One of London’s largest estate agents has called for greater action by the industry and government to eradicate rogue agents after encountering increasing problems recently with rival companies who don’t comply with industry codes of conduct or regulations.
LiFe Residential, which has a large HQ near Acton in West London, 13 offices across the capital and 4,000 properties under management, says since November last year it has received more and more cries for help from landlord clients who say they have lost deposits and rents after switching to rival agents who pop up and then disappear over short periods of time.
“The fly-by-night nature of these companies, the fact that regulation of the industry is light and that the police aren’t interested unless dozens of people lose money, means these kinds of agents know they have room to operate,” says Jonathan Werth, a director of LiFe Residential.
One particularly extreme example of a London agent that closed down owing tenants and landlords thousands of pounds is Oliver Knights Properties Limited, a company that ceased trading in April last year. There are comments on All Agents and many other forums full of landlords and tenants complaining that they have lost money after getting involved with the now-dissolved company.
“So many people complained to the police about Oliver Knights that we understand officers did finally get involved, and many of our landlords told us they lost money when the company shut up shop,” says Jonathan Werth, a director of LiFe Residential (pictured, left).
LiFe Residential also says rival agents have been downloading photos from its website and using them to upload properties for sale on their own websites and using the photos to list the properties on national portals.
“There is one agent in Docklands who we caught doing this and which, when we contacted them, took the pictures down,” says LiFe Residential’s head of operations Marti Kollar (pictured, right).
“But at the end of the day what they are doing is against industry codes and Advertising Standards Authority rules as their adverts are false and misleading,” says Marti.
“We have one agent who started up a couple of years ago who I am sure will trade long enough to collect a couple of hundred thousand pounds in their client account before disappearing.”
LiFe Residential says it’s frustrating because although Zoopla and Rightmove are getting better at policing rogue agents, it believes the shadier end of the industry can still be members of the key regulatory and trade organisations because not enough effort goes into checking who they are.
Rogue estate agents
The Negotiator contacted several of the deposit schemes to establish whether one of the agents highlighted by LiFe residential was a member, but were told this information was confidential. Although this is the way the schemes were set up, this means a company can claim to be a member of a deposit scheme but tenants and renters have no way of finding out if they really are before they commit to using them.
Jonathan also says he believes the industry’s regulatory authorities aren’t doing enough to educated landlords and tenants about the minimum standards of behaviour that they should expect from letting agents.
“We have contacted all our landlord clients to say that, if they are contacted by other agents they should check out these basic registrations and legal requirements,” he says.
“We’ve also noticed that these agents target properties belonging to overseas landlords and less experienced tenants by advertising the properties through the free-to-list sites.”
Earlier this year the previous housing minister Gavin Barwell announced a new system of civil penalties to tackle rogue agents and landlords, although these concerned the conditions within properties, rental payments and setting up a database of rogue agents, rather than the regulation of letting agents, which to date most governments over the past decade have shied away from.