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When furniture is to be removed, be sure it is agreed in writing

Jane Erskine imageThis case study is a dispute between a landlord and an agent’s alleged failure to obtain their consent for the tenants to remove furniture from the property.

furniture removal imageThe complainants had agreed a let of a fully furnished property through the agents. At the end of the tenancy, the complainants had decided to sell the property, so the agent emailed them to advise that the tenants were interested in some of the furniture if they would be willing for them to have these items. The email quoted the tenants’ request, specifying the exact items they would like to keep. The complainants replied, saying they were willing to sell the items, requesting that the tenants provide them with a price. The agent clarified that they did not think the tenants were offering money, as the items were quite old.

VERBAL ARRANGEMENTS

The crux of the complaint concerned a subsequent telephone call between the agent and the complainants. The content of this conversation was disputed; the agent claiming that the complainants had authorised the removal of all items from the property at the tenants’ own cost but the complainants claiming that no agreement had been made, that they advised the agent that they needed to see exactly what was in the property first.

The day following the telephone call, the complainants attended the office and were informed by the agent that the tenants had removed all items of furniture from the property. The complainants accused the agent of authorising the removal of their furniture without their consent, seeking compensation for the cost of replacing the items together with a sum for the associated distress, aggravation and inconvenience.

The continuing message to agents is that clear and effective communication with all parties will prevent many complaints arising in the first place.

I explained that it was difficult for me to determine what had been discussed in the telephone call, which had not been recorded but noted that the agent sent an email to the tenants 15 minutes after the call with the complainants, in which they notified the tenants that the complainants had given their permission for furniture to be removed. Taking this email into account, it was not unreasonable to conclude that the agent’s comments in their email to the tenants were a fair representation of the telephone conversation. There was no benefit to the agent whether or not the tenants removed furniture, so no underlying motive to misrepresent their discussion.

Whilst I could not determine precisely what was discussed between the parties during the telephone call, the subsequent email lent weight to the agent’s account. All TPO decisions are reached on what is considered to be fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the individual case. In these specific circumstances I was unable to support the complaint and made no award.

However, I commented that if there had been no contemporaneous evidence by way of the email to the tenants, which allowed me to reasonably conclude the nature of the discussion, then, in all likelihood, I would have supported the complaint as the agent would have been unable to show that they had sought, or conveyed, what they understood to be the complainants’ instructions. In similar cases, where I can only reasonably conclude that an agent’s actions have resulted in a landlord’s loss of furniture, I have made an award to put the complainant back in the position they would have been but for the agent’s actions, that is I have made an award intended to reflect the cost of replacement furniture, often secondhand furniture if that is available to ensure that there is no element of betterment.

I did advise the agent in this case that good communication with the complainants would, in all likelihood, have avoided the misunderstanding arising. If the agent had confirmed their understanding of the disputed telephone call with the complainants promptly thereafter, rather than merely emailing the tenants, the complainants would have been aware of the position and afforded the opportunity to challenge the situation at the time. From the complaints that are referred to this office, the continuing message to agents is that clear and effective communication throughout the transaction, with all parties, will prevent many complaints arising in the first place.

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