A case that The Property Ombudsman (TPO) was asked to review came from tenants concerning access to the property.
The tenants said that a contractor had entered the property without them having been informed of the visit.
The contractor had entered the property with keys obtained from the agent, but the tenants were in the property at the time and they felt vulnerable as a result.
To make it worse, this was the third time a contractor had attended the property without prior authorisation from the tenants.
The tenants said that the agent had offered them £200 compensation, but they felt that this didn’t reflect the seriousness of the complaint.
The agent responded saying that the landlord had arranged for the contractor to attend the property. The contractor had picked the keys up from the agent’s office, so the agent assumed that access had already been agreed with the tenants.
The agent did acknowledge that they should have checked to ensure that access had been arranged, prior to releasing the keys. The agent also said that the member of staff who gave the keys to the contractor was new to the company and they did not realise that this action was not normal practice. The agent had said that further training had been implemented to ensure that the issue did not happen again.
Under Paragraph 8f of the TPO Code of Practice, where access to the property is required by the agent and/or a contractor, tenants must be given the appropriate minimum of 24 hours before the appointment, except in cases of genuine emergency.
A few years earlier, the Ombudsman had noted that there were two other instances where a contractor attended the property and used the agent’s set of keys, without the tenants having been informed of the visit.
On both occasions the tenants raised a formal complaint about the issue.
The agent acknowledged their communication and responded saying that they “had failed” in these instances. They apologised and gave more assurances that further training would be given to staff members to ensure that keys were only given out once a visit had been authorised by the tenants.
As keyholder, it was the agent’s responsibility to establish whether the tenants were aware of the appointment – prior to giving the keys to the contractor.
Despite considerable time passing, the same issue happened on a third occasion, which caused further aggravation and distress. The Ombudsman was not satisfied that the agent had complied with their obligations under the Codes. Specifically, they did not provide the tenants with any notice of the contractor visiting, despite having provided the contractor with the keys for the property.
The Ombudsman had noted the agent’s explanation that it had been the mistake of a new employee but felt that this information was irrelevant. As a key holder to the property, when the contractor requested access, it was the agent’s responsibility at that point to establish whether the tenants were aware of the appointment prior to giving out the keys, especially given that they had not arranged the visit themselves (the landlord had).
Regardless of the length of time that the employee had worked at the company, the agent should have ensured that all staff members were aware of their obligations under Paragraph 8f of the Code and by law, in giving a tenant a minimum of 24 hours’ notice when access is required.
They were not entitled to simply give keys out without conformation from the tenants.
The Ombudsman supported the complaint and felt that an award of compensation was merited for the aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused by the agent for allowing a third-party unauthorised access to the property.
From evidence provided, it was clear that the agent had not acted in accordance with their obligations. The Ombudsman did however consider that their goodwill offer of £200 was a fair and reasonable award to resolve the complaint.
An award of £200 was made.
The Ombudsman also directed the agent to ensure that, going forward, all staff were compliant with the Codes of Practice.