Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Julie Warren

Regulation of Letting Agents, including Agents’ Fees and Charges

I have read the issues you outline to be submitted to the proposed inquiry. Point four—the regulation of Letting Agents particularly interests me. I am a landlord and firmly and wholeheartedly agree that Letting Agents should be regulated. Landlords who use Letting Agents should feel confident that they are fully conversant with current legislation and are at least acting according to the Property Ombudsman’s Guidelines. At the moment, at best they can choose membership to ARLA and are “regulated” by them (and the Property Ombudsman) but neither of these organisations have any “teeth” At worst, the current situation allows anyone to set themselves up as an agent. It puts everyone and everything at risk.

I have just sacked another Letting Agent for—amongst other things:

1.Not referencing tenants as described in his advertising.

2.Charging unnecessary and unauthorised fees to tenants to renew contracts.

3.Not passing on tenants emails and concerns.

4.Not checking tradesmen’s completed work resulting in payment of substandard work.

5.Not supplying confirmation about the expertise and insurance of trades people.

6.Not repaying money transferred back to the landlord from the DPS (effectively misappropriating it).

7.Keeping returned deposit money too long.

8.Not keeping tenant information confidential.

9.Not complying with tax laws in respect of my daughter who lives abroad.

10.Not passing on details of internal complaints procedures.

There were many other issues. This agent is ARLA registered.

I am very concerned about point 6 and would also wish to bring this to your attention

The Deposit Protection Scheme was being used by the sacked agent to correctly register tenant’s deposits. When I sacked my agent, I agreed to take over the management of deposits of all my properties, including the ones in dispute (where I was claiming against the deposits of outgoing tenants for damage) This required the permission of the sacked agent which he refused to give to the DPS. They refused to allow the deposits in dispute to be transferred to me.

The DPS state that whoever registered the deposit must follow the process in dispute through to conclusion once it had started. I explained that the agent had been sacked but it made no difference. They refused to deal with me.

I provided evidence of ownership of the properties and explained that the agent refused to do any further work for me as he had been sacked. They still refused to allow me to take over the process. I lost a deposit claim.

Eventually after several months and a letter from them to the agent asking for his permission to transfer deposits, they agreed that I should take over the process but they had already returned one deposit to the ex agent.

This deposit belonged to my daughter. After I sacked him, the ex agent misappropriated this money and used it to pay for unauthorised fees, imposed after he had been sacked, on a different property portfolio not belonging to my daughter. He continues to refuse to return it. She is having to pursue a claim through the small claims court.

I voiced my concerns to the DPS regarding claims against other deposits. In the past the ex-agent had said that the DPS always found in favour of the tenant but in light of the non returned deposit, I asked them if I could have a list of all claims he had made against deposits on my properties. They refused, saying they could only speak to him—citing Data Protection. I pointed out that I had a concern regarding theft and if they refused to investigate or speak to me, I was unable to verify if any money had been wrongly claimed in my name and not passed to the tenant or myself. It is the perfect cover for a rogue landlord. I voiced concerns to them that even with this information they were not concerned enough to investigate. I sought help from Data Protection and they told me what to say to DPS regarding the Data Protection Laws and this particular issue—the DPS were not interested.

The DPS has no independent overseeing body and does not act in a manner which is transparent. They should be wholly accountable to the Landlords who are ultimately responsible for tenant money if they employ a Letting Agent. The practice of non communication robs the landlord of being able to investigate concerns while sheltering any dubious activity by a rogue agent.

The DPS, were not able to furnish me with their Policies and Procedures in these circumstances.

I have found it incredibly difficult to find anyone to help me. Trading Standards are not interested, my MP wrote just one line to me—and I quote—“Hello, the DPS scheme is useless I voted against it! Robert syms MP” (Copied and pasted) Appalling. No one seems empowered to act.

My issue is not one of dealing with the above problem, it is merely to highlight the fact that a rogue letting agent can manipulate and steal if he so wishes. The DPS should also be externally regulated.

If Letting Agents were regulated, many of the above concerns may be avoided. I am a responsible Landlord and do my best for my tenants but I should not have to rely on an agent’s word or standards—they need to be clearly set down in Law. This particular ex-agent is ARLA registered but it is a voluntary code of practice. It shouldn’t be. Tenants and Landlords should be protected. Letting Agent’s should be properly regulated, properly qualified and/or trained and conversant with all current legislation. They should undergo regular inspections and training. They can’t be relied on to do this voluntarily, No one else is allowed to trade with no regulation, so why are they? All other sectors have rules and codes of conduct—Letting Agents should be no exception.

I am willing to submit evidence or supply more details if required. I feel passionate about this.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013