A consumer group which conducted 30 undercover viewings in five different UK cities claims letting agents are showing potential tenants around mouldy properties and not informing them about important safety details.
Which? sent undercover researchers on 30 property viewings across England and Scotland to assess the conditions of properties and also provided them with a list of questions to ask the letting agent, designed to uncover whether they were giving vital information and following health and safety rules.
Some 20 per cent of the properties visited had problems with damp. None of the agents showing the properties were able to commit to fixing the problem, with little knowledge about what would be done about it.
One letting agent told a researcher who pointed out mould in the bathroom that it “could happen in any flat” but that the landlord might not do anything about it unless they asked for it to be fixed in their contract.
Another, when asking about a damp stain on the carpet, was told that the agent couldn’t comment, because they didn’t have the “technical expertise” to work out whether it was a damp problem.
Eight out of 30 viewings were rated ‘poor’ for answers to questions on property maintenance and repairs. On several occasions letting agents brushed off questions about maintenance, with many stating that work would be carried out before the tenant moved in, or would need to be dealt with by the landlord.
Which? says it has been told by property consultant Kate Faulkner - who has undertaken work for the consumer group in the past - that tenants should avoid this type of verbal agreement. Instead, required repairs should be made conditional as a special clause in the tenancy agreement.
On eight of the 30 undercover visits, agents received a ‘poor’ rating for their explanation of holding deposits.
Apparently agents struggled to explain how much these payments would be and how they would be refunded. “This is particularly concerning given that there is no requirement for these types of payments to be protected in a deposit scheme” says Which?
The group agrees that agents were better at explaining other fees, including security deposits and administration fees. In England, investigators were quoted anywhere from £20 to over £400 in fees.
Researchers also reported being pressured or rushed into making a decision by agents.
Two prospective tenants were apparently asked by agents to hand over upwards of £1,000 and commit to living in a property despite not being able to view all its rooms.
Half of agents were allegedly unable to provide any information at all on the property’s boiler, with just 13 per cent able to supply the correct details about annual servicing rules.
Only one in three agents were rated ‘good’ for their knowledge of carbon monoxide alarms, meaning they were able to explain they were required, where they were in the property and if they had been tested.
Letting agents performed better on smoke alarms; 21 out of the 30 were rated ‘good’ on this measure, with two rated ‘bad’.
A Which? spokesman says: “There are clearly real issues with letting agents showing prospective tenants properties that aren’t up to scratch. It's unacceptable that all too often agents can’t answer basic questions about important issues like boiler safety and carbon monoxide alarms. Tenants need to be given clear and accurate information before moving in to a new place and agents must do more to deliver an acceptable level of service .”
The Which? research involved a total of 30 property viewings - six each in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, and Manchester.
In each category investigated, agents were rated poor, satisfactory or good, based on a scoring matrix developed in collaboration with Kate Faulkner “designed according to what we think best practice should be” according to a Which? statement.