A sales and lettings agent in Hounslow has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for three years and six months after the Ombudsman supported three separate complaints relating to a series of failings, but predominantly for non-payment of rent to landlords whose properties they managed.
Total Property Management did not respond to requests from The Property Ombudsman to cooperate with any of the complaint reviews and did not pay substantial awards totalling £26,341.50. The case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary & Standards Committee (DSC), which ruled the firm should be expelled from TPO. TPO is now warning consumers to be aware that this firm is not registered with a redress scheme, which every sales and letting agent is required to in order to trade legally*.
In the first case, the Ombudsman upheld a complaint made against Total Property Management for owing a total of £11,675.50 for not forwarding rent received. She also awarded £500 for avoidable aggravation, distress and inconvenience.
In the second case, as well as complaints over £3,696 of unpaid rent received, the agent was criticised for not conducting regular inspections or forwarding confirmations, not attending to a maintenance issue and not responding to complaints made. For the shortcomings in service, as well as the failure to forward rent received, £850 was awarded. The total award was £4,546.
In the final case, the complainant said Total Property Management had failed to pass on £3,040 rent received as well as a £700 deposit taken for a second property, and a £900 deposit taken for another. The complainant also claimed that the agent had agreed to reimburse management fees of £3,360 by way of compensation for a failure of service, but never sent the money. The Ombudsman upheld the complaint and, in addition to the missing rent, deposits and management fees, also awarded £1,500 for aggravation and inconvenience to the complainant, making a total of £9,620.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “While I was unable to make awards on some areas of the complaints made as they were outside my Terms of Reference, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I accepted the complainants’ versions of events and the amount of outstanding monies owed. In addition to financial loss, I considered that the circumstances in all three complaints against Total Property Management merited an award of compensation as a result of this company’s failure to act appropriately.”
All members of TPO are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman and are also obliged to co-operate with investigations. Total Property Management voluntarily agreed to abide by the Code. The requirement to pay awards is such a fundamental one for a redress scheme that the DSC takes failure to do so very seriously. Although membership had lapsed earlier, in view of this case, the DSC concluded that Total Property Management should be excluded for three years and six months.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Chairman of TPO’s Board, said: “Although rare, this was a particularly extreme case of rogue behaviour which resulted in a significant amount of money being owed. Total Property Management currently has no active website and letters are being returned to sender. Companies House shows the company is active but there is nothing to indicate the agency is actively trading. This firm will no longer be able to trade as a result of this expulsion and we urge any consumers that suspect the firm is trading to contact Trading Standards who have been notified.
Whilst TPO does not have the powers to force Total Property Management to make payment of the awards, the complainants have been advised that the Ombudsman’s review may be used in support of any further legal action to recover monies owed.”
*N.B. Every sales and lettings agent in England is required to register with a Government-approved redress scheme, which enables consumers to have their complaint reviewed independently in the event of a dispute arising that the consumer is unable to resolve with the agent directly.
An agreement between the three Government-approved redress schemes means Total Property Management will not be able to register for any form of redress until the award is paid. Redress registration is required for the agents to trade legally.