This article first appeared in the Manchester Evening News on 25th October
An eight month inquiry carried out by Manchester council heard ‘common themes’ of excessive fees, deposits failing to be repaid and repairs not being done.
A town hall housing taskforce is launching a crackdown on dodgy landlords and letting and managing agents – and calling for letting fees to be scrapped.
Manchester City Council carried out an eight-month inquiry into how private tenants are treated.
While it says the majority of landlords and agents provide a good services, it also heard of ‘very poor practice’, including ‘excessive fees, disrepair and retaliatory evictions’.
The panel heard ‘common themes’ of letting fees being excessive and opaque, deposits not being repaid and repair work not carried out, according to its report.
Residents described a ‘lengthy and frustrating’ experience dealing with management agents when things broke in their flat or home.
As a result the panel wants a new tenant’s charter to make clear exactly what landlords and agents in Manchester would be expected to do – while a list of letting and managing agents who are members of nationally accredited bodies would be published on the council website.
It also plans to lobby government for letting fees to be scrapped altogether – and to be made more transparent in the meantime.
And it will ask trading standards officers to crackdown more ‘proactively’ on dodgy letting agents.
City centre councillor Kevin Peel, who set up the inquiry, said:
"This report is the culmination of months of detailed work, listening both to residents and leading figures from the industry.
"Our recommendations reflect what we have the power and resources to do locally – such as producing a new ‘tenants charter’ outlining the rights and responsibilities of landlords, tenants and letting and managing agents and a new regime of trading standards visits to ensure letting agents are providing accurate and transparent information about fees – but it’s clear that in order to deliver real change we need new legislation and new powers and resources from national government.
"That is why we will be writing to all 3 party leaders calling for a commitment to regulation of letting and managing agents – supported by many in the industry – as well as funding to provide support to leaseholders experiencing difficulties with managing agents.
"We will also be calling for letting fees for tenants to be scrapped, which can currently be as high as £600 every time you move house."
A challenge to dodgy landlords
Part of the council’s proposed crackdown is more support for people wanting to challenge dodgy landlords and agents.
Martijn de Roo, who lives in Granby House on Princess Street, clubbed together with more than 30 other tenants to do just that.
It took a year and a half – but earlier this month a tribunal ordered management company Guinness Northern Counties to pay back thousands of pounds in fees dating back to 2007.
"There’s been leaks, there’s been cleaning issues, problems with the way the building has been maintained, as well as areas in which we felt our money wasn’t being spent wisely by the management company.
"At the end of the day, they were challenged and they lost."
The council’s taskforce is calling for more government funding for those wanting to use the process, known as a first-tier property tribunal. It also wants that system made much simpler.
"They say it’s a really easy, this process, but it’s very daunting. I would like a more simplified process. There also needs to be more mediation.
"But I recommend anybody to do it."
Give flat owners a say in building management
One Manchester managing agent has welcomed the town hall’s proposals.
Lee Burkitt, managing director of Revolution Property Management, said he was particularly keen on its call for property developers to set up ‘resident management companies’ as part of the terms of their planning permission.
This would mean that anyone owning a flat in the building would have a say over who manages it.
He also welcomed tighter regulation. But he said the problem is not so much fraudulent agencies – just badly run ones.
"In eight years, I have never come across a rogue agent, but I’ve come across really badly-organised management companies," he said.
"Some older companies have struggled to get their heads around the fact that they have to talk to people. They haven’t grasped that if someone gives you £2,000, you have to actually speak them.
"I’ve never come across any managing agent that has been willfully deceitful to get money – but I’ve come across a lot that have taken money incorrectly, because they haven’t understood what they are doing or haven’t paid enough attention to what they are doing."
If you’re experiencing problems with managing agents and want to find out more information about the process to challenge bad service and high fees, please contact your councillors.