On Friday afternoon Letting Agent Today broke the news of four letting agencies being expelled by The Property Ombudsman - and now more details have emerged of the issues that lie behind the expulsions.
The decision to expel the companies follows complaints made against them by landlords and tenants. In three of the cases, rent totalling over £9,000 had not been passed to the respective landlords.
iLettings UK, which handles predominantly small properties and room lets, failed to comply with parts of the TPO Code of Practice and failed to co-operate with the investigation following a complaint and to date has not paid an award made of £350.
The complainant submitted three separate issues for review by the Ombudsman relating to unsatisfactory condition of the property, alleged libel and defamation via private messaging on social media and poor handling of the complaint.
The Ombudsman did not support the complaint that the agent failed to carry out repairs to the property, since the responsibility to ensure the property was in a fit condition was the landlord’s. There was no evidence to suggest that this liability had been transferred to the agent.
The Ombudsman was also unable to make a judgement as to whether iLettings UK had libelled or committed defamation: that would be a matter for a Court to decide.
However, from the correspondence provided, it was clear the language and tone used by iLettings UK was not always appropriate nor of the polite, courteous manner expected of a TPO agent.
The Ombudsman was critical of iLettings UK’s overall handling of this complaint, stating “Whilst dealing with a complaint, I expect any agent, no matter how difficult they found their dealings with a complainant, to act objectively and professionally in an attempt to resolve the situation.”
Clapham Lettings Ltd (which traded as Nelsons), a sales and lettings agent based in Clapham, London SW4, failed to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigations into two separate cases and pay awards totalling £600. The complaints related to monies owed - about £6,800 in rent and deposits.
Clapham Lettings covered only one of the three offices under the Nelsons brand, and no longer seems to be trading. The other Nelsons branches are operated by separate companies with separate TPO membership which is not affected by this decision.
The first complaint was by a tenant who said Clapham Lettings had not passed on his deposit or initial rent payment to the landlord. The Ombudsman upheld the complaint and ordered the company to pay over £4,000 to the landlord as well as £250 to the tenant in compensation.
The second complaint was from a landlord owed over £2,800 in rent, which tenants had paid to the agent as proved in a rent statement, but the agent had not passed on. The tenant also noted that Clapham Lettings did not respond to his formal complaint, which they were obliged to do under the terms of their TPO membership. As well as ordering Clapham Lettings to hand over the rent, the Ombudsman made an award of £350.
Miaisa Ltd, which traded as Gallery@HD1, failed to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation following a complaint relating to monies owed, £2,312 in rent and £975 in deposits. It also failed to pay an award made of £300.
The landlords in this particular case made a complaint to Gallery when it became apparent that there was outstanding rent due to them on two properties. Following several attempts at communication with the agent, the complainants submitted their case to The Property Ombudsman for independent review.
The complainants provided a number of emails demonstrating their efforts to contact Gallery, to which they received a response on very few occasions. The Ombudsman noted that Gallery did not provide any explanation as to why rent remained outstanding.
The complainants experienced further difficulties in trying to get tenants’ deposits held by Gallery transferred to a new agent. That agent chased on a number of occasions, only to receive cheques which failed to clear.
At the time the case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary and Standard’s Committee (DSC), the company was in a voluntary arrangement with its creditors, but it is now in the process of liquidation. It had an estimated deficit of nearly £200,000. Another company with the same director had previously traded as Gallery: that company also went into liquidation.
TPO says it understands that the director has now set up a new company which is ALSO trading as Gallery. Only nearly 10 months after the Ombudsman’s decision, after being sent a draft of a press release outlining the TPO verdict, did the director indicate he might pay the money owed - but not straight away.
The fourth expulsion was of Winchester Lettings Ltd, a lettings and management company based in Bromley and Fleet, for failing to comply with parts of the TPO Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents and for failing to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation following a complaint and, to date, has not paid an award made of £750.
The expulsion came after a complaint from a landlord, who was dissatisfied with the overall level of service provided by the agent during the management of her property.
Despite several requests, Winchester Lettings failed to supply necessary paperwork including a tenancy agreement, monthly statements, maintenance reports and inspection reports. It also failed to notify the landlord promptly when the tenants served notice, and did not carry out a check-out report to determine the extent of damage to the property.
This, combined with the agent’s lack of communication, was deemed to have considerably disadvantaged any attempts by the complainant to recover her losses from the tenants.
The Ombudsman was critical of Winchester Lettings’ overall management service relating to this case, stating: “Winchester Lettings have not provided an acceptable service. Documents have been misplaced and Winchester have failed to provide copies or duplicates of the relevant documents to the Complainant regarding the tenancies. Communication has been vague throughout and has not met the standards expected from a fully managed service.”