A case that The Property Ombudsman (TPO) was asked to review came from a tenant concerning three issues: Condition of the property; Rent paid and Complaint handling.
Condition of the property
The tenant attended the property with the check-in inventory clerk and was ready to move in the same day. However, he noted that it had not been satisfactory cleaned, and needed maintenance work before it could be occupied. He did not move in and, due to the time it took to get the remedial work completed, he requested to terminate his agreement.
Despite the agent saying that the landlord had the property cleaned, they accepted that the property was not in the expected condition. However, they believed that it was still habitable, and the work had been completed within ten days.
In accordance with Paragraph 14a of the TPO Code of Practice, the agent was obliged to ensure that they managed the property in accordance with the law, the relevant Tenancy Agreement and the Terms of Business with the landlord.
In accordance with Paragraph 14b of the TPO Code of Practice they were also obliged to respond promptly and appropriately to reasonable communications from the tenant.
Documented information showed that the agent did respond promptly to the tenant’s request to have the property cleaned to an acceptable standard. Although there was some inconvenience for the tenant, there was nothing in the documented information to indicate that the property was not habitable, it was the tenant’s decision not to proceed with the tenancy.
The Ombudsman was satisfied that the agent fulfilled their obligations and did not support this complaint.
The tenant said he paid six months’ rent upfront (£5,370). He requested to terminate his tenancy agreement three days after the tenancy commenced and thought the rent should be refunded.
Evidence included an email from the agent to the landlord, informing him that the tenant had requested to terminate the tenancy agreement. They also asked the landlord to refund the rent. The landlord responded confirming his agreement that the tenancy should end and requested for it to be terminated with immediate effect.
The agent confirmed that the tenant paid £5,370 upfront for six months’ rent. The payment was automated for the landlord to receive monthly payments and he received the full six months. The agent was unable to explain why the rent continued to be paid following the termination of the tenancy. They apologised and contacted the landlord to pursue return of the rent he had received.
The agent did not respond to a client’s complaint for 10 weeks and did not conduct a thorough investigation and when, finally, they did, the tenant did not accept their offer.
The Ombudsman would expect the agent to arrange for the automated rental payments to the landlord to stop, who was only entitled to one weeks’ rent. The agent did not stop the payments, the Ombudsman considered the tenant have been financially disadvantaged. The Ombudsman supported this complaint and directed the agent to reimburse the upfront rent he paid, less one week: £5,146.25. A further award of £300 was made for the avoidable aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused to the tenant.
The tenant raised a complaint when he emailed the agent to confirm that he did not want the tenancy to commence. The agent did not respond so the tenant emailed again. The agent did not reply for 10 weeks. They informed the tenant that they would refund 14 days rent (£420) representing the time taken to clean the property and conduct the maintenance work. The tenant did not accept this offer.
The agent requested that the tenant return the keys and informed him that he was liable to pay rent due for the property from the start of the tenancy. This indicated that they had not conducted a thorough investigation into the complaint. Had they done so, it would have been apparent that the tenant had paid six month’s rent in advance and monthly payments were sent to the landlord. In accordance with Paragraph 18d of the TPO Code of Practice the agent was obliged to acknowledge the complaint within three working days and promptly undertake a proper investigation. They were further obliged to send a formal written outcome of their investigation within fifteen working days. The agent did not fulfil the obligation under the TPO Code of Practice.
The Ombudsman supported this complaint and made an award of £200. The agent was directed to reimburse £5,146.25 to the tenant and a further award of £500 in compensation, totalling £5,646.25.