Last week’s BBC’s Watchdog programme once again turned its spotlight on the lettings industry.
A rogue letting agent was caught on camera advertising a house to rent in Preston. To secure it, all prospective tenants had to do was put down £200 … or so the agent said.
Watchdog sent in three “stooge” tenants to apply for the property. All three of them were told that, if they handed over £200 as an “administration fee”, the property would be theirs and no other tenants would be allowed to view it.
Lawyer Mark Weston assessed all of Rogue Traders’ findings:
“Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, companies cannot do anything misleading with an effect that causes a consumer to do something they wouldn’t otherwise have done. Here, would-be tenants are paying out £200, which they wouldn’t otherwise have done, if they knew the truth.
Mark Weston continues: “The second thing, and probably more damning, is that it is probably an outright fraud. There are a few fraud offences. One of them is called a Fraud by Representation. This means that if you dishonestly say anything that’s untrue with the intent to make a gain, it’s illegal”.
As in every industry, there will always be a number of rogue traders looking to exploit potential clients. However, what the “Watchdog” episode once again highlights is the need for landlords and tenants to ask a potential agent several key questions:
- Are you a member of a professional body or licensing scheme?
- What protection is in place for deposits and any monies handed over?
- Does you subscribe to a Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme?
- Are you a member of an Ombudsman Scheme? (This is now required by law).
It would be naïve to think that this alone would stop a rogue agent from committing fraud, but if they cannot provide details or don’t display any of the appropriate stickers in the window (assuming that they have an office), alarm bells should ring. You could be putting yourself at risk as the option for achieving re-dress for any grievances disappears.
Northwood are proud to say that every office in its network has voluntarily been a member of the Property Ombudsman Scheme for a number of years. Many offices are also licenced with a least one official body such as NALS (National Approved Lettings Scheme) or ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings Agents).
As one of the founding members of the SAFEagent mark we fully support its role as a clearly identifiable mark that an agent has Client Money Protection in place.
When it comes to letting your property or renting your new home, Northwood will give you complete peace of mind that your tenancy will be set up and run in a professional manner… so that you won’t need “Watchdog” on your speed dial!”