Bruten & Co Limited, a sales and lettings agent based in Notting Hill Gate, London, has been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman.
The expulsion is for a minimum of two years after failing to comply with parts of the Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents, and failing to pay compensation.
TPO says it received a complaint from prospective tenants who raised concerns about several elements of Bruten & Co’s level of service whilst applying to rent a property. The prospective tenants found that the tenancy agreement they were sent included a significant extra term which was not in the offer form they had signed.
TPO says Bruten & Co refused either to amend the tenancy agreement or return the deposit and administration fees, and also failed to clarify for the complainants how the utility bills for the property would be calculated.
The agent declined to deal with a complaint made by email, and even when one was sent by post they did not respond in a timely manner.
The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, decided that these issues all involved breaches of the Code of Practice. He awarded the complainants a total of £768 in compensation but TPO says that Bruten & Co has still not paid the award.
“I considered it to be fair in the circumstances that Bruten & Co pay the sum of £618 to the complainants to cover the holding deposit and administration fees that had not been returned to the complainants. In addition, I considered that a further award of compensation for the aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused as a result of the failings in Bruten & Co’s complaints handling was also merited. I therefore made a total award of £768” says Hamer.
The Disciplinary and Standards Committee of TPO considered that Bruten & Co’s failures regarding the tenancy agreement and payment of the award were serious and flagrant breaches of the Code of Practice.
It decided Bruten & Co should be expelled from TPO for a minimum of two years.
Bruten & Co had been long-standing members of TPO since January 1998. During the course of the disciplinary process Bruten & Co left TPO and joined a different redress scheme which was unaware of the disciplinary action against this agent.
But, under an agreement between the redress schemes, it will be suspended from that scheme, too, until it resolves issues over the complaint to TPO.
“Agents cannot avoid paying awards if they jump from one scheme to another. Once Bruten & Co have met their financial obligations they will be free to join another scheme. After the two years have passed they will also be free to re-join TPO, but they need to pay the award” says Hamer.