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Consumer protection law for letting agents and landlords

In a recent article, we explained how consumer protection law impacts on the practices of letting agents and landlords when advertising a property to let and creating a new tenancy.  The provisions of consumer protection law also extend to business practices when managing a property or organising for renewal or termination of a tenancy.

Duties when a tenant moves in

Guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority sets out the obligations placed on agents and landlords by consumer protection law.  Agents should check that the property is ready on the date agreed with the tenant, that any promised work has been carried out and that the landlord has provided any furniture or appliances that were agreed with the tenant.   Tenants should be supplied with all relevant material information related to the tenancy; such as a gas safety certificate, rent book, tenancy agreement, guarantor agreement.   Tenants should also be provided with information explaining who to contact in case of any problems with the tenancy.

The guidance also stressed the importance of giving the tenant sufficient opportunity to review the inventory and challenge any points of disagreement.  Failing to do this or to provide the tenant with an incorrect inventory could be a misleading action and a breach of consumer protection law.

Dealing with repairs

To comply with consumer law, agents and landlords must ensure that the services they provide to tenants are carried out with reasonable care and skill and within a reasonable time.  This is particularly relevant where agents are carrying out repairs on behalf of the landlord. 

The guidance states that requests for repairs “should be prioritised according to urgency, risk, seriousness and completed to a satisfactory standard and within a reasonable time”.  The guidance states that it will be difficult to show that the timescale is reasonable “if there is undue delay in carrying out repairs”.  The fact that the agent’s normal tradesperson is unavailable is not justification for delay and the guidance clearly states that the agent should source a different tradesperson in this scenario.

Renewal or termination of tenancy

When giving notice to a tenant, agents or landlords must not mislead them about their rights in law.  A Notice to Quit cannot state that tenants will be forcibly removed or evicted if they fail to comply as tenants have a right to due process of law and can only be evicted by officers of the court acting in accordance with an enforcement order.  

The guidance states that agents or landlords should clearly explain what forms of writing they are willing to accept as written notice to quit a tenancy.  Where a tenant has given notice, but has not done so in the proper form, professional diligence requirements of consumer protection law mean that the agent should point out that the notice is incorrect and remind the tenant where they should look to find out how to give notice correctly.  

The guidance takes a dim view of any attempts to introduce new charges to tenants for renewal of a tenancy agreement where these fees were not set ou in the original tenancy agreements and brought to potential tenants' attention in the advertisements for the tenancy.  

Where a landlord or agent has failed to protect the tenant's deposit, as required by law, the guidance considers an attempt to make any deductions from this deposit at the end of the tenancy to be a likely misleaading action if you have not informed the tenant at the beginning of the tenacy that the deposit is not protected. 

Breaches of consumer protection law

The guidance quotes a number of examples of potential breaches of consumer protection law.  Although agents’ practices should already ensure that they do not fall foul of these breaches, since many are also breaches of the law relating to private tenancies, it’s important that responsible landlords and letting agents review their practices in light of this guidance.  Our upcoming course, Renting Privately - the Rights of Tenants, will look at how housing legislation provides for tenants' rights in greater detail. 

Tagged In

Regulation, Private Tenancies, Landlord

This article was written on 18 May 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.