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The OFT report on complaints against letting agents

Backs of document stackAn interesting report has recently been published by the Office of Fair Trading.  It seems that it has received many, many complaints about letting agents over the years and is concerned by this.  Complaints in 2011 were 26% up on complaints in 2010.

What people are complaining about

The report summary says

the main areas of concern for tenants were surprising and high charges, confusion about holding deposits, misleading advertising, repairs not being carried out on the property and non-refund of security deposits.

Landlord’s concerns focused, amongst other things, on agents not doing what they agreed in the contract and not passing on rents collected.

All things which others (including Landlord Law Blog) have been pointing out for years.

The OFT recommendations

The OFT recommends a two pronged approach – greater compliance by professionals with the legislation (presumably by this they mean backed up by more enforcement action) and better information for landlords and tenants to help them understand and enforce their rights.

Specific recommendations include:

  • fees to be set out in a clear tariff of charges before any contract is signed
  • initiatives to make it easier for landlords and tenants to compare one agents service against another – to include logos which imply minimum standards are met
  • a ‘general redress system’
  • a greater use of client money protection schemes
  • greater compliance with the tenancy deposit schemes,
  • more information to help landlords and tenants, and
  • An agreed enforcement strategy to identify where enforcers should concentrate their efforts to do the most good

Many of these things are already there but are not being used or used well.

For example there are quite a few logos which imply minimum standards – the ARLA, SafeAgent and Property Ombudsman logos come to mind.  However members of the public often do not know what they mean or their significance.

What the OFT will be doing

The OFT wants to be involved in future developments and has stated that it will

  • Be producing a guidance document for agents
  • Reviewing is advice on unfair terms in tenancy agreements
  • Working with organisations to provide ‘quick guides’,
  • Setting up an unfair terms in consumer contracts ‘Hub’ to provide extra guidance, and
  • Discussing and agreeing an enforcement strategy with trading standards services, for those who do not obey the law

This report will add to the growing clamour to have something done about poor letting agents – which cause such havoc in the lives of both landlords and tenants and which unfairly tarnish the reputation of the many excellent agents around.

Always complain if there is a problem – it is NOT a waste of time!

This report also shows that the many landlords and tenants who have complained to the OFT and trading standards have not done this in vain.

It is only against a background massive consumer complaints that the OFT has the authority and mandate to demand that something be done.

So if you have a problem with your agent – make sure you make this known to the OFT or your local trading standards office.

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About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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