Landlords should never underestimate how beneficial it can be to employ a good letting agent. Renting properties can be a minefield which is much easier to navigate with the right assistance. In Woodstock’s experience the actions of the letting agents can have a huge impact on later proceedings. These can be both positive and negative. When a client advises us that they have not dealt with any aspects of the let and had employed agents to do so, we know that the success of the case is now going to come down to whether the agents did a good or bad job throughout the tenancy.
Let’s start with a positive example. Woodstock previously dealt with a client whose tenant decided that they would not pay rent during the Covid pandemic. Despite the agents’ best efforts to offer assistance, the tenant made it clear that she considered this a rent-free period and would not pay.
The landlord successfully obtained a possession order and regained possession of the property. However, there were very significant rent arrears in excess of £10,000. Upon commencement of a claim for the rent, the former tenant for the first time raised the issue of disrepair at the property. She argued that the entire arrears should be offset because of this alleged disrepair. This is a common response by tenants to a claim for rent arrears.
What we like to see
We found the landlord’s agents to be very approachable, helpful and professional. They had kept a good record of all interactions during the tenancy. This included emails, letters, calls, reports of disrepair and works orders and they immediately supplied their full file of papers to us.
Upon review, it was clear that any issues requiring repair during the tenancy had been dealt with professionally. At trial, because of this evidence, the judge not only found that there were no issues of disrepair, but the communication clearly showed that the arrears had purely accumulated due to the tenant’s attitude. Essentially, her assumption that the pandemic meant that she could have a rent-free period. The client received a full judgment (and payment) for the total amount owed.
Both the landlord and Woodstock had no doubt that the professional and diligent behaviour on the part of the letting agents made a significant difference. It was these actions that ultimately lead to the full success in this claim. Not only did we find the agents a pleasure to work with, but the landlord spoke very highly of their actions and their professionalism dealing with both him and the tenant. The landlord has continued to use these agents and recommend them to others.
And the Bad……
In contrast, Woodstock had a case that went horribly wrong as a direct result of the inaction of the letting agent. A landlord contacted Woodstock to claim rent arrears from tenants that had left his property. Defending the claim, they also raised the issue of serious disrepair.
Again, the landlord had put his trust in the agents in dealing with the entire matter. And therefore, was unable to provide us with any information about the alleged disrepair. We attempted to contact the agent to obtain a copy of their records for the period covering the tenancy. Eight months later, after numerous telephone calls, emails and formal complaints made by the landlord, these were eventually provided to Woodstock.
Unfortunately, the file of papers was in a poor state. It was clear that a lot of information was missing. It was further discovered the tenants had suffered a very serious disrepair issue during their tenancy. Their bathroom had not been usable for a significant period of the tenancy and was essentially a health hazard.
What we don’t like to see
It transpired that the tenants had quit the tenancy early. Mainly, due to the disrepair and their numerous complaint emails and calls had been ignored by the letting agent. Sadly, Woodstock had to recommend to the landlord that he did not have a reasonable chance of succeeding in his claim.
As a result of the conduct of his agent, the landlord was not able to claim his lost rent. His property had been suffering a severe leak, that had caused more and more damage over time. As the agents had repeatedly ignored the tenants’ complaints regarding this leak, the damage was much worse. Consequently it was much more costly than it would have been to fix when first reported. The landlord promptly ceased to deal with the letting agent in respect of all his properties and was considering legal action against them.
Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence, but it demonstrates the importance of working with a professional agent.
Other easy mistake that can negatively impact the landlord is when an agent has allowed tenants to leave tenancies early. In addition, binding the landlord to this agreement without their permission or not properly documenting the surrender of the tenancy. Doing this without the landlord knowing results in a negative impact on the landlord later – especially in cases where this information only comes to light much later in the proceedings.
Whilst these examples show the aftermath of the actions of both good and bad letting agents, doing their job well benefits the landlords throughout the tenancy and further down the line. This in turn has a positive impact on the reputation of the letting agent, and their business as a whole, which is so important to attract and keep new landlords.
By Nichola Turpin, Solicitor at Woodstock Legal Services