to extend. I would like the tenants to stay on but do not wish to pay the agent’s a fee of 8 per cent of the annual rent – and the tenants also do not wish to pay a £60 fee to the same agents. Can we give notice to the agent and renew the contract privately?

You would have to check what the agreement with the agents said – there may be some form of financial penalty. They will obviously want to tie you in as long as possible, but there must be some provision within the agreement for ending it. If what they say appears unfair, contact the agent’s governing body.


No contact

I am having problems with a letting agent who manages a rented property on my behalf. Basically, I am owed two month’s rent while the shorthold tenancy agreement is on the point of expiring. I can’t get hold of the letting agent. There’s no answer on his phone, and he is not responding to my emails. More worryingly, his website now appears to have been removed.

I live 250 miles from the property, hence the reason why I used a ‘local’ letting agent. What course of action can I realistically take – I have had no direct contact with the tenant?

I would write a pleasant letter to the tenants, to see if they can shed any light on the situation. You also need to know whether these people are also victims – paying the rent and having the agents keep it. Only when you know that the agents have left the scene can you start to organise an alternative arrangement. If the shorthold tenancy expires, it automatically becomes a statutory periodic tenancy, so there is no need to worry particularly about that aspect. You could send a letter by recorded delivery asking what is happening – the agent may be ill or have hit a problem with his email provider. If you get no satisfactory answers, I think this is one that you need to go straight to ARLA or other governing body about.


Compensation claim

I am having problems with rent arrears of in excess of £4,500.

The tenant moved in eight months ago but I have received nothing. My letting agent (who charges 10 per cent for doing very little it seems) has failed to chase the rent from the tenant. The tenant has been placed in the house on something called a HACTRAC scheme (a council linked programme for people on benefits) this scheme guarantees rental income from the property for the period of the tenancy. If the tenant moves out prematurely the council agree to cover the remaining rental period.

My issue is with the letting agent and I would like some advice if possible on where I stand in taking them to a small claims court, not only to recover my rent arrears but to claim compensation of the delay, mistakes they have made and the phone call and emails I have made to them and Greenwich council to try and sort out the mess that I am supposedly paying them to manage!

The letting agents have failed to keep me informed of the rental arrears situation, charged me for a washing machine that the previous tenant stole (five phone calls and two emails later this amount was removed), and made gross accounting errors not only in numbering statements but in management fee calculations and VAT amounts. Promised cheques have never arrived.

They tell me they have issued the tenant with notice to quit and that the reason for the delay is a computer hitch at Greenwich council (six months ago, lasting three weeks).

I believe I should not only receive my rent in full but compensation. Where do I stand and what might be the best way forward as I am now facing having to sell the property to recover my losses to date.

You must contact ARLA, or whatever other governing body the agent belongs to. It can advise on compensation and actions.

Get out of the agreement. This is a dreadful situation.

You also need to contact whoever is managing HACTRAC, to be quite clear about what the scheme is and what they guarantee. Most schemes of this type offer some form of security to landlords, which is why they agree to take part.


Refusing to hand over deposit

I own a property in the UK but live in Germany. I rented out the property through a letting agent over two years ago. Earlier this year, I discovered that the agents had not been collecting the rent, although through their own incompetence they had continued to pay me through the period the arrears had been growing, and had not informed me of any problems. They discovered the arrears and therefore stopped paying me rent, and this continued for nearly three months. I desperately need the rental income from the property to cover the mortgage, and am already in a lot of debt. I complained to them about this, pointing out that they should have at least informed me that there were arrears accruing. I have a background of working in social housing so I know the law well on ASTs and could have taken various courses of action had I known there were arrears.

As a result of my complaint, the letting agents informed me that they were no longer willing to manage the property. After threatening the small claims court, I got them to pay me the outstanding rent arrears figure and hand over keys, tenancy agreement etc. However, they are refusing to hand over the tenant’s deposit either to myself or to her. She has personally requested that they hand it to me, or give it to her so that she can give it to me, and they have ignored this.

Surely since they themselves have chosen to have nothing more to do with the property (a fact I was very glad about, I need hardly state) they have no right to hold onto this money? Is there any way other than the small claims court that I can recover this from them?

As in the above answer, you could contact ARLA. Otherwise, ask them clearly what their reasons are for retaining the deposit. You could get a solicitor’s letter, but I think they are banking on you being in Germany and not pursuing this. I think small claims court is the answer.


How can you sack an agent?

We live in a semi-detached house and for the last 18 months have rented out the other half. Being inexperienced we decided to use a letting agent to find tenants. We knew we wanted to manage the property ourselves, but did not necessarily wish to manage the financial relationship. We made it clear to all the agents that it was important for us in our situation that we had to be able to have a neighbourly relationship with the tenants and did not want financial issues to get in the way.

We interviewed four letting agencies and decided to go with two of them. One of the rejected ones (4 per cent a year more than its nearest competitor) was very aggressive in its marketing, and offered to reduce its annual charges by 2 per cent if we let the firm market the property. The agent also argued that it had a unique selling point in that its financial management system was far superior to its rivals. This system was computerised, and we would be aleted by mobile phone text when the tenant had paid the rent. In the end, we agreed that this agency could join the other two in marketing the house and we would contract with the first to find us tenants.

As it happened, the more expensive one found a partnership of four young girls first, and we agreed to let the house to them, on a single AST, from 1 August 2005.

Problems began on the day the girls moved in. They were teachers and realised when they came to sign the contract that they would not be able to guarantee payment into our account on the first day of each month as the contract required. This was because the agent wanted them to pay one single amount, rather than pay individual amounts each month to us, so they had to send money from their individual accounts to a single account they set up for the purpose of paying the rent – which would take time.

The letting agent asked us to agree that the rent should be paid in on the third of the month instead. By this time the tenants were on the doorstep waiting to move in so she did not want to return to the office to run the papers off again. So, in front of the tenants, she asked us to sign her copy of the tenancy agreement to change the due date which we duly did. We did not realise at the time that we would no longer be attached to the local office and that the payment monitoring service was run from an office 35 miles away.

To cut a long story short, the letting agency did not activate any change to the due date and reminder letters kept being sent to the tenants when monies were not paid into the account by the first of each month. Every time this happened, the tenants became very upset, and we had to apologise and try to remedy the situation. We inevitably became drawn into the financial aspect of the let with them which we had wanted to avoid. When the same error was made once again in January 2006, the letting agent suggested to me the only reliable option to stop the reminder letters being generated and sent out, was for me to cancel them all together. In exasperation, I opted for this.

We seriously considered cancelling the contract at that time, but instead decided to let it run until the end of the year. We informed them of our disappointment at their service and our intention to cease contracting with them. The letting agent’s stance on this was that if any one of the four in the partnership stayed for a further period we would be liable to pay the full letting fee for the year, and in perpetuity according to the clause in their standard letting agreement.

I argued that they had not delivered the service they had advertised and neither we, nor the tenants wanted a repeat of the hassle of the rental year. However, I wanted to be reasonable so asked for a meeting to discuss this. The distant office managing the contract refused as it was not customer facing. Instead it offered me a meeting at the local office we had originally dealt with. This meeting was at the beginning of July 2006. I explained the situation and our dissatisfaction to the young man I saw. He agreed that the service was not up to standard, but did not have the authority to authorise a waver of the clause in the contract so would need to refer it upwards to a senior manage who would contact me in a day or so. This never happened.

We had to close down the contract for two of the girls who left, look for replacements, and arrange new contracts for the new partnership of four.

In August, I emailed the local office asking what was happening to the promised contact with senior management. Eventually, over a month later, I was contacted by email by an associate director who apologised for the lack of service during the year but demanded the full fee of £1,700 for the full year. I argued that the repeated errors constituted a breach of contract and so no monies were due; indeed, we were due a refund if anything for the stress and inconvenience we had suffered. Shortly afterwards we received a second emailing offering a reduction of 25 per cent of the alleged fee due for the 2006/07 year. We refused and offered to refer the matters to ARLA for their views. The letting agents acknowledged that they would abide by an ARLA decision.

However, the following month we received a solicitor’s letter demanding the full year’s fees citing an invoice of 13 September (no reference to the later offer at all). When I contacted the letting agents enquiring why this was not being considered by ARLA, they stated that as legal proceedings were now in place, we could not go down this route, and anyway, ARLA did not run an arbitration service.

We replied to the solicitor’s letter as follows: ‘the imposition of the standard clause in your client’s contract that fees are due whilst any tenant introduced by them remains, will fall under the “Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999”. To impose this clause in the circumstances, fetters our discretion as consumers to sack companies for failure to deliver the contracted services to an acceptable standard.

Your client failed in its fiduciary duty to us and the tenants, in the management of the said contract. These failures, conceded by your client in correspondence dated 18 September 2006, amounted to a breach of contract rendering the above claim null and void.

On 18 September 2006, your client offered compensation of £375.00 plus VAT to us by way of a reduction on the above invoice of 13 September 2006. Our contention is that this is the (minimum) amount due to us as a refund on the 2005/06 bill which we have already reluctantly paid.

We are content for the facts of the matter to come before a judge where we will counter sue for the above refund under the said Act above, “The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982” and “The Misrepresentations Act 1987”. We reserve the right to take further legal advice which may result in further claims’.

We had a further letter in early November, denying the contract was unreasonable, stating that we had benefited from a 2 per cent reduction in fees, and if the tenants had left we would have had to renew with them or another, involving perhaps even more expenditure, and asking if we had more complaints.

We replied: ‘If your client continues to pursue the debt alleged above, then it seems inevitable that the facts of the matter will be put before a judge. In those circumstances, we will counter sue using all the evidence available. If, however, both parties can agree to learn from the experience and move on, then we will consider the matter closed’.

The solicitors have now replied that they will be advising their client to institute legal proceedings.

Should we see this through? It seems unreasonable that a company can shelter poor practice behind a clause in a contract. Why should they be paid again when they couldn’t deliver the first time? It means that we could carry on paying them forever at this rate. Are they really unsackable?

I cannot believe that they are unsackable, but would really need to see the contract to make a full comment. Certainly, if ‘unsackable’ this would appear to be an unfair contract term. Even though they are saying ARLA cannot help because they have gone down the Court route, I’d get ARLA to confirm that. I don’t know whether arbitration is what I would have expected from them, but I do think they would like to know when their profession is being brought into disrepute. If it seems that there is no other way forward other than court, I think I’d see a solicitor who specialises in contract law.


Damage to property

We let a three bedroom house on a fully managed basis. We have been dissatisfied with the agents who do not return calls or emails but put up with this poor service until a friend told us that the house was being mistreated. Upon a drive-by inspection we could plainly see damage including a concrete patio that had been laid and fencing that had been cut down. At this point we asked to see the inventory that we had paid for and to chat about the property inspections that had supposedly taken place (both of which where contractual).

We where advised that the house was in good condition and that we where over-reacting. As for the inventory; it could not be produced. We then asked for the tenants to be served with notice. The notice document was also lost but thankfully the tenants left anyway.

However the resulting damage will run into thousands of pounds. Could you advise us what is our best course of action?

Sorry, I think there is only ARLA to try and recover from the agents or the small claims court from the tenant – though if you have no address for them, you’ll struggle. If you have a next of kin address, discuss with the court whether you could use that address for your claim. Read your contract – how much responsibility do the agents have? Are there any guarantees in the agreement with them? This has been really bad luck and the deposit, which should have been kept, will probably go nowhere near covering the damage.


Charging a preparation fee

At present there is no existing lease agreement for the house where I live, although we have been paying rent and living there for quite a few months. We are currently preparing a tenancy agreement with the letting agents who are proposing to charge us £250 which they claim is a leasing fee. Is this legal? Shouldn’t the landlord have to pay this lease preparation fee? Plus, this does seem like a lot of money.

Seems a great deal of money. I’d be inclined to provide your own – you have had to wait this long. You can download a free tenancy agreement from this site which you can amend to suit your purposes. I think the agents are within their rights, except you should have been told about this and asked for the money prior to the tenancy commencing – many agents charge a fee and call it an administration fee or new tenancy fee and I think this is what their lease preparation fee is. Asking for it at this stage seems very peculiar. However, sadly, you are in the vulnerable position – you may choose not to pay it, but if the agents wish to be unreasonable, the only result is that the tenancy will end at the expiry of the fixed term.


Demand to pay again

HELP. The letting agents employed by my landlord are alleging that I have failed to pay the rent. However, I visited their office, duly paid and had my rent book signed. They are now inferring there is no office record of my having paid and are demanding I pay again. Apart from which their harassment is now bringing me into bouts of depression and casting aspersions on my good name. What oh what is my next step?

You are clearly in great distress. I feel your first step is a short, polite and clear letter, sending a photocopy of your rent book which shows payments made. Presumably you paid cash? Cheques of course provide a further proof of payment. However, if you paid cash, ask them to explain why they are casting doubt on the validity of the rent book. If they don’t let the matter drop, I think you will have to see a solicitor specialising in housing law.

 



Withholding information

I have been letting a property for one year. Four months ago I took over the management from a letting agent, who I felt was not doing a very good job. Despite several written and verbal requests, the agent has still not passed over the deposit. Does the firm have a legal right to refuse to pass this on to me?

The tenants concerned usually paid the rent slightly late but generally paid at some point. However they have not paid me any rent for the past two months, so I have threatened them with legal action and have served a 28 day notice to quit.

During a recent conversation with the letting agents, I discovered that the agent seems to have found alternative accommodation for the tenants.

When I asked why the firm had not contacted me for references regarding the rent arrears, I was told the agent did not have to notify the new landlord about the previous arrangement.

Surely it is not right that the agent has knowingly lied to a new landlord by withholding information in the firm’s possession about rent arrears and impending county court judgements? Is there anything that I can do to warn the new landlord about the poor payment history of the tenants?

Cancel the notice, issue a 14 day notice of possession proceedings using ground 8 and 10 and 11. With regard to the agent, contact whichever governing body they belong to – usually ARLA. I would also contact your local landlords association, but there is very little else you can do that is legal.


Too much hassle

We are letting our property and complying with our mortgage requirement by going through a letting agent. We have a British Gas full service pack on the property to give peace of mind covering central heating and plumbing problems.

On two occasions we have had extra bills as the managing agents have forgotten about this service pack and have called out another engineer. I have argued and been given my money back eventually.

We had previously lived in the property, and when we moved out the agent asked if we could leave a fridge and cooker for the tenant. He left after a year and a half and the agent rented the property to a company, again unfurnished but with the cooker and fridge freezer in situ.
The cooker is now not working. Meanwhile the people who are renting the property have asked for us to come out to change a light bulb.

I am beginning to wonder whether renting is too much hassle for the return.

What do I need to do? Repair the cooker?

I note that I have not had a continuation of lease from the agents. Am I falsely putting my trust in a management company that is not managing my property but taking a percentage.

I am afraid that as the cooker was there when the property was rented, you do have a requirement to have it repaired.

Light bulbs changing? They are having a laugh! Unless there is something in the agreement that the agent has issued to say you should do so, then there should be no need for you to change a bulb, unless it is in a particularly dangerous place. In that case, you should think about having the fitment changed.

Is it too much hassle? Well, you know your circumstances and how much time you could put into managing the property. I know many landlords who manage their own properties and make a successful business of it. Equally, there are many good agents who do an excellent job. From what you say, there seems little that your agents have done wrong, other than not explaining to the tenants what is tenant-like behaviour. I’d sit down with them and talk it through.


Refusing to sign

I asked a letting agent to rent out my house. The agent came to view it and put it on the market and stated that he would send me all relevant information in the post. He told me at the time that the charge for the property to be fully managed would be 13 per cent for the first year. This was verbally agreed to.

After a catalogue of errors by the agent, a tenant was found. Both the tenant and I met at the letting agent’s office and we both signed the tenancy agreement.

Then out came the agents terms and conditions. They were not as they had stated when they viewed the house, nor was there any mention of additional charges (and there’s plenty of them). My main concern was that it stated that 13 per cent would be payable indefinitely. After asking I was told the only way to stop this would be to evict the tenant. One year’s commission is £1,741.00, more than a fair amount for introducing a tenant I think, but if she was to stay for years, it would be money for old rope!

Anyway, I refused to sign the agreement and stated very clearly that I would under no circumstances sign an open ended agreement. We remain at stale mate.

The problem I now have is the tenant has a tenancy agreement and has paid the agents £1,900. I have absolutely no problem with the tenant, I’m quite happy for her to move in.

If I was to refuse to come to an agreement with the agent and stated that the house is no longer available for it to rent, would the firm have to give back the £1,900 to the tenant? I am hoping so, as she is the innocent party in this.

Also, after this is done, is there anything stopping me renting directly to this tenant, by replacing the existing tenancy agreement with one of our own – both of us are happy to do this?

I think you may need to discuss this with a solicitor. You and the tenant may be happy for her to move in on your own agreement, but the agents would be within their rights to say that they introduced her to you so could take you to court for the charge. You do not state what the £1,900 is for, but hopefully, the tenant has a receipt stating clearly what it is for and whether it is returnable. Generally speaking, I would expect it to be returnable. Contact ARLA for their opinion, but make a very clear statement about what errors occurred – they did, after all, find you a very satisfactory tenant.


Late payment

If my letting agent is late paying me my rent and I incurred bank charges as a result, is the agent liable for this?

Check what your agreement says about payment dates. It is worth trying, but they may argue that they had their own good reasons for late payment.



Fraudulent agent

I recently let my property out through a letting agent a month ago since then I have not received the holding deposit nor the first month rent. I have just found out that the agent has left the company, faces legal charges, and has done a runner with other landlords’ holding deposits and rent money. I am looking at a potential loss of £4,000. Meanwhile I still have tenants in my property and I do not have a copy of the tenancy agreement. What can I do?

You refer to ‘the company’ – therefore I would have thought that they have some responsibility, even if an individual employee has absconded with money that was rightfully yours. Tell the company you would like to discuss this with it in detail. The very least you should do is sort out the current situation – what rent has been paid, when will you start to receive rent. You also need the company to take responsibility for the deposit – you should not be expected to return this at the end of the tenancy. If this gets no response, you could try the agent’s governing body, hopefully ARLA. A final option would be to contact Trading standards. Good luck.

 


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