Coventry lettings agency Maison Estates has revealed its experiences of becoming embroiled with campaigning group Acorn.
The agency has so far been picketed at its branch, had negative reviews about its service posted on review sites by campaigners and been the subject of a telephone harassment campaign.
Ben Herbert (pictured, above, left), a co-founder of the firm, says the dispute over a terminated tenancy now risks significantly damaging his agency’s reputation and business. Acorn says his treatment of the female tenant warrants its aggressive tactics as it tries to get Maison to call off attempts to recoup £1,000 from her.
Problems began in November 2019 when one of its landlords said she wanted to sell one of her properties as the tenant’s AST was coming to an end. “We visited the woman to advise that her tenancy would be terminated and offered her alternative accommodation from our listings,” says Herbert.
But she refused this offer saying the properties were too expensive and claimed, due to concerns over a lost deposit with a previous landlord, that she would withhold her last month’s rent before moving out. “Up until that point she had been a model tenant and had not reported any maintenance issues to us,” says Herbert.
Maison Estates thought the matter was resolved. But the landlord had taken out an insurance policy and made a claim on it for the lost rent and the damage to the property Herbert says his check-out and inventory processes uncovered. After flagging up the damage to their authorised deposit scheme, it was agreed the tenant would not be getting any of her cash back.
The tenant ignored all attempts to contact her to give her a chance to make her case, so the insurer paid out for the repair work to the property.
It then sought to recover the funds from the tenant, who then enlisted the help of local Acorn activists to fight this claim. They then protested inside and outside his branch during a busy Saturday morning.
“They then started phoning our branch every thirty seconds to make accusations in a bid to disrupt our operations,” says Herbert. “It’s causing a lot of stress for our staff, but we’re caught in the middle of a fight between the insurer, the tenant and Acorn.”
They then started phoning our branch every thirty seconds to make accusations in a bid to disrupt our operations…”
Herbert says he’s been told he should pay the landlord the outstanding rent and damage costs (of £1,000) so that the insurance claim can be dropped, but he says it’s a matter of principle – his staff did everything by the book.
He also says Maison supports Acorn’s attempts to highlight rogue landlords, but says the group’s methods are aggressive and confrontational. Herbert also says its local representatives have refused to sit down and talk the issues through, instead escalating the campaign aggressively.
The Negotiator put Maison’s points to Acorn, which takes a different view of the dispute.
It says the tenant, who is a single mother, was pregnant at the time and her treatment was unwarranted. Acorn says she was ‘forced out of the property’ and was served an eviction notice at one point after complaining about a faulty washing machine. It says she offered to pay extra cash to the landlord to solve the situation so that she had more time to find alternative accommodation, and that Maison went back on an initial financial settlement.
If the tenant can pay, then the agent and the landlord make a profit. If the tenant can’t pay, then Maison and the landlord still make a profit…”
Acorn says it is willing to talk to Maison in an amicable way but has so far been met with lawyers letters.
“I’m sure your readers would make the argument that the private rented sector is entitled to make a profit from rents, because those profits cover the risks of doing business,” says Acorn Coventry.
“If it is true that taking risks is what warrants making a profit from providing a fundamental human need, then I’d like to see the argument for the sort of rent insurance scheme used by Maison Estates in this case.
“It seems to me that if the tenant can pay, then the agent and the landlord make a profit. If the tenant can’t pay, then Maison and the landlord still make a profit, and the insurance company haunts the rest of the tenant’s life demanding back-payment.”
Read more about Acorn campaigns.
Read The Neg’s legal expert’s article on How to deal with unfair reviews.