Give LA notice for poor service or wait for contract to end?

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    Give LA notice for poor service or wait for contract to end?

    I'd really appreciate help from seasoned Landlords. I am an accidental landlord - my flat is 6 hours away. I opted for a fully managed option from a local independent lettings agency with a good reputation. They found a tenant on a year fixed contract. Tenant pays rent on time and seems to be quite clean/tidy (I haven't been able to meet them yet, despite trying).

    Fast forward 8 months and there has been several issues. My agency never replies to anything. A simple question takes 2 emails and a phonecall - meaning that it takes 2 weeks to get an answer to anything and if I don't chase, I will not get an answer. I still do not have key documents that I need from the tenancy sign-up. They call out workmen without my knowledge and other times, when I do give permission for an issue to be investigated and request a quote be given, this is not done. Instead, I am just presented with a bill which is then taken out of my monthly rent.

    A recent example is: tenant phones agency to say that hot water works but not heating and the boiler is faulty. I instruct agent to send someone out asap and let me know what the issue is. The next thing I see is an email with invoice stating the gas engineer investigated the issue - boiler was fine. Turns out tenants had removed the portable thermostat from below the boiler and put it away. This was dug out and turned up - heating works! Workman then decides to generate more income. Without permission, he unscrews an old defunct thermostat on the wall and replaces it with the portable unit - charges £80+. Bear in mind this was the same company that installed the boiler so they know the old thermostat doesn't work and the new portable unit (equivalent of a remote control) doesn't need to be screwed in.

    I instruct agency not to deduct this from the monthly rent as I am not willing to pay for the non-authorised element of the work (i.e. I will pay the call-out charge - even though I believe tenants should pay this). I get no response from agency despite emails to 3 members of the team. My agency are not taking it up with the contractor for the additional work, nor are they asking the tenants to pay the basic call-out for "turning up a thermostat". (I'd have been more than happy to pay for works if the boiler was faulty).

    My questions are: 1) What would you do regarding the contractor issue? Has the agency breached their contract by failing to follow my instructions or act in my interests or have they just provided me with poor service?
    2) What comeback do I have if despite my instruction not to pay the contractor, the agency pays them anyway? (The consumer advice helpline advised me not to pay the invoice until the contractor can produce a "proof of contract regarding the thermostat work").
    3) Should I just grin and bear it for 5 more months and then not renew my contract with the agency? Is this simpler/cheaper than giving them 3 months notice now? Would you issue a s.21 to the tenant as well (this boiler incident is just one of many tenant-caused errors that I end up paying for).
    4) What are the changes of DPS supporting my passing on the callout charge to the tenant if I can prove that I left the thermostat below the boiler with instructions.

    I understand in hindsight that it is my stupidity for picking the wrong agency/trusting them/not doing more due diligence. Any advice welcome.

    #2
    6 hours away eh? Are you or property in Scotland by any chance? (Law changes..)

    Suggest you carefully read the agreement (NOT tenancy) you have with agent, or terms he sent you perhaps by email when you started, to see how/when/if you can cancel arrangement 1st. Suggest do it that way if possible
    I am legally unqualified: If you need to rely on advice check it with a suitable authority - eg a solicitor specialising in landlord/tenant law...

    Comment


      #3
      1. They have clearly not followed your instructions specific to this maintenance issue. But can you prove what you told them? Was it by email or phone call? If the latter, it's your word against theirs.
      Their Terms of Business will probably protect them against expenditure up to a certain limit (£100-200 usually) without your prior consent.

      2. If they just deduct it from the rent, you'd have to take action to recover the costs. Either an Ombudsman complaint or small claims court.

      3. If the tenants are crap and you want rid of the agent, then the easiest option is to issue a S21 at the earliest opportunity. I wouldn't trust this agent to do it though so you may want to investigate doing it yourself and then inform the agent that you've done it. Once the property is empty, you can do what you want with it (including instructing another agent).

      4. You'll need to be able to prove it. Statement from the tradesman saying what he did/found and proof that the tenants had been provided with the necessary instruction on using the boiler correctly. It'll also help if you have a clause in the tenancy stating that the tenants are liable for the invoices of contractors unnecessarily called out. Even then I'd say your chances are 50/50.

      Comment


        #4
        I'm sure you know this but it's very possible that the contractor is part of the agent/family member/giving a kickback to the agent.

        State in writing that no works to be carried without your written approval. If your agreement with the agent gives them approval to authorise expenditure on your behalf, then you need to focus on getting out of this agreement first. Check the cancellation terms.

        Once done, then look at the tenant situation.

        Comment


          #5
          Thank you for the responses, appreciated.

          The contract states I have to provide 3 months notice and if I terminate the contract with agency while tenant is insitu, a fee would be payable. So I can either pay 5 months more management fee or I could terminate the contract in 3 months and pay for keeping a tenant with little commonsense (who has loyalty to the agency having been on their books for 8+ years).

          What would you do (if you had been naive enough to get yourself into my situation)?

          I have an email to the agent which states, "please call me as soon as (contractor name) knows what the issue is". I receive no call, just an email from the agent with the job sheet from the contractor stating, "tenant found thermostat, removed old thermostat and affixed new thermostat in its place". The brief was clearly to investigate the "faulty boiler" and tell me the issue. Not bogus, non-related works - unscrewing an old thermostat and replacing it with a portable unit have nothing to do with investigating a "faulty" boiler and reporting back.

          It's not the charge, it is the principle and the frequency this is occuring with an agent supposedly working for me.

          I have an email confirming that all instruction booklets for all appliances that I sent by recorded post were received by the agent and given to the tenant at the start of the tenancy. I also have a datestamped picture of the thermostat placed under the boiler a week before the tenancy (no workmen entered after this time so only tenant could have moved thermostat). Also I have an email sent to the agent on the same day detailing where the thermostat is and carbon monoxide detector, etc.

          I don't see a specific clause in the tenancy agreement (but may have missed it) but we were told by the owner of the agency, if it is the tenant's fault they pay, if it is a fault with the appliance or fixture, you pay.

          Comment


            #6
            I would get the tenant out. When they're gone you won't have to worry about your contract with the agent.

            IMO, it's a quicker, cleaner and potentially cheaper route to go down than trying to terminate an agent who has you contractually tied in for another 5 months.

            Comment


              #7
              1st things 1st.

              a) Get copies of ALL paperwork (tenancy, deposit, inventory, photos, references etc etc etc etc...): (Without them you are stuffed). Having done that..
              b) Instruct tenant to pay you direct. When tenant is doing that and there are minimal funds still with agent..
              c) Fire agent
              I am legally unqualified: If you need to rely on advice check it with a suitable authority - eg a solicitor specialising in landlord/tenant law...

              Comment


                #8
                Thanks, all - advice appreciated!

                I have been 6 hours away these past few months due to a work assignment but from next month will be 4 hours away til the tenancy ends. Neither myself nor the property are in Scotland.

                I don't think that the contractor is related to the agency but have a long-standing relationship with the contractor - which explains as you mention, Security, the lack of help I'm receiving from my agency.

                On the day I was informed of the issue I received an email from the agent about the heating and which states, "we are contacting you re: boiler not working because you wanted to be sign off all costs first" so they are aware of this. (Due to past issues, I ensured this was the case). Nowhere is email is sign-off from me or request for the agent to give the contractor the go-ahead to start doing what I call DIY work.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Thanks, Artful.

                  I have the tenancy agreement, something signed to say both agent and tenant are aware the tenancy is protected by DPS (but no certificate which details the account no., etc). I have an inventory which is has errors and omissions - I raised this with the agency, added amends for the tenants to sign off but heard nothing else so assume this wasn't done). I have referencing paperwork but not original/copies of maintenance invoices). All attempts to meet tenant have failed - either due to tenant not being bothered or message not relayed on time. So I am not sure if they would pay me directly if requested.

                  Hantsagent - unfortunately from reading all the responses, you may be right in terms of cost and stress.

                  I will issue my own s.21 with professional help - thanks for that advice. I have recently joined the NLA but on this occasion the advice was "poor service does not mean breach of contract and perhaps you should just wait."

                  Silly question maybe but once the s.21 is issued (I will hand deliver it and have tenant sign that they have received it), will I also have to send notice to the agent or is it self-explanatory that the agent's services are redundant once their tenant is out? The agent requires 3 months termination of service notice - but does that mean just if the tenant is in the property. It doesn't say.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    It shouldn't do.

                    I'd argue that any clause stating you must continue to use their services once any tenancy they arranged has come to an end would be unfair and unenforceable. And if your instructions were to leave the flat empty, what exactly would be the nature of their "service" to you? There's no rent coming in, so no fees payable to them and nothing to manage.

                    Artful's right though, get copies of everything before you take this course of action. The deposit certificate is arguably the most important part due to the punitive outcome of getting it wrong.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Exactly, if they really want to enforce their contract after the tenant has moved out, tell them they can continue to receive 10% or whatever of the rent taken from their tenant. Say you'll be generous and give them 20%. Errrr, that'll still be zero due to them then!

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Haha, yes. I'm sure from all of my chasing for information LA will be happy to see the back of me.

                        I've started the process of accreditation now with NLA.

                        Hopefully, in a few months I can start all over again. All a bit of a shame really - I had high hopes at the start.

                        How long did you as LLs use an LA before self-management?
                        I'm thinking due to distance, to start with another agency but on a partly-managed basis while I learn the ropes enough to self-manage.

                        Once again, thanks again for the advice.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by Radford View Post
                          How long did you as LLs use an LA before self-management?
                          I'm thinking due to distance, to start with another agency but on a partly-managed basis while I learn the ropes enough to self-manage.
                          you don't need to learn the ropes to self-manage, you need to learn them to manage letting agents. Moving to self-management should not be seen as somehow some kind of higher level only for those who know more and can manage independently. All LLs, whether they use agents or not, should know all the legislation they can.

                          For those of us, like you, who live a considerable distance from their property, using LAs is wiser than not, IMO. What you need to do is find a competent agency. Going partly managed may work depending on how well you can source contractors for issues that come up in a place you are not living near. That's the main issue you'll face if you're at a distance and which local LAs can usually respond to quicker.

                          Remember though: finding a competent agent is NOT a substitute for learning all you can. They manage the tenancy, you manage the agent.



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