The prospective tenant, Mr B, viewed the property (a ground floor flat) that was advertised as benefitting from a cellar. At the time of the viewing Mr B and the Agent discovered that the stairs to the cellar had been broken by a contractor who had been working in the property. The contractor had not reported the damage to the Agent or the landlord. According to the Agent, he informed Mr B that he would be surprised if the landlord would mend the stairs. The comment was subsequently disputed by Mr B, following his withdrawal from the transaction, who claimed that the Agent had told him to pay an administration fee of £120 and that they would let him know what was to happen with the cellar.
In addition to the differing accounts of events, Mr B claimed that whilst subsequently attending the branch office and making a passing comment about the cellar, a different member of staff informed him that the cellar was to be blocked off. On this basis, Mr B immediately withdrew from the proposed let and demanded the return of his administration fee, which the Agent refused.
I pointed out that whatever the Agent may or may not have said to Mr B at the viewing, from that point on, the Agent had been put ‘on notice’ that the property may not be as advertised and that the benefit of the cellar represented material information to the prospective tenant. Consequently, the Agent should have asked further questions of the landlord to satisfy themselves as to exactly what would happen with the advertised cellar. Answers to those questions should have then been speedily relayed to Mr B. However, they did not unequivocally inform Mr B that the cellar would be unavailable until one month later. I, therefore, directed the Agent to reimburse Mr B’s £120 and I made an additional award of £75 for the unnecessary aggravation, distress and inconvenience that the Agent’s shortcomings had caused.
Paragraph 4f of the TPO Code of Practice requires agents to comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) by taking all reasonable steps to make sure that all statements made about a property, whether oral, pictorial or written, are accurate and are not misleading. Clearly, in this case, continuing to progress a tenancy on the basis that the cellar was included, when it was not and failing to inform Mr B of the development in a prompt manner, represented a potential misleading omission under the CPRs.