Christopher Hamer of the Housing Property Ombudsman has released his 2010 report on the complaints received through his ombudsman service and it makes for some interesting reading.
The Property Ombudsman’s Christopher Hamer, is in a growth industry receiving more complaints every year and has seen massive growth this year 2009-2010 alone. The service was originally set up to handle complaints from the property sales industry in 1990, becoming main stream for estate agents in 1998 and opening its doors to lettings agents in 2006. The service is available for both tenants and landlords to complain about agents, and the Ombudsman has the ability to award compensation of up to £25000 in any case if they see fit to do so.
Every Letting agent that is a member of the NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) or ARLA (Association of Residential Letting agents) HAS to be also a member of the Housing Property Ombudsman the complaints resolution service for Sales and Letting agents in the UK.
For Landlords this is great news as it means that if you have complained to your agent and your issues are just not being resolved you can take the matter to the Ombudsman and they will adjudicate for you.
In 2010 some of the main areas of complaints that re-appeared time and time again were as follows:
- Holding Deposits taken from tenants; this is an area that seems to create confusion mainly due to lack of clarity as to how the money is to be treated and on what basis it is being taken. For example; is the money refundable, if not on what basis can it be held does the landlord get the money or the letting agent? These are all the questions that should be stated clearly in the terms and conditions of business and the receipt.
- Referencing has always been a contentious issue, but again very misunderstood. In many cases this is outsourced to “referencing companies” but what “due diligence” is the agent doing? They should tell you the landlord on what basis the tenants have “passed” as well as ensuring that the referencing agency has checked the references properly. In some cases the referencing agency has not done the job properly and the agent has not checked it, resulting in bad tenants moving in
- Prior to move in, negotiations can very often be done by word of mouth leading to things getting omitted, misunderstood or not done properly. This can cause huge upset to both landlords and tenants. These should always be in writing and the tenant should be asked to sign something with the requested negotiations written down. The landlord should also be asked to sign to agree to the negotiations listed, this way there can be no confusions.
- Inspections of properties are a common area for misunderstandings too, many landlords think that this is like having a mini survey done on their property every quarter, but this is not the case, they should really be called “visits” not inspections and are merely a way to look over the property and talk to the tenants, not a full survey and this should be explained to the landlords at the outset.
- Maintenance, or the lack of it, causes many a good tenant to leave and this upsets many a good landlord when they realise that it was down to the fact that the agent had not got round to ringing the landlord about it, or not bothered to chase up a contractor. As agents we have a duty of care to the tenants to get maintenance done and to use “suitably qualified” contractors, we cannot “insist” that landlords do the items of maintenance, but we should certainly advise them of their obligations to do so and not get in the way.
- Finally, the Rent. If you really want to upset a landlord for good, then don’t pay him his rent, and yet this is a really common complaint. Many agents just don’t get the system right here! Client accounting is complex and difficult, you also have security issues here in relying on members of staff to send many 1,000’s pounds from your account daily, and this takes trust. Many Lettings business owners end up trying to “fit in doing the client accounting” around doing the lets and running the business resulting in mistakes and lack of consistency.
Landlords want to know as soon as their tenant falls into arrears and what is being done about it, they also want to know how they will get paid out from their rental guarantee insurance policy too if they have one, so again clarity and clear instructions and terms are required here
So what’s the key to a successful and happy agent-landlord relationship? Clarity of information, managing client’s expectations and being organised enough to do exactly what you said you were going to do.