The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer recently attended an event organised by Sunderland City Council to promote its Accredited Landlord's Scheme, a new partnership launched to improve and maintain standards of accommodation in the private rented sector. Christopher spoke about the importance of the redress scheme explaining what TPO represents, how he operates and his role as the Ombudsman.
Bruten & Co Limited, a sales and lettings agent based in Notting Hill Gate, London, has been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) for a minimum of two years after failing to comply with parts of the Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents and failing to pay an Ombudsman's award made of £768 to complainants.
Allen & Crane Estates, a sales and lettings agent based in Burnham near Slough, has been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) for a minimum of two years after failing to comply with numerous elements of the Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents and subsequently failing to pay an Ombudsman’s award made of £1,600 to the complainants.
MT Properties Central Limited (MTPC), a sales and letting agent which operates in Birmingham, has been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman (TPO) for a minimum of two years after failing to comply with parts of the TPO Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents. MTPC also failed to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation and to date has not paid the award made of £2,300.
The decision to expel MTPC from TPO membership arose following a complaint from landlords relating to a number of aspects of the agent’s service in connection with tenancies at two properties. The Ombudsman found evidence of poor record keeping and administration, and upheld complaints about the collection and payment of rent to landlords, as well as poor service.
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme is delighted to officially announce its upcoming conference called “Raise Your Standards” which will take place on 14th October at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Vice Chairman of TPO Ltd, said: “TPO Conference 2015 has been in planning for some months, and we can now inform member and non-member estate and letting agents about the event and its benefits. The aim behind its launch has been simple; to help raise standards and improve customer service within the property industry. TPO work in a field that is continuously developing with new legislation and regulation being introduced all the time, therefore education is key. This conference will provide attendees with 4 hours of CPD (Continuous Professional Development) through well-known industry guest speakers all offering their professional expertise on a range of relevant and interesting topics as well as practical workshops, including one run by the Ombudsman Christopher Hamer which will put individuals in the place of a TPO case officer.”
Two members of staff, one from The Property Ombudsman the other from Northwood UK, switched roles for a week in order to gain greater experience and knowledge of each other’s positions within the industry.
The exchange was instigated by Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer as part of TPO’s ongoing application to raise standards within the industry. Hamer commented “It is important to emphasise the need for agents to deal promptly and professionally with complaints and equally it is hugely beneficial for my office to be aware of the practical issues agents face when trying to resolve matters themselves. This exchange will, I hope, help bring about a good understanding of the challenges agents might come up against before unresolved disputes are referred to me. It will also help educate on the meticulous process which occurs in my office prior to determining resolution of a dispute.”
After nine successful years as the Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer’s term of office is coming to an end. On 30 November 2015 he will be officially standing down.
The independent TPO Council together with the TPO Board Chairman, Bill McClintock, have began the search to fill the position. Christopher will however remain as Ombudsman for the next few months where he will continue to generally represent the scheme. He will be handing over to his successor on 30 November.
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme recently launched two new versions of its Code of Practice for sales and lettings agents operating in Scotland, and to officially mark the launch of TPO Scotland, invited individuals from leading industry associations, agents and local journalists to join the Scottish Board and the Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, for a celebration.
The event took place at the Offices of Braemore Lettings in Edinburgh and proved to be a great success with guests enjoying a buffet lunch and a glass of wine.
In this case, the potential Buyer argued that the Buying Agent she had instructed, charged her an excessive abortive fee when she withdrew an offer that she had made for a property on the same day it had been made and accepted by the Seller. The Agent maintained their entitlement to charge the fee, given that it was detailed in the terms and conditions of their agreement.
The Buyers claimed that the Agent had incorrectly advertised the property. They explained that during the conveyancing process they discovered that an area of land at the rear of the garden was not included in the title plan belonging to the property, and in fact belonged to the local council. The Buyers argued that the Agent should not have marketed the property without having checked this. They also pointed out that they incurred additional costs in registering all of the garden (as seen) as part of the property, arguing that they were treated unfairly by the Agent as a result of the Seller not agreeing to make an allowance for these costs as part of the transaction.
Following the potential Buyer withdrawing from the transaction, the potential Sellers claimed that the Agent had fabricated information provided to the potential Buyer, including inventing offers and viewings. The Sellers also claimed that the Agent failed to deal with their complaint appropriately. The Agent’s response was that they simply applied 'gentle pressure' on a difficult purchaser to assist the progression of the transaction.
In this case, the successful Seller was concerned that the Agent had released the key to her Buyer a week before completion, enabling him to begin major building work (including re-wiring and the removal of fireplaces and kitchen cupboards) without her permission. She also alleged that they had permitted unaccompanied viewings; failed to issue a Memorandum of Sale in two instances and handled her complaint unsatisfactorily. She was seeking a refund of the £1,200 commission fee which she had eventually paid on a 'without prejudice' basis shortly before a Small Claims Court hearing to avoid further costs. The Agent acknowledged that the key had been released to the Buyer prematurely and was unable to explain how this had happened. However they insisted that contracts had already been exchanged and noted that the Seller had not suffered any financial disadvantage as the sale had completed successfully. They made no apology and denied the other allegations, but reluctantly offered a £100 fee reduction as a 'goodwill gesture'. When the Seller indicated that she was not satisfied with this and was withholding the commission fee, the Agent initiated proceedings in the Small Claims Court.
The latest report released by The Property Ombudsman reveals a continuing upward trend in new referrals, 42% against the previous year. This is indicative of both the general trend in the consumer world to challenge when something does not give satisfaction, as well as the growing number of agents (28% more than at the start of 2014) now signed up as members of TPO.
Six months on from the introduction of new legislation, making it a legal requirement for lettings agents and property managers in England to join a government approved redress scheme, the report indicates the number of letting offices now signed up to TPO scheme has reached a record level of 12,915. This brings the total number of sales and lettings offices offering TPO's free, independent route to resolve disputes to 26,735.
Prior to renting the property the Tenant viewed accompanied by the Agent’s representative who explained to him that the rent included all bills. After the viewing, the Tenant asked the representative to confirm what he would have to pay, to which she responded that the weekly rent was due in advance and that all bills were included. Unsurprisingly, the Tenant was subsequently shocked to receive council tax bills which eventually culminated in a County Court judgement being made against him. The Agent’s response was that, as per the tenancy agreement, he was still required to pay the council tax.
The complaint raised concerned the Agent's failure to continue to notify the Guarantor of rent arrears that had accrued under the tenancy. He also accused the Agent of failing to notify him when the Landlord decided to put the matter into the hands of her solicitors and of failing to make those solicitors aware of his role by not providing the Deed of Guarantee he had signed. As a result of these shortcomings, the Guarantor argued that he had incurred unnecessary court costs.
Following the eventual eviction of the Tenants, the Landlord complained to the Agent that their referencing process had been flawed as it had not divulged a number of financial issues of which, had she known, meant she would not have agreed to the tenancy. The Agent acknowledged some shortcomings, but refused to make an offer equivalent to the loss of rent that the Landlord was seeking.
The Buyer accused the Agent of claiming payment of a fee for which there was no written or verbal agreement. She explained she had made a bid by tender for the property, and that the form she completed explained that an introduction fee of 2% (plus VAT) of the sale price would be payable by her to the Agent. However, the Buyer contended that the terms of the ‘Sale by Informal Tender Bid Form’ (the Form) made it clear that the fee would only be payable in the event that her tender bid was accepted which, in this case, it was not (the Seller rejected that offer but had accepted a subsequent higher offer from her which had not been made through the Agent). The Agent stated that an introduction fee was due to them in accordance with the terms of the Form which explained that the fee would be payable by the Buyer in the event that she purchased the property.
Jo Swinson, Consumer Affairs Minister has spoken out in support of a new Trading Standards Institute (TSI) campaign to raise awareness of their Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS), which replaced the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) scheme in 2013.
The initial focus of the media campaign will be to remind tenants and landlords of their legal right to free and independent dispute resolution through TPO, the only redress scheme to operate CCAS-approved Codes.