The problems with rental agencies

I want to tell you about a rental agency called Timothy Lea & Griffiths of Evesham. If you want to rent a home or a commercial building in Evesham they are hard to avoid as they control a large part of the market. My family has been unfortunate enough to have rented through Timothy Lea on several occasions over the last decade.

One of my sisters got married in 2004. She and her fiance found a suitable home through Timothy Lea and started the process to rent it. They were charged credit check fees and passed the credit check, (with guarantors, which had been arranged) and it was agreed that they could rent the home. The signing of the contract was left for moving in the day before the wedding. Then, three days before the wedding, someone from Timothy Lea made a telephone call to my parents house to talk to my sister. She wasn’t in, and so they left a message with my mother instead. The message was that the landlord had changed his mind about renting the home and that they could not move in after all. A different member of staff later told my sister that they would not let any other home to her and her fiance and they refused to refund the fees already paid.

As a result of this, my sister and her husband lived in one very crowded room in my parents house for three months after their wedding until they were able to find a flat through a different agency and save enough money to pay agency fees there.

Unfortunately the flat that my sister and her husband ended up living in, while let through a different agency, was in a block that was managed by Timothy Lea. (I told you that they were hard to avoid.) The door entry phone was broken when they moved in to the block which meant that if anyone came to the front door of the block there was no way that they could alert the occupants. It meant that my sister and her husband had to rush out of the flat and through the communal hallway to answer the front door before the visitors got fed up and left. Since my sister suffers from M.E. this had an impact on her health too. The fault was reported by the letting agency of the flat to Timothy Lea many times but in spite of this, it was never fixed during the two years that my sister lived there.


My parents house is owned by friends of theirs, but was initially rented through Timothy Lea as it had already been advertised through them and the landlords wanted Timothy Lea to manage maintenance of the house. A few years ago the owners decided that they would prefer to rent the house directly to my parents. They thought that Timothy Lea didn’t do much for the money, but passed lists of repairs on to the owner to be fixed, many of them not things that the owners or my parents cared about fixing.

When the landlords wanted to take over direct control of the tenancy and the deposit that meant that Timothy Lea had to end the tenancy and return the deposit to my parents who could then pay it to the landlords. Unfortunately this was an extremely slow process. They caused great inconvenience to both the tenants and the landlords. During this process I am told that attitudes of staff at Timothy Lea & Griffiths were unhelpful and hostile, although in the previous few years it had been different staff who had generally been helpful and friendly. Additionally, my parents were informed that when my sisters had turned 18 that Timothy Lea should have been informed so that they could be listed on the rental contract as jointly liable. I do not know why they require this, but it seems a rather absurd requirement which must make extra money in credit check fees for Timothy Lea, and presumably if they do not pass, see the family made homeless.


Obviously, knowing this history, when my wife and I returned to live in Evesham in 2009 we wanted to avoid renting through Timothy Lea at all costs. Because of my poor health our credit record worked against us but we managed to make contact with the owner of an empty flat next door to my sister. He agreed to let the flat to us but insisted on doing so through Timothy Lea, chosen because they also managed the whole block of flats. Unable to pass the credit check, the only way that we were able to convince Timothy Lea to allow us to rent through them was by paying six months rent in advance with help from generous family.

Over the two year course of that tenancy we reported several different problems for repair. Some were fixed promptly. Our cooker hob was replaced. When the door entry system kept getting stuck and buzzing continuously it was eventually sorted out. Some things in communal areas such as blocked drains and a frozen tap were also sorted out. The lawn was mowed and the windows washed frequently.

However, we reported other problems that were not fixed.  The fan in our bathroom vibrated excessively and was so loud that we could not turn on the bathroom light at night without waking each other up. In my opinion it was actually in danger of jamming and causing an electrical fire. It was reported at every inspection (which was every three months) but never fixed. We turned the fan off at night using the inconvenient switch near the ceiling which meant that it was often off at the time of using the shower. This led to damp, which we were blamed for.

We reported a faulty night storage heater in the living room in winter 2010. An electrician was sent out fairly quickly. Since the heater was unsafe he disconnected the daytime power supply which meant that the fan and thermostat on the heater no longer worked. He left us with a promise to inform Timothy Lea that the heater needed replacing. Unfortunately the heater was never replaced, despite us reporting it on several occasions and at inspections after that. We know from talking to an electrician at the flat that the heater was replaced the day after we moved out.

Near the end of our tenancy there was a water leak in the flat above us which destroyed part of our bathroom ceiling. We reported this problem straight away. Nothing happened. We reported it several times including pointing it out at an inspection. Eventually, Timothy Lea had arranged with us to allow a prospective buyer to view the flat. (As it had been on the market throughout our tenancy.) We pointed out to the sales arm of Timothy Lea that the ceiling was still not fixed. The next day we had someone round looking at it, and soon after a plasterer “repaired” the ceiling. I say repaired, because it was a cosmetic fix and none of the water damaged materials around the visible damage were repaired. A few days later parts of the ceiling started to become discoloured as more damp came through. After I mentioned this to the landlord he visited with staff from Timothy Lea in tow, expressing his displeasure at what happened. We have since moved out so I do not know how this ended.

One of the edge strips on the stairs leading to our flat was broken from the day we moved in. This was quite dangerous – while we were moving furniture in several people slipped on it as it fell off the step and left the concrete exposed. A lady who owned a flat downstairs from us tried to get Timothy Lea to repair it but was told that it was not covered in the maintenance fees for the block and that owners would be charged it Timothy Lea repaired it. She glued it back in to place but that edge strip came loose repeatedly throughout our stay there. Another example of this is one of the lights in the garden. The glass top of this light was missing leaving just the top of the metal pillar. This light was never repaired during our stay there.

Near the end of our tenancy Timothy Lea showed several prospective buyers around our flat, with our permission. Each time we asked them not to go in by themselves as we have a cat who gets extremely distressed around strangers and particularly if they are in our home. There was a strong chance that the cat would run away when the front door was opened by a stranger. We asked Timothy Lea staff to always contact my sister next door and have her accompany them into our flat. They ignored this every time. They ignored it despite us reminding them each time they asked permission to show someone around. They ignored it even when a note was stuck to our front door to remind them.

We eventually left this flat not by choice but because we were given notice by our landlord. (I suspect because he thought he had a better chance of selling the flat without us there. I believe that he still hasn’t sold it nine months later.) At that time some friends of ours in another flat in the same block had moved out and I asked Timothy Lea if they would allow us to move into that flat. The response was that they would not take us as tenants at all. The phrase “I’m sorry, we can’t help you” was used. My serious illness and the temporary nature of my wife’s employment as a supply teacher and cleaner meant that were unable to find anywhere else to live privately, and our imminent homelessness meant that we were made top priority for social housing. Of course social housing takes time to sort out, and the two months notice was not enough. By the end of the two months we had found a flat through a housing association, but it would be another few days before our new flat was made ready. Timothy Lea were made fully aware of our situation and although they eventually accepted that we would stay another few days and pay rent for those days, for a while we thought we would have to pay to move all of our furniture twice and also to store it. During the last few weeks we were there they phoned us every day, sometimes more, to ask when we would leave. Since I have multiple serious illnesses and suffer from anxiety and this constant contact from Timothy Lea staff severely affected my health. We actually moved in to our new home before everything was ready because of this constant contact and as a result had no available hot water, cooker or other appliances for more than a week. This was also very damaging to my health.

At some earlier stage the fridge had broken. It would no longer stay cold enough, and the door of the freezer compartment was physically broken. We obtained verbal permission from Timothy Lea to discard the fridge and to use our own, and leave them to replace the fridge when we moved out. They had given us permission to throw out the fridge so you would think that it was worth nothing, right? Wrong. It was wired in permanently and we had been unable to remove it without getting an electrician in, so it was still there when we moved out. Timothy Lea charged us £30 from our deposit to repair the fridge.

When we moved out we had the carpet cleaned under the direction of my father, who was a professional carpet cleaner for many years. After we left the Landlord had the carpets cleaned again by another company and Timothy Lea charged us for this too. They claimed that we were obliged to pay a professional carpet cleaner to do the job even though my father WAS a professional carpet cleaner.

We disputed many charges to our deposit and several letters, emails and phone calls were exchanged. The dispute was characterised by staff at Timothy Lea obviously not reading what we said to them. Eventually we realised that the rules about the deposits meant that they had to return the undisputed part and so we arranged this with the intention of disputing the rest through the deposit dispute service used by Timothy Lea. Unfortunately a turn for the worse in my health meant that we were never able to finish the paperwork and so we believe that Timothy Lea still owe us one hundred and twenty pounds.


In the end I don’t know why people are treated so badly by rental agencies. I don’t know if it is a case of them being evil or more the fact that in their world of stable income, property ownership and landlords I think they just don’t have a clue about renting or poverty. It’s not that they wish anyone harm, it’s that tenants are so unimportant to them that they just don’t notice the harm that they do. And that hurts more than if they did wish us harm.

I will not voluntarily take this information down, although I offer Timothy Lea & Griffiths the right to reply with a statement here on this blog. Now that this is all out in the open, here is what I would like Timothy Lea & Griffiths to do:

  • Donate the remainder of the disputed part of our deposit to Evesham Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.
  • Return the fees paid by my sister and her husband.
  • Properly repair the step mentioned above before my sister or her husband are injured by it.
  • Give a written apology to my wife and I, my sisters and their husbands, my parents, and their landlords.

 


I have received a response and as promised here it is.

Dear Mr Sumpter

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the contents of your blog, our response is below.

In respect of your sisters’ experience unfortunately where the landlord has a last minute change of mind, as you point out in your blog, unfortunately instances like this are beyond our control. We do not know of any instance where a prospective tenant has been told that ‘would not let any other home to her’ in these circumstances.

In respect of the door entry phone, where we manage a block repairs are prioritised and completed when the management company authorises them to be done. For the purposes of understanding the delay we are sometimes in a position where we are aware of maintenance requirements but are restricted by the management company’s instructions to carry them out.

With regard to your comments in the delay when sending out a deposit where we are no longer instructed, in that instance the deposit was returned within 3 days of the end of the notice period on our contract.

In respect of your tenancy, perhaps you would like to contact the office as we consider this matter still open and are holding funds allocated to you in our client account on which we have sent correspondence.

In all, we understand that sometimes things happen in letting property that, whilst beyond our control, is still distressing for the persons who then have to find another home. We try to avoid these situations and accommodate tenants but it is not always possible, or clear as to why not, as we have to follow our landlords confidential instructions.

Kind Regards

Victoria Beasley
Practice Manager
Timothy Lea & Griffiths

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

2 thoughts on “The problems with rental agencies”

  1. Yes, Victoria, your agency DID tell my daughter that you would not be prepared under any circumstances to let her another property after her prospective landlord backed out 3 days before her wedding, and you did not return to her and her husband the money you charged for credit checks. Incidentally in the 3 properties they have rented since then they have been model tenants, and left their  apartments in a better condition than they found them.

  2. The private rented sector in the UK is an absolute and utter disgrace. It is a glowing example of what is completely and utter rotten about the essence of our capitalist system. Those will capital (the landlords) exploit those without capital (the tenants). Lettings agencies can demand near enough what they like from the tenants – due the necessity to be housed have no option of saying no (even if they can’t really afford to say yes) to anything demanded.

    Almost half of privately rented homes (44%) in England fail to meet the Government’s Decent Home Standard (*) and the Assured Shorthold Tenancy gives virtually no meaningful rights to tenants – so complain as much as you like about the damp, the mould, the boiler, etc etc, but every time you do you increase the risk of the landlord just deciding to choose to give you notice to move out – just because they feel like it. One or two months notice and you’re on the street, just because the landlord says so. No eviction criteria. Just because they feel like it. It is standard practice, too, for a tenant to not sign contracts until the day of moving in, so again, the cards are all with the landlord. The tenant has usually already paid deposit and first rent before this point, if they back out they may lose the lot. Again, landlord can do what they like.

    Much of the very-complained-about bulging benefits budget in this country is not in fact allowing the unemployed to watch sky tv and smoke 40 a day, it is lining the pockets of landlords across the land who are continually charging more and more in rent. Housing benefit benefits private landlords.

    I’d like to live in a world where second home ownership wasn’t permitted, residential property was either occupier owned or owned by a housing co-operative, where tenants are the controlling members of the society. All currently privately rented properties would be forcibly sold to these mutuals, who would pay for them over 30 years using rent receipts. Beyond this, we could live in a world with realistic housing costs. Unfortunately, humankind is too selfish to consider this as a feasible option, or at least the bit of humankind that makes all the decisions anyway, so short of a green party landslide next time around, this seems to be very unlikely to say the least, but I can dream. 🙂
      (*) Source:http://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns/housing_issues/Improving_private_renting  

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