The prospective tenants, Mr and Miss G, claimed that the Agent had misled them by stating that the property benefited from electric night storage heaters when, in fact, they were ordinary electric heaters. Upon finding out this information Mr and Miss G withdrew from the tenancy and asked for a refund of their holding deposit. The Agent refused, claiming that the prospective tenants had not asked them to investigate the matter.
In considering this complaint, it was evident that Mr and Miss G did raise the issue of what kind of heating was at the property during the first of their three viewings. In response, the Agent claimed that the representative who conducted the viewing had advised that he did not know what type the heaters were and suggested that Mr and Miss G contact the Agent’s office directly in order to find out. The prospective tenants did not dispute this statement and I was unable to find any evidence of them doing so. However, in such circumstances, I would also expect the Agent to have followed this matter up with the landlord, regardless of whether or not the matter had been raised directly with their office by Mr and Miss G. That said, Mr and Miss G chose to pay a holding deposit to reserve the property following their third viewing and despite not seeking clarification over what kind of heating was installed at the property.
In these circumstances, I found that whilst contractual, it was also fair and reasonable for the Agent to have retained the holding deposit, as Mr and Miss G had chosen to withdraw citing an issue they knew remained outstanding prior to committing themselves. However, I was critical of this misunderstanding having occurred in the first place as, if the Agent had sought the appropriate clarification from the landlord about the heating, Mr and Miss G may possibly have made a more informed decision about whether to commit financially to the property. I supported the complaint to that extent and made an award of £200, equivalent to half of the holding deposit, for the aggravation and inconvenience the Agent’s shortcomings had caused.
Where a prospective tenant questions an aspect of the property and that question requires further investigation, the onus falls on the agent to progress that enquiry and report back in a timely fashion. By not doing so prior to the consumer making a transactional decision, the agent risks receiving claims of omitting or withholding what could potential be considered material information, as defined under the CPRs.