Complaints Against Your Letting Agent
15th January 2018
Every letting agent in the land will tell you that they're brilliant at what they do, they're compliant with the law and have your best interests at heart. In reality, there are many who will say this to a landlord when they only see the landlord as another sale, another number closer to their target and as such, it impacts their ability to provide an adequate service. So, what do you do when your managing agent fails to perform?
It's no good strangling them, as much as you'd love to, this is against the law. Instead, what you should do is follow the advice in this article and hopefully, we will be in a better position to handle an ineffective, inadequate letting agent without resorting to violence, pulling your hair out or simply selling the property as a bad investment.
First, we should take steps to avoid dealing with a terrible agent in the first place. Now, it's easy to make a "mistake" that results in you receiving a poor service through no fault of your own, what your agent tells you to your face could be entirely different to what they've put in writing (take it from us; we were stung by Zoopla, the property portal, because what we agreed over the phone and was told would be reflected in writing, wasn't. More fool us for not reading the written contract first). How do you avoid this? Well, you should try to record all conversations you have over the phone, it's wise to inform them of this; explain it's your business policy. If the agent has a problem with this, it should speak highly of how untrustworthy they are; the likelihood is, they record their calls anyway.
The next thing you should do to avoid a bad agent is to make sure they're a member of the property redress scheme. There are three, TPOS (The Property Ombudsman Services), Ombudsman Services: Property and the Property Redress Scheme (The PRS). Harry Albert opted to join the Property Redress Scheme because we found it was very confusing differentiating between the other two, they have similar names, their branding beyond their logo is similar and from the feedback that we've received, clients found themselves complaining to the wrong redress scheme in the past because of this confusion. All members of a property redress scheme will be certified and will also be registered publicly on the relevant scheme's website. You can view our certificate from The PRS below for reference.
If, however, you find a managing agent is not a member of a property redress scheme, they will be breaking the law and you should contact your local authority to inform them; this will protect other landlords from non-compliant agents. The law isn't as proactive as it should be and as such, it is important to bring non-compliant agents to the relevant authority's attention.
So, what do you do if you find your managing agent isn't providing the service they promised?
You have multiple options. For the most part, redress schemes will advise you to first complain to the letting agency who is (or isn't, as the case may be) providing the service. This allows them to try and put things right. You may feel that you've already complained but, though your distress, anger and frustration may be obvious, unless you say "I want to make a complaint," your agency will not assume you have a complaint; people become disgruntled often and it may or may not be unrelated to what's going on in this situation, the agent may argue.
After you've complained to your agent, you should wait up to 8 weeks (or however long their complaints managing process is or until you receive a final response), at which point, if you're still not happy, you should complain to the relevant redress scheme. If you feel the unlikely need to raise a complaint about us, you can view our complaints policy here, if you're unhappy with our response, you can click here to raise a complaint with The PRS, who we are registered with (see our certificate above). Please Note, the link in the previous sentences will take you to our complaints policy or to the Property Redress Scheme's complaints page. If your managing agent is a member of TPOS or Ombudsman Services, you should complain to them:
You can make a complaint when: "any of the following has happened: a. A breach of the Agent Member’s obligations under the law; b. Where legal rights have been impinged or breached; c. Where an Agent Member has not acted in accordance with a Code of Practice it has signed up to, or any internal rules, procedures or statements of practice; d. Unfair treatment of the complainant by the Member; including, but not limited to: i. rudeness or discourtesy ii. not explaining matters iii. poor or incompetent service iv. avoidable delays e. Where an Agent Member has not administered a transaction as efficiently as would be expected. f. The Agent’s actions must have resulted in the complainant suffering a financial loss, or unnecessary aggravation, distress and/or inconvenience." - The PRS
What happens when you make a complaint?
The complaints process can take up to 40 working days in total, but when the redress scheme receives the complaint, they will usually allow the agent some time to work with the scheme to come to an agreeable resolution which will then be offered to the client. However, they may disagree with the solution offered by the agent and instead offer a different resolution. When the agent can't resolve the problem to the satisfaction of the client, the redress scheme will then take on board all of the evidence and the accounts from all parties involved which will build a case file that can then be passed onto an ombudsman who will make the final decision.
The ombudsman can make awards of up to £25'000 (this is true of the PRS, for other schemes, this sum may vary slightly) payable by the agent but they may offer multiple other resolutions ranging from an apology, explanation to reimbursement of financial loss, all dependant on the severity of the complaint, the losses incurred and stress suffered by the client, alongside the actions taken by the agents and or landlords in regards to dealing with it. If the ombudsman feels the agent has offered a resolution which they feel is satisfactory which you have refused, it may harm the outcome of the ombudsman's decisions although, in our opinion, it shouldn't and is bad practice if it does.
So, you've complained to them but you're unhappy with the ombudsman's decision. What now?
Unfortunately, you can't use the PRS or other schemes to complain about this; this is true across all sectors, including communications and financial sectors. The Ombudsman is pretty much the end of the line, from here, your only other option is to take it to court. Now, although you can't use the schemes to complain about the outcome of a decision, you should let them know you're unhappy with the outcome and don't agree to the resolution.
If your agent is committing a criminal offence (for example, illegally evicting a tenant), you should call the police who should swiftly respond, especially if the crime is taking place right now (in which case, call 999). Criminal convictions can result in letting agents (and landlords) receiving banning orders which prevent them from operating as a landlord or letting agent.
Alternatively, if you're still unhappy, ask your agent for a copy of their cancellation policy and follow it. You could then give us a try (no obligation, of course), alternatively, you can give it a go at managing the property yourself, in which case, we have a range of guides, resources, products and services to offer which will make your life as a self-managing agent just that little bit easier.
It's a long and treacherous road to making a complaint but the most difficult part is waiting for the outcome, it could go either way unless you know you have the agent bang to rights, which you do because complaining is a serious matter (this is why when you're disgruntled, it isn't automatically taken as a complaint against the service) Of course, the hardest part is suffering whilst the complaint is ongoing, the second hardest part is the wait. However, with this guide in hand, your expectations should at least be set.