Monday, 12 March 2012

Bought Up

I am so perpetually and constantly aghast at certain developments in the world of renting that I must look like that ‘Scream’ mask. To explain, renting practices are constantly changing, usually when creating new systems detrimental to the well-being and security of tenants. Recently a reader emailed me this story, and I am so completely flabbergasted that my lower lip currently rests in the basement. Read on:

“We signed our agreement with the agency, they are our landlords - the owner of the property lets it to them who then sublet it to us.

A few months ago the owner of the property approached us asking how much we paid the agency. We talked and it turns out he's paying them £100/mo in fees, plus fees for finding tenants and drawing up new contracts when the fixed term tenancy expires. He suggested that if he could get management of the property back from the agency then he'd reduce our rent by £50/mo and he'd still be better off.

Nothing much came of this until a week or so ago when he told us that the agency had been back in touch with him, giving him 4 options:
1. We carry on with the tenancy as agreed, nothing changes
2. They kick us out and find him new tenants at a cost of £400
3. He takes over management of the property for £1,400 (+ VAT)
4. They return the property to him, empty.
Now he's understandably a little unhappy at this, however it's all in the agreement that he signed (we have a copy of this, it's awful for the owner). He now wants nothing more to do with the agency which rules out options 1, 2 and 3. He seems to be of the opinion that he'd rather lose a current good tenant and a regular income "because of the principle of the thing".

I talked to him about this and, told him that the course of action he'd taken was going to lead to us leaving, and not through choice. He didn't really say anything, so I think he either doesn't understand the problem thoroughly, or he is too wrapped up in "the principle" to care about the impact it will have on him and us.”

The tenant is moving house in April. He wasn’t asking for advice, but wondered if I’d heard of this happening, and the answer is: yes I have, but not to this ridiculous extent.

Estate agents are slowly but surely establishing a monopoly on housing. I once answered a seemingly private ad, but the owner redirected me to his agent. On asking why he was placing ads, I was told: they’re not doing a very good job, which begged the question – why use them? Agents aren’t helping anyone here, and are simply trying to make money for themselves, not safeguard landlords and serve the best interest of tenants.

But the above situation is an outrage, and a new problem: in areas where demand is not as febrile as London, it seems like a good idea. But what happens when, as here, it goes badly and stupidly wrong?

New landlords always fret and worry, so when a smooth-talking agent promises to end costly voids (tenantless properties lose money) this must sound like a gift. But beware of silver tongued estate agents promising you the earth because they’ll charge you for it. And everybody loses.


Chris B said...

vis-a-vis the email once the agent's lease from the owner ends the tenant should become the direct tenant of the owner. This is via s18 (I think) of the HA88. Am bashing this out on the kindle so can't open another window to check what section it is. So once the agent's lease has ended the tenant just starts paying the owner direct.

As to whether the agent might be able to sue the owner for something or other I couldn't really say without seeing the contract between agent and owner. Very likely though that any particularly grievous clauses would probably be struck down by UCTA or the UTCC Regs if it can be established that the owner was sufficiently a consumer and wasn't contracting as part of his trade or profession.

Times are hard in the estate agency business and I know of one case where one of the big names has sued a seller for a measly £180 cancellation fee after the seller, disappointed by a lack of results/interest, terminated their endlessly rolling sole agency agreement.

RenterGirl said...

I thought as much, Chris. It's awful, and the tenant has already moved out by now I think. Times are hard in estate agency for selling, but in renting, they are making enough. Thanks for reading.