Can a conman be conned? It would appear so in the world of residential lettings. Actor, Nigel Havers, ironically played a ‘conman’ on popular TV soap Coronation Street whilst he was the victim of a rogue letting agent that vanished without trace.
Haver’s publically spoke about his ordeal on a recent Watchdog programme regarding a Manchester based agent who absconded with a large amount of the public’s money.
Haver’s was a victim of Manchester based ‘Medlock Apartments’ owned by brothers Umer and Adnan Ali. Havers paid six month’s rent in advance to the company along with a deposit. Under recent rulings it was given that rent in advance does not require custodial protection, unlike damage deposits.
Five months into his tenancy he had to leave because he was told the apartment was being sold. He then found he was unable to get a refund for the final month’s rent of £1,300. “Just like my money, Medlock Apartments had vanished” Haver’s had to say.
Although Haver’s has successfully taken the case through the courts, he is still out of pocket and has been unable to contact either of the offending brothers. It is claimed that one has fled to America with a large amount of the public’s money, Haver’s was not the only victim – nor is this the only case of its type.
The outcome of the program is that the public now feel that the lettings industry is heavily unregulated, something acknowledged by local letting agent owner William Taylor. Owner of Martin & Co Huddersfield, William had the following to add “whilst we take every step to regulate ourselves, I genuinely wish there was a legislative code of conduct to follow. We are not even forced to be part of an Ombudsman Scheme, that is purely optional. All of our staff are highly trained and our business processes are intended to provide clarity to all and protect each person involved. We are part of a custodial deposit scheme, part of the ombudsman, have a clear complaints procedure, have client money bank accounts and have client money protection in place. These are all basic things that could be brought in as standard practice in the industry and assure tenants and landlords alike that the industry is not full of rogues. I see no reason at all not to operate a lettings business like this, unless of course you intend to steal client monies.”
A step in the right direction has been made under a new regime promoted by Baroness Hayter and has seen cross party support, although the scheme is completely voluntary. The ARMA-Q regime contains a number of measures specifically designed to protect leaseholders and drive up standards of residential leasehold management.
Most significant is the immediate introduction of independent scrutiny of ARMA agents by a regulatory panel led by a former Labour housing minister, Keith Hill. Hill will be supported by nine lay members, and it will be the first time that managing agents have been subject to such regulation.
Further measures will be introduced from 2015, when ARMA members will also be required to sign up to a consumer charter and professional standards committing them to providing a high level of customer service.
Baroness Hayter, whose bid to get all residential letting agents, including managing agents, regulated by law, recently failed to get through Parliament, said: “There is broad consensus that residential leasehold is an area in which it is important to protect and educate consumers, and raising professional standards is absolutely essential to that process.
“ARMA-Q will play an important role in achieving that. It rests on comprehensive and unambiguous professional standards backed by independent scrutiny.”