Painsmith Landlord and Tenant Blog

A practitioners landlord and tenant law blog from PainSmith Solicitors

New CMA Guidance for Lettings Professionals

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which replaced the OFT earlier this year issued on the 13th June 2014 “Guidance for lettings professionals on consumer protection law”. Plainly for anyone involved in the Lettings Industry a must read document!

Much of what is included within the guidance is not new. It helpfully pulls together various guidance which has been issued and incorporates it in one document. The underlying principle throughout is that letting professionals must act fairly with all they come into contact with. This is a positive obligation which you must actively set out to achieve. This objective mirrors the Consumer Protection Rules and also the CAP Guidance on advertising issued last year.

We will be studying the guidance carefully and watching how over the ensuing months this is applied by both CMA and Trading Standards officers in their dealings with agents.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , , , ,

Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013

As many of you are aware the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 came into force on 13 June 2014 (the Regulations).

Rental agreements are specifically excluded so the Regulations do not apply to tenancy agreements but all other contracts are potentially caught. Particularly, the Regulations do apply to lettings and sales terms of business with landlords/sellers that are individuals acting outside their business.

To comply with the Regulations, you are required to give certain information to the consumer. What is required depends on where the contract is concluded. A notice of right to cancel may also have to be given.

If you are required to give notice of the right to cancel, you are advised not to undergo any work during the cancellation period (14 days) unless and until the client requests you to do so in writing otherwise you will not be entitled to charge for the work undertaken.

In light of the Regulations, we have updated our template lettings and sales terms and these are available for purchase from our online shop. Alternatively, if you want to keep your standard form, we have produced a stand-alone template of clauses to be inserted to help you when you are amending it (please note though that this is a template and may need to be adapted to fit your own documents). All versions come with guidance as to when and how the Regulations apply.

If you would like assistance in tailoring to your terms please contact us and ask for a quote.

Prices at going to press:
£150.00+VAT Sales Terms
£150.00+VAT Lettings Terms
£75.00 Guidance and clauses

Filed under: England & Wales, , , ,

Data Protection

We often get asked whether and in what circumstances landlords, tenants, agents and contractors can give out each other’s details of and those of other third parties. The main concern is not to breach the Data Protection Act 1998. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
• Fairly and lawfully processed
• Processed for limited purposes
• Adequate, relevant and not excessive
• Accurate and up to date
• Not kept for longer than is necessary
• Processed in line with your rights
• Secure
• Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under s55 of the Date Protection Act 1998. Organisations processing personal information are required to register with the ICO. Failure to notify is a criminal offence. The ICO provides a checklist to organisations to check if they need to register. However lettings agents do generally process personal data ( e.g. tenants’ financial information) and if so should register.

There is a useful guide on the Information Commissioner’s website here.
Below is a list of the most common queries we get, and our answers
(with reasons).

1. Can an agent give out tenant referencing details to a landlord?
We say: Yes, the agent has collected the information as agent of the landlord, on behalf of the landlord. The Information Commission adds that the agent should make it clear to the tenants/guarantors that this will happen when the information is taken.

2. Can an agent give out landlord’s details to the tenant?
We say: It depends. If the tenant requests the landlord’s name and address in writing from the agent, section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requires that the agent must supply the tenant with that information within 21 days of receipt. Criminal sanctions apply for failure to comply. There is a duty to disclose the name and address of all directors and company secretary to a corporate landlord. However where not required by statute, an agent should get the landlord’s permission before handing information to the tenant.

3. Can an agent/landlord give out tenant details to utility companies where there are unpaid bills?
We say: Yes the utility company may need the forwarding address of the former tenant to recover unpaid bills, or to return funds. The information commissioner adds that there should be a clause in the tenancy agreement setting out that this may happen.

4. Can landlords give former tenants details to enquiry agents/tracing agents in order to recover unpaid rent/ issue debt proceedings?
We say: yes – but again the ICO says it is good practice to notify the tenants in the tenancy agreement that this might happen.

5. Can landlords/agents give tenant’s details to guarantors?
We say: only to the extent that it relates to the guarantee. So you need to see whether the information you are passing on relates to the guarantee (e.g. it would probably be relevant to say there are rental arrears but not to notify the guarantor that the tenants have had a baby and the date of birth and name of that baby, for example).

6. Can landlords/agents give tenant’s information to the Local Authority/ Police?
We say: again, it depends. Local Authorities do have powers to request personal information, and so do the Police. However they should be able to provide authority – to demonstrate that they have authority to ask, and that a landlord/agent has the duty to disclose.

7. If the tenant requests to see the tenancy file, does the agent have to disclose the entire file?
We say: No. The tenant should make a subject access request. The file belongs to the landlord. You do not have to supply information about other people. The agent should send a redacted copy and even then only needs to provide personal information. This does not mean the agent’s management log for example.

What are the sanctions for breaching the Data Protection Act? The Information Commission can order the offender to stop the breach. For serious breaches monetary penalties can be given and criminal prosecutions brought. See here: http://www.ico.org.uk/enforcement/prosecutions

In general the best place to go for those concerned about Data Protection is the ICO website. They have useful guides and checklists, as well as news and updates.

Filed under: England & Wales, , ,

Whose address? Sections 47 and 48 Revisited

We have heard on the grapevine that some agents are currently being advised that following the Land Tribunal ( Upper Chamber) decisions of Triplerose Ltd v Grantglen and Beitov Properties Ltd v Elliston Martin , they should not use an agent’s office and address as an address for service for the purposes of Sections 47 and 48 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (LTA1987). There have even been suggestions that tenancy agreements should be amended to require the tenant to serve notices on both the landlord and the agent. We disagree.

The Beitov and Triplerose cases concerned service charges, and the decision was crucial to long leasehold premises. We blogged on this here.

Section 47 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 (LTA1987) provides that where any written demand is given to a tenant of residential leasehold property, then that demand must contain:
a) the name and address of the landlord and
b) if that address is not in England and Wales, an address for service.
and that any part of the amount demanded that consists of a service charge will not be treated as being due until such information is furnished by notice given by the landlord to the tenant.

The Beitov case decided that the wording of s47 means that where any written demand is given to the tenant the Landlord must put his or her actual address on the demand, not a care of address or agent’s address. A demand for service charges will be invalid without. The sanction for failing to give the actual landlords address in section 47 of the LTA 1987 is that service charges are not due.
However assured shorthold tenancies do not require the payment of service charges. The sanction for breach of section 47 is of no consequence.

By contrast, ASTs are affected by the provisions of s48 of the Act. The sanction for failing to comply with s48 is that rent is not treated as falling due BUT s48 requires only “an address in England and Wales at which notices may be served on him by the tenant”.

In short we disagree for two reasons:

1. Rent is covered by s48 – and where it is demanded the requirement is only to supply an address for service in England and Wales
2. Requiring tenants to serve notices on both landlord and agent is too onerous an obligation in residential AST lets. There is too much scope for the tenant to get confused and fail to serve on one or other address. Arguably such a term would be unfair and unenforceable, especially as Landlord only has to serve on the property.

Our position remains that it is fine to use an agent’s address for service in ASTs.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , , ,

Lettings Fees in the news

Shelter has stepped up its campaign to make it unlawful for lettings agents to charge any fees at all to tenants. You can read their report here. The average compulsory lettings fee that renters pay to a landlord’s agent in setting up a tenancy is £355.00. The charity would like to see tenants’ costs limited to the protected deposit and rent in advance as it is in Scotland.

Painsmith receives frequent queries about agents’ fees, and what can and cannnot be charged. The position currently is that agencies must be transparent about their fees, which should be an accurate reflection of their actual reasonable costs rather than an unsubstantiated sum. We have blogged on this before .

The Advertising Standards Authority recently ruled that agents must publicise their fees and charges in their quoted prices, or at least provided enough information for potential renters to calculate what they will be charged.

There is already a great deal of consumer protection legislation, e.g CPR Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, UTCCR, as well as regulatory bodies such as the Property Ombudsman. Regulation 6 of the Consumer Protection Regulations prohibits misleading omissions, which includes the providing of material information in a manner that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely. To charge extortionate fees is already either unlawful or unenforceable.

If it becomes unlawful to charge tenants any fees at all it has been argued that the cost will have to be picked up by tenants later on down the line through higher rents ( although in its report Shelter says that since Scottish law was clarified there has been no significant rise in rents). That said, if Shelter succeeds in effecting a ban on lettings fees, agencies will no doubt adapt. It may even cause a demise in the number of rogue agencies that are currently operating.

Filed under: England & Wales, England only, , , , , ,

Lettings Fees

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided that all charges that will be imposed on a proposed Tenant must be made clear in all advertising of the property prior to the letting. In other words, no hidden fees.

This comes after a complaint was made against Your-move.co.uk Ltd ( Your Move) stating that an advert that had been placed on Rightmove did not contain details of compulsory charges such as administration fees. It is worth noting that the advert in question stated that fees would be payable and even then had a link to Your Move’s own website that did specifically detail the charges. The ASA decided that this in itself was insufficient and the exact fees needed to be stated on the advert itself. In addition to this, if there are fees the value of which are not known at the time of advertising then it will need to be explained how those charges would be calculated.

The fact that this issue has been addressed now is not surprising given the report that the OFT ( Office of Fair Trading) has recently published which criticised the disclosure of letting agent’s fees which are payable by Tenants. With these findings coming it would be prudent for Letting Agents to “get their houses in order” to quote Guy Parker, the Chief Executive of the ASA, and ensure that fees are transparent so that they are not the ones that fall foul of latest requirements.

Currently, Rightmove’s own policy is that fees are not included in any of their advertisements. Whether they will be looking to change this in light of the above is unclear but as this case shows the letting agent will not be free of the obligations simply by following Rightmove’s protocol and so it should be requested that the fees are included in any such advert taken out on their site.

It would appear that there will be a tough approach on this and as such until proper guidance has been given (we would expect a number of relevant authorities, Office of Fair Trading included, to be issuing guidance imminently) our advice is that all advertising or publicity material (including window cards, brochures and website posts) contain the non-optional fees payable so that it is reasonable that any proposed Tenant looking in to the letting of a property will know the exact amount that they will be required to pay.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , ,

Wood burning stoves and what agents need to know.

Over the past few years wood burners and open fires have come back into vogue. Most people agree that sitting in front of a fire on a cold winter evening is something they like to do. Open fires and wood burning stoves bring there own complications.

As part of the structure of the building landlords have an obligation to keep the stove and the chimney in good repair. Landlords should also check what the requirements are of any building insurer with regards to the same.

We have recently received questions asking whether landlords need some form of certificate; and can tenants be required to clean the chimney?

With regards to any fuel burning appliance installed after October 2010 it must comply with appropriate Building Regulations. This means that any such appliance must either have been installed by a HETAS approved engineer, who can then self certificate, or specific Building Regulation consent should have been obtained. A homeowner should ensure that such certification is kept in a safe place as this may be required. Under these regulations a carbon monoxide detector will also have to be installed which the landlord will have to check is in good order. The landlord will then be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and repair of such a stove whilst it is in the property. For appliances installed before this there is no specific requirement for certification save that landlords should be satisfied that they are safe and as part of this they would be well advised to ensure that a carbon monoxide detector is present.

We would always recommend that landlords carry out regular inspections to check what, if any, repair or maintenance issues may exist. There is however currently no statutory requirement to obtain some form of annual certification.

Generally such stoves require for general safety that the chimneys are swept at least once in every twelve month period. Many tenancy agreements contain a term that the tenant should ensure that this takes place. Some commentators seem to indicate that this is an unfair contract term relying on the guidance issued by the OFT in 2005. We disagree.

In our opinion provided a landlord can show that the chimney was swept before the start of a tenancy it is not unreasonable to place an obligation upon a tenant to ensure that the chimney is swept at regular intervals provided there is no obligation for them to return the property with the chimney in a better state than it was given to them. This can only apply to having the chimney swept and any maintenance which may be required from time to time would be the landlord’s responsibility. We are not aware of any specific challenges made by tenants to such terms and if anyone is would welcome hearing from them.

To summarise our view is that a well advised landlord will check if the installation was after October 2010 that they have a copy of the certificate. They will prior to any tenancy have the chimney swept (or make sure they have evidence that this happened) and also make sure that in any pre-tenancy inspection they check no repair or maintenance issues arise. We would always suggest that if in doubt a reputable professional is employed to undertake a check and the prudent landlord will ensure that their property has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors fitted.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , ,

Why do I need a tenancy agreement?

The simple answer to this question is that for most circumstances you do not strictly need a written agreement however if you don’t this can have unintended consequences!

As regular followers of the blog will know the starting point for determining the terms and what you should do in a particular instance is the tenancy agreement. If no written agreement exists it will be a question of trying to recollect what was discussed and possibly looking at any letters or emails about the negotiations to determine the parties intentions. This can result in the terms being unclear particularly if a dispute has arisen.

Assuming we are discussing Assured shorthold tenancies, which are the majority of private letting agreements, as many of you will know this is now the default tenancy in most cases ( for exactly what is an assured shorthold tenancy see the Housing Act 1988 as amended). If you are taking a deposit you are now required to register such a deposit with an approved scheme of which there are three. As part of this process you are required to give certain prescribed information. If you do not do you will not have complied with the rules. Most standard agreements which can be purchased ( such as those we produce and are for sale in our shop on our website) incorporate this information. For this reason giving an agreement, practically, can be easier to ensure the information is given and nothing is missed.

If then you have a written agreement you can specify the exact terms. Whilst you cannot contract out of rules laid down by Parliament, such as the landlords responsibility to keep the property in repair, you can make sure everything is clear. This can be things as diverse as the length of term and break clauses through to restrictions on smoking or loud music (although you might want to have a look at the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) guidelines to check the likely enforceability of your clause). Such comprehensive agreements allow you to effectively manage your investment and to make sure that both sides are clear as to what to expect from the other. Having an effective list of rules of occupation can assist in helping any potential disputes being seen off as having a clear reference to point to.

Whilst sorting out the paperwork can sometimes appear to be a chore if and when you are faced with a dispute it is vital. As we have repeatedly blogged the courts will take the agreement as the starting point. If you have no agreement in writing often the courts will find it difficult to impose onerous terms on one or other party unless it can be shown unequivocally that this was agreed. Whilst relying on terms other than rent or operation of a break clause to evict can be difficult in our experience without a rewritten agreement it is almost impossible.

So take 5 minutes and make sure you have an agreement which is up to date and covers what you want and require.

Filed under: England & Wales, , , , , , ,

Tenants Insurance

We have been contacted by a number of agents with regards to the insurance clauses in their tenancy agreements and in some cases their terms of business.

We understand that a well known landlord insurance company is suggesting that some of our clients need to amend their terms of business and tenancy agreements in line with the office of fair trading (OFT) guidance.

The clause that is causing the problem relates to the insurance the tenant is advised to obtain. PainSmith Solicitors documents advise tenants that they should obtain insurance and warns them that the landlord insurance will not cover their belongings. The clause is therefore not unfair as the tenant is not forced to obtain insurance.

The guidance that the insurance company is referring to was published in 2005 therefore we are unclear as to why this has been raised by them now however, if you are using PainSmith Solicitors documents and assuming that the clause has not been amended then you are all advised that the clause complies with the OFT guidance and as such no papers need to be sent to the insurance company for them to “check”.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

OFT evaluates Foxtons!

Not the company but the infamous outcome of the case.

On the 19th July the Office of Fair trading released a press release on its evaluation of its consumer enforcement case against Foxtons for breaching the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCRs). In February 2010, the OFT secured an enforcement order from the High Court when it ruled that Foxtons’ renewal commission terms were not transparent, this led to Foxtons amending some of the terms. The evaluation has now found that the OFT intervention has resulted in positive benefits for consumer landlords that use Foxtons with an estimated annual benefit of at least £4.4 million.

The enforcement order relating to Foxtons declared that the terms listed below are unfair, not binding, and may not be used or relied upon in contracts with consumer landlords:

a. Terms which require landlords to pay renewal commission to Foxtons after the sale of their property to a third party because the original tenant remains in occupation.

b. Terms which require landlords to pay a sales commission to Foxtons in the event they sell the property to their tenant.

c. Terms relating to renewal commission, where the tenant remains in occupation, and in some cases an occupant introduced by the tenant, after the initial fixed term where the agent is not asked to provide any additional service.

In this press release the OFT has stated that they are concerned about the number of agents that are unaware of the Foxtons case and have contacted these agents to advise them to ensure that the terms of business are transparent.

If you need help with the terms of business you may be interested to note that we do provide a drafting a service.

Filed under: England & Wales, FLW Article, , ,

OFT v Foxtons- The Final Order

The final sealed order in the OFT v Foxtons case has been made available on the OFT website. A copy can be found here. This order gives effect to the judgement of the High Court and is now the final word on the matter as Foxtons have withdrawn their appeal.
There are some interesting points to note:

  1. Nothing in the order prevents Foxtons from defending claims against them based on monies already paid under clauses that have now been found to be unfair;
  2. Foxtons are entitled to keep using the original renewal commission clauses in full management agreements;
  3. The wording of the offending clauses used by Foxtons is quite extreme in terms of their ability to charge commission on a long-term basis even where the tenant has been changed. The new terms (in the last Schedule) are much less severe
  4. The approved terms are still charging a renewal commission even though Foxtons has no involvement in the negotiation of a renewal but it is limited to 2 years after the initial tenancy and is clearly stated at the start of the terms of business
  5. Fxotns have removed their ability to take a fee where the landlord has sold the property to another landlords with the tenant in place and where the landlord has sold the property to the tenant

The OFT has made clear in its press releases that it intends to use this decision to put pressure on other agents. How far this will go is unclear and whether the OFT will seek to impose a limitation on other agents as to how long they can continue to collect a renewal commission for.

Unfortunately this will probably lead to another raft of ill-informed letters from landlords stating that the renewal fees they have been charged are unfair. However, agents should consider how they wish to move forward and take advice as to their fee structures to avoid a visit from the OFT.

Filed under: England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, , , ,

Foxtons Withdraws Appeal

It is being reported today that Foxtons has withdrawn their appeal to the Court of Appeal to the decision made against them by Mr Justice Mann in their dispute with the OFT.

According to the statement Foxtons have changed their terms of business and these new terms have been approved by the OFT and the Court and so they see no need to carry on.

It is debatable, for the same reasons we have set out here, whether this is a matter that will concern other agents.

Filed under: England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, ,

Foxtons to Appeal in OFT case

Well, as we suggested might happen here, Foxtons is going to appeal the decision of the High Court in the light of the Supreme Court ruling in the Bank Charges case. The Times has reported this (slightly badly) here.

However, it is questionable whether the implications are as important for other agents as the Times suggests given that the Foxtons decision arguably had little impact on agents whose clauses were drafted in plain and intelligible language.

Filed under: England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, ,

OFT loses in Bank Charges- Implications for Foxtons

The Supreme Court has handed down their judgement in the case of OFT v Abbey National & Others (the ‘Bank Charges’ case). A copy of the judgement and a press summary can be found here.

The Court was not ruling on the fairness of bank charges themselves but on whether the OFT could investigate them at all. The banks were contending that their charges were part of the, so-called, “core bargain” between them and their customers and were therefore exempt from investigation for unfairness under the terms of Regulation 6(2)(b) of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999. This regulations states that so long as a term is in plain and intelligible language terms are exempt from an assessment of their fairness if they relate “to the adequacy of the price or remuneration, as against the goods or services supplied in exchange”. This, “core bargain” term, was claimed by the banks to exempt their charges for unauthorised overdrafts and other similar charges from consideration. This argument was rejected both by the High Court and the Court of Appeal who in effect carried out a process of dividing charges into “core terms” which were exempt from consideration and “ancillary terms” which were not.

However, the Supreme Court has overruled both of these decisions stating that the banks system of charges must be seen as an overall package for the provision of a banking service which is ‘free while in credit’ and this falls within the exemption provided by Regulation 6(2)(b). They were critical of the exercise of dividing charges up into core and ancillary charges and questioned whether such an exercise could realistically be accomplished.

The Supreme Court made brief reference to the OFT v Foxtons decision but pointed out that the core bargain issue was, while relevant in that case, not vital as Foxtons’ terms of business were ruled not to be in ‘plain and intelligible language’.

The Supreme Court has not made any ruling, or any substantial comment on whether a ruling on unfairness of terms should be pursued retroactively.

Turning to the case against Foxtons. It was ruled that the average landlord would not view a renewal commission as part of the “core bargain”:

That [Foxtons’ publicity material] is hardly likely to engender a realisation or acceptance that the renewal commission is part of the core bargain. As far as the landlord is concerned the core bargain will be getting the tenant in, in exchange for commission which would seem naturally to be associated with that activity, that is to say the commission payable on the first period’s rent.

However, this part of the ruling is now in doubt as a result of the Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court were not prepared to accept the argument advanced by the OFT in the Bank Charges case that charges levied by the banks would not be acceptable from the consumers viewpoint. The Supreme Court felt that the matter should be viewed from the point of view of both sides and a balanced view adopted. It is not possible to simply state that one party would not have contemplated the charge and leave it at that. Allied to this is the view adopted by the Supreme Court that it is artificial to separate one charge levied as a part of a contract from other charges and deem some of those charges as “core” and some as “ancillary”. This would suggest that this exercise, as conducted in the Foxtons case, is inappropriate and that all the charges should be considered together as a part of an overall package.

It is quite likely that Foxtons will now seek to appeal the decision of Mr Justice Mann. Given that the banks’ charges must now be construed as a package they will no doubt seek to argue that their charging regime must be seen in a similar manner. They will still have the difficulty of their terms being held not to be in “plain and intelligible language” and this is an issue they will need to deal with. No doubt we will find out shortly if Foxtons are to renew their request for permission to appeal or withdraw it altogether.

For other agents, this decision provides substantial comfort. Provided that their terms of business and charges are expressed in “plain and intelligible language” it will be much easier for them to make the case that their charges are a part of an overall package and should be exempt from a consideration of unfairness. The importance of clear and well-constructed terms of business is magnified by this decision and the pressure is removed from many agent’s charging models.

PainSmith Solicitors has always maintained that the terms of business it supplies to agents do (and always have) express charges in a “plain and intelligible” manner. However, they have amended their terms of business as a result of the OFT v Foxtons case to make the charging structure even clearer.

Filed under: England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, ,

OFT v Foxtons Rides Again (Maybe)

At 9.45am on Wednesday 25 November the new Supreme Court will give judgement in OFT v Abbey National & Others. This case will be well known to most as it relates to the ability of banks to make charges to customers who overdraw their accounts and on the level of those charges. There should also be an indication as to whether banks will actually have to repay money they have previously collected in charges. Quite apart from the impact this case may have on the UK’s leading banks, possibly requiring them to repay hundreds of millions of pounds in charges, there will also be an impact on the ongoing matter of OFT v Foxtons. This is because Foxtons sought permission to appeal from the Court at the most recent hearing after the judgement criticising aspects of their fees had been handed down. However, they specifically requested that the Court refrain from considering their permission request until after the Supreme Court ruling in OFT v Abbey National. Therefore, depending on the judgement of the Supreme Court, Foxtons will either withdraw their request or will seek to appeal the matter to the Court of Appeal.
Additionally, there will be great interest as to whether the banks actually have to pay money back. If they do, this potentially opens the floodgates for previous Foxtons clients to claim return of fees paid to Foxtons which were paid on the strength of clauses deemed by the High Court to be unfair. This could end up costing Foxtons tens of millions of pounds. Naturally, an effort to make Foxtons return money will also have an impact on other agents who have already faced suggestions from landlords that their fees are unfair as well, notwithstanding the ruling against Foxtons being based entirely on the unusual wording used in their terms of business.
PainSmith will aim to post on Wednesday as soon as we have had time to digest the Supreme Court judgement. Watch this space!

Filed under: England & Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, , ,

OFT v Foxtons- Renewal Commissions and Mis-reporting

Following the decision in OFT v Foxtons on Friday there has already been a great deal of mis-reporting of the outcome.

One of the most noticeable points relates to the issue of renewal commission and the suggestion in much of the media that renewal commissions are unfair and that landlords will be able to recover commission already paid.  This is simply incorrect.  Unfortunately, as a result of these misunderstandings many agents have already been contacted by landlords demanding repayment of alleged unfair fees.

It is worth considering the judgement in detail at this point.  In paragraph 33 of his judgement Mr Justice Mann said the following:

I should first make clear what I am not deciding, and what I am not asked to decide. I am not asked to decide, and do not decide, that renewal commissions (in the sense used in these proceedings) are always unfair. I make that clear because some of the evidence and submissions of the OFT come close to asserting a case that they are always unfair, and some of the correspondence seemed to be based on such a proposition, though Mr Nicholas Green QC, for the OFT, eventually made it clear that that was not his case. Mr Michael Kent QC, for Foxtons, opened his submissions by saying that I would eventually have to, and should, rule on renewal commission generally, but he moved away from that. I shall not decide whether or not renewal commission is always unfair to consumer landlords.

Therefore, the judgement in no way states that renewal commission is unfair.  What was decided was that Foxtons renewal commission clauses were not worded in plain and intelligible language and were excessive in the level of commission charged and in their wider definition of renewals by associates of the tenant which would also attract a fee.

The other area of mis-reporting is in relation to the rights of parties to demand the return of sums already paid.  Contrary to the decisions made in the various cases involving bank charges there is nothing in this judgement which allows for monies already paid to be recovered.  This particular issue was one which Foxtons fought hard to avoid and at the current time the Court has not made any ruling in relation to it.

In short, no agent is in any way obliged by Friday’s decision to return monies to any party.

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

Initial response to OFT v Foxtons

Following the ruling today in this matter, letting agent terms of business may well contain some significant flaws and unenforceable terms.  In particular any term which seeks to charge a commission fee where the landlord sells the property to the tenant will be deemed unfair.  In addition, where an agent seeks to charge commission on a renewal where the landlord has sold the property to another landlord such clauses will be deemed unfair.

What is not unfair is the charging of a renewal fee, even where the agent has not been involved in the negotiation of the renewal, provided that this charge is signposted to the landlord at the outset of the instruction and drawn to their attention.  The reporting of this matter is inaccurate in this aspect.

Nothing in today’s judgement requires agents to refund monies to landlords but it will prevent agents from using or relying on clauses that have been found to be unfair.

PainSmith have already amended our standard terms of business and are able to provide these for immediate use as a stop-gap measure until such time as agents can amend their standard terms.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

OFT v Foxtons Links

The OFT press release on today’s judgment can be found here

The judgement can be found in full here

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

OFT v Foxtons – early hints

Its 9.30 and we’re waiting for the judge to give his decision which should start 10.00. It appears that both parties have had early copies of his judgment and hints have started to leak. First indications appear to show that the oft have succeeded on the matter of charging commission to landlords who sell their property to tenants or occupiers and this type of provision may well now be considered unfair.

The oft have further succeeded in relation to charging commission to landlords who have divested themselves of their interest in the property and where the new landlord renews a tenancy with the original tenants. It appears, however, that charging of renewal commission in other circumstances even where the agent has not been directly involved in the negotiations of the renewal is acceptable provided that the terms of the agreement are expressed in plain and intelligible language. It may well be that many clauses currently in use fall short on that requirement.

It seems that some early comments on the news media this morning may have been premature. More information as we get it.

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

OFT v Foxtons

The judgement in this matter is being rendered at 10am tomorrow in the High Court. PainSmith solicitors are contracted to one of the main organisations representing lettings agents to provide a brief electronic response and a full consideration. The brief response should be available late tomorrow.

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

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