After the tenant vacated the property owing four months rent, Mr D (the Landlord) raised a complaint with the Agent, stating that they had failed to inform him about the increasing debt and, therefore, denied him the opportunity to take action. The Agent’s response was that, whilst they acknowledged communication failures, they had assumed that Mr D would have identified the problem for himself from the lack of rent going into his account.
The investigation of the Agent’s file found that they had referenced the tenant on the basis of financial support from both his partner and a prospective guarantor, but had neglected to get either of them to sign an enforceable document. A number of other serious failings became apparent, such as not assessing and advising Mr D of the financial repercussions of the departure of the tenant’s cocontributor to the rent; not suggesting or providing any advice to Mr D concerning the options of issuing Section 8 or 21 notices; providing no records which indicated they had chased the tenant for the debt; not advising or assisting Mr D in arranging for housing benefit to be paid directly to him.
I considered that the Agent’s failure to understand the housing benefit system and section 8 and 21 notices, and to, thereafter, advise Mr D appropriately, had led to a lost opportunity for him to reduce his financial loss. I also considered that the Agent’s inactions and poor record keeping had caused Mr D significant distress, aggravation and inconvenience. Overall, it was clear to me that the Agent had dealt with the problem in a manner which demonstrated their complete lack of understanding of both the law and the standards required to manage a tenancy. I, therefore, made an award of £5,000 which encompassed all aspects of the Agent’s failings.
All agency staff should have an understanding of the law. Whilst it is accepted that this knowledge cannot be all encompassing, at the least, staff must know when further or more in-depth consideration is needed, or when more formal advice should be sought.