Prevention is better than cure in most things, and it’s certainly true in many areas of property law.
Good, solid advice and performing background checks before the landlord decides on their tenant or their agent will stop most problems with tenancies occurring. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and this week’s case is an excellent example of what can go wrong.
A new member called up in tears over the situation with their agent. This landlord had signed up to an agency on the strength of a professional looking website with addresses in a very nice area of central London. All of which indicated the agent was a professional they could trust.
The landlord signed up on a verbal contract – a bad idea but the agent convinced the landlord that this was standard for everyone. The agent then told them that the best option was to rent out the property to a company as the income would always be paid. The landlord accepted this and left the agent to find a company.
He first started to worry when there was no rent paid in the first month. He phoned the agent to arrange a meeting at the office but the agent told him it was being renovated. He also told the landlord payment would arrive the following month.
When rent was not paid in the second month the landlord tried to contact the agent again, but the calls kept going to answering machine.
Frustrated the landlord arranged to visit his property only to discover that there were six people he had never met who all said their landlord was the agent. All of them had paid deposits to this agent and signed up on ASTs for six months and all of them were paying.
The landlord then contacted us to find out what to do next. We advised that he needed to check the website again to find out which property redress scheme the landlord belonged to. We also told him to consider a solicitor as this appeared to be a rent to rent agreement and he would need specialist legal advice for the eviction process. We also advised him to check the deposits were protected.
The landlord phoned us back later to tell us that the deposits had not been protected.
Clearly the agent was deliberately misleading the landlord. It turned out he had also given the landlord a fake address and there was no company under that name registered at the address listed on the website.
We advised him that he should report this agent to the local trading standards and that he would need to consider taking the agent to court for misleading him and potential damages. We also told him to continue to try to contact the agent and demand copies of the ASTs that the agent had given to ‘his’ tenants so a solicitor could check the length of this agreement.
Unfortunately the landlord here was in a bad situation and the Landlord Advice Team could only help by pointing to ways he could seek redress. Getting the property back was something that would need a solicitor.
All of this could have been avoided if the landlord had performed some basic checks on the agent before agreeing to let them manage the property.
Had the landlord visited the agent’s office he would have instantly seen that the agent did not operate a business from that address. Had he checked on companies house he would have noticed that the company was listed as dormant. Had he looked for reviews on the internet he would also have discovered numerous negative comments about this agency. And finally, alarm bells should have started to ring when the agent refused to give a written agreement to the landlord.