Landlords and tenants are being warned that yet another local letting agent in East London has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for failing to pay an award made by the Ombudsman. Following the expulsion of William Huxley and Lang & Ward earlier in the year, Citi Places Management Ltd (trading as Citi Places Management) is the latest agent in the area which can no longer legally trade until the outstanding award is paid.
A landlord made a formal complaint to Citi Places Management, but the agent did not respond so the landlord referred the matter to TPO. Upon review of the case, TPO found that the agent had failed to provide the tenants with Prescribed Information and a Deposit Certificate when the deposit was moved to TDS, as is a legal requirement.
Citi Places Management had also allowed their membership of TDS to lapse which invalidated the protection of the deposit, thus denying the landlord any realistic opportunity to make a claim against the deposit or against the tenants for damage caused to the property. The agent also failed to transfer rent owed to the landlord in a timely manner and did not provide statements of account.
The Ombudsman directed Citi Places Management to pay an award of £3,400 which reflected the serious disadvantage and aggravation caused to the landlord as a result of the shortcomings in Citi Places Management’s handling of the deposit. It also reflected the fact that the Ombudsman was unable to direct the agent to pay the deposit monies to her (as the deposit remained the tenants’ money and, as those monies were no longer registered with a deposit protection scheme, only a court may make an order as to their disbursement).
However, Citi Places Management failed to pay the award and The Ombudsman referred the agent to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee, which ruled the firm should be expelled from The Property Ombudsman scheme. The agent is not currently registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally*. They also do no not appear to be a member of a Client Money Protection scheme, also a legal requirement, do not have any professional memberships or advertise on the any of the main property portals, Rightmove and Zoopla. Citi Places Management Ltd has been referred to Trading Standards.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Non-Executive Director and Chairman of TPO’s Finance Committee: ““As a member of TPO, agents are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman, which Citi Places Management has failed to do. This is a warning to consumers as the company’s website www.citiplaces.co.uk still appears active, despite no properties currently being advertised. It is also a reminder to consumers to ensure they always use an agent which is a member of a redress scheme (The Property Ombudsman or The Property Redress Scheme) and holds Client Money Protection**.”
*N.B. Every sales and lettings agent in England is required to register with a Government-approved redress scheme, which enables consumers to have their complaint reviewed independently in the event of a dispute arising that the consumer is unable to resolve with the agent directly.
An agreement between the two Government-approved redress schemes (The Property Ombudsman and The Property Redress Scheme, means Citi Places Management Ltd will not be able to register for any form of redress until the award is paid. Redress registration is required for the agents to trade legally.
**Full list of Client Money Protection schemes, is:
Money Shield, Client Money Protect, NALS Client Money Protection, Propertymark, RICS, UKALA Client Money Protection
For press information, please contact:
The Inhouse Way
Tel: 01276 804411
Helen Evison: 07920 516 577
Holly Addinall: 07979 537 334
NOTES TO EDITOR:
What is The Property Ombudsman?
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme offers an independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers who have been unable to resolve their disputes with a registered agent. The scheme was established in 1990. The Ombudsman can provide redress to place the consumer back in the position they were before the complaint arose, achieving a full and final settlement of the dispute and all claims made by either party. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman can make compensatory awards in individual cases up to a maximum of £25,000 for actual and quantifiable loss and/or for aggravation, distress and/or inconvenience caused by the actions of a registered agent.
TPO is funded through membership subscriptions and case fees and is free to all consumers.
At 31 December 2018 over 15,897 sales offices and 14,746 letting offices were registered with TPO.
Whilst TPO charges registered agents an annual subscription, the Ombudsman is accountable to the TPO Board which is chaired by a member of the House of Lords and with the majority of its members being independent from the industry.
The Ombudsman is not a regulator and does not have the authority to take regulatory or legal action against a registered agent.
Awards made by the Ombudsman in 2018 were paid by agents to consumers in 97% of cases. In the few cases where awards remain unpaid, agents are referred to the TPO Compliance Committee, which has the power to expel agents from the scheme. Expelled agents are reported to the appropriate authorities who have the power to ban agents from carrying out agency business.
If TPO becomes aware that an agent under investigation has ceased trading, complainants are promptly informed and, where an award is made, are provided with the necessary documentation to make a claim against that company. TPO’s agreement with the Property Redress Scheme, means that not only will expelled agents not be able to register for any form of redress, but any new company set up by the same directors will not be accepted for redress membership, until the Ombudsman’s award is paid.
The Ombudsman's Terms of Reference, Codes of Practice, Consumer Guides and other documents about the operation of the scheme are available on our website (www.tpos.co.uk), together with previous annual and interim reports, case summaries, further explanation of governance arrangements and a full list of registered agents.
For more information about TPO, please visit our website at www.tpos.co.uk