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November 2009

Lettings: four complaints an hour!

THE Property Ombudsman is dealing with an increasing number of calls — and he expects the figures to grow still more later this year.

Complaints involving sales are on the rise again, but most notable, says Ombudsman Christopher Hamer in his latest quarterly report, is the increase in disputes involving lettings.

Consumers in the lettings market are now making 129 calls a week, that’s almost four an hour on average, to the Ombudsman’s office seeking advice.

That is a significant rise over the 110 a week calling for help during quarter two of 2009 and far beyond the 77 a week this time last year.

Mr Hamer reports he is investigating almost 79 per cent more lettings cases (127) at the moment than he did in the same period, July 1 to September 30, last year (71). Cases under investigation involving sales have risen 17 per cent for the third quarter, from 104 to 122. But reflecting market conditions they are still almost 32 per cent below last year’s level (179).

Mr Hamer said: “Trends in the market are mirrored in the number of cases that I am asked to decide about three to four months later so any actual increase in activity in the market will become apparent in my workload towards the end of the year.”

The principal causes of disputes over lettings arise when agents are alleged to have failed to make adequate checks of tenant references, not explaining that holding deposits are forfeit if the tenant does not go ahead with renting the property, and inspection visits not being frequent enough to prevent deterioration of the property.

With regard to sales, complaints have arisen from sellers asked to pay for a Home Information Pack when the property has not sold and home owners who have become liable to dual fees after switching agents when the market was slow.

Mr Hamer says he is also getting calls from estate agents complaining about the behaviour of other agents who are making unsolicited approaches to sellers who already have their properties for sale or to let, widely known as “touting”.

To comply with the Code of Conduct, any “flyers” put out by agents, however targeted, should fully explain to property owners that there is the risk of a double liability to fees if they are currently, or have been, selling their property through another agent.