The Landlord (the Complainant) brought the case to TPO as they considered that the Agent did not conduct due diligence during the referencing process which resulted in them accepting Tenants that went on to use the property to cultivate cannabis plants.
The Landlord complained that the Agent failed to appropriately verify the Tenants’ identity, as it was later discovered that the passports provided for referencing were fake, and that the tenants’ address or work references had not been verified as the latter belonged to what the Landlord claimed was a fake company.
The Landlord also said the Agent failed to make them aware that the referencing company’s acceptance of the Tenants was conditional based on them providing proof of address. The Landlord said that as the Agent failed to obtain this proof and, had they told them that the Tenants had not provided proof of address, they would not have agreed to the tenancy.
The Landlord also claimed that the Agent did not inform the police of suspicions of a crime at the property following reports of potential drug related activity received from neighbours three weeks after the Tenants moved in.
The Agent accepted some failures in their service provision and made a goodwill offer of £600 which the Landlord rejected.
On examination of the evidence, the Adjudicator considered that staff at the branch who processed the references would not have been able to tell if the passports were forgeries, such was the quality of the fake documents. Furthermore, the work references related a firm that existed on Companies House and so there was nothing to alert staff to doubt the veracity of the information provided.
That said, it was clear that there were some failures on the Agent’s part as they had not followed the guidance on the notes section of the referencing reports for both tenants and obtained proof of address for both. In addition, there was no evidence that the Agent had made the Landlord or the police aware of the reports they had received from neighbours about the Tenants’ occupation. In fact the problem only came to light when the police raided the property a month later following the neighbours reporting their concerns directly to the authorities. It was therefore understandable why the Landlord was also seeking to blame the Agent for the significant damage the Tenants had caused to the property as a result of their criminal activity.
The Landlord also blamed the Agent for the over-£8000 worth of damage the tenants had done to the property during their occupation. Despite the Agent’s shortcomings in failing to investigate the reports from the neighbour and in failing to inspect the property, they could not be hold responsible for the actions of the tenants.
Despite the Agent’s shortcomings, the Adjudicator could not conclude that these had led directly to the placement of criminal tenants in the property. The documents the Tenants provided did not indicate that they could be forgeries and there was nothing to put the Agent on notice that all was not as it seemed. However, the Agent’s failure to follow the guidance on the referencing reports and to obtain proof of address for both tenants, coupled with their communication failures when receiving reports from neighbours caused significant avoidable aggravation, distress, and inconvenience which was reflected in the award of £1,000.