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 Agent argued that a prospective tenant has a responsibility to read what he is about to sign and referred to the tenancy agreement containing the clause whereby the Tenant was required to pay the council tax and any telecom related bills, pointing out that he had initialled it on every page. As such, the Agent argued that their representative’s email stating all bills were included was irrelevant. I observed that the Landlord had stated in an email to the Tenant that this was not the first time the property had been let by the Agent, indicating that they should have been familiar with the Landlord’s position that utility bills (except for telecoms) were included in the rent but not council tax.
I agreed in principle with the Agent’s view that the Tenant had a responsibility to read the tenancy agreement before signing the same. However, I pointed out that it was the Agent’s professional responsibility to accurately and fully inform prospective tenants of the terms on which the Landlord was prepared to let the property and that, in my view, the Tenant reasonably understood from such wording that all outgoings associated with living at/renting the property were included, not just utility bills, and this was the basis of his offer for the property. In using the words ‘all bills’ no distinction was drawn between utilities and other property related bills, therefore, I concluded that the Tenant justifiably understood that council tax was included. I, therefore, supported the complaint and made an award of £521.56 being the council tax plus the additional charges associated with late payment to the Council whilst the Tenant tried to resolve the issue with the Agent.
Paragraph 7a of the Code of Practice requires TPO agents to disclose any material information of which they are aware or should be aware of in relation to the property in a clear, intelligible and timely fashion and to take all reasonable steps that all statements they make about a property, whether oral, pictorial or written, are accurate and are not misleading. Clearly, stating all bills are included within the rental payments when this was not the case was a breach of the TPO Code.