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Landlords and letting agents – what’s the difference?

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last updated: 13 Jun 2016 report a problem

landlords and letting agents whats the difference

Some HMO landlords choose to use agents to manage their properties, or they may simply go through an agent to find tenants. This can cause some confusion for tenants about who to turn to in situations relating to the renting experience.

Find out whether the property is managed

The answer to this question will tell you who it is that you will be dealing with during the tenancy itself. If the landlord is using agents to manage the property then they will be your first port of call to deal with everything from reporting repairs to tenancy renewals. If you find that your agent is being problematic then you still have a right to go straight to the landlord, to let them know what the agent is doing and to ask them to step in and handle a situation. Some agents will tell you that you are not allowed to contact the landlord directly – this is not true. There’s nothing to stop you doing this in the tenancy agreement and, in fact, the law requires that tenants know who their landlord is and have a way of contacting them.

The agent works for the landlord, not you

Always remember this – everything that agents say to tenants comes from the point of view of preserving the agent’s relationship with the landlord. The landlord is the person paying the agent, not the tenant, and so agents will always have the landlord’s best interests at heart. There is no legal relationship between tenants and agents, as there is no contract.

The landlord is where the legal responsibilities lie

The concept of landlord and agent simply means that the landlord pays the agent to act on their behalf. Their agreement will require the agent to make sure the landlord’s legal responsibilities to tenants are fulfilled. However, the legal liability never shifts from the landlord – if the deposit isn’t protected by the agent, for example, it’s still the landlord who can be sued (the landlord may then go on and sue the agent under their own contract for any losses). Look at your tenancy agreement and you should have the name and contact details for the landlord. You have a legal right to request contact details for the landlord and the agent must provide these within 21 days.

What are the landlord’s main responsibilities?

There are certain responsibilities that a landlord has by law and these cannot be lifted, not even by a tenancy agreement that has been signed by all parties. These include:

  • Protecting your deposit
  • Not harassing you
  • Allowing you quiet enjoyment of the property
  • Repairs such as the roof, chimneys, walls, guttering and drains, as well as fixtures supplying water, gas and electricity.
  • Meeting safety requirements – for example ensuring that furniture meets fire safety standards and carrying out an annual Gas Safety Check. Landlords must also now supply carbon monoxide detectors and fire alarms.
  • Ensuring that the proper notice process is followed when you’re asked to leave. 

HMO landlords have additional responsibilities relating to fire and general safety, water supply and drainage, gas and electricity, waste disposal, and general upkeep of the HMO. These are focused on ensuring that the property is suitable for a larger number of people.

When things go wrong

If you are living in a property that is being managed by an agent then speak to them first. It’s generally a good idea to put everything in writing. Although agents don’t have a direct legal relationship with tenants they will still need to behave professionally, to pass on communication promptly and not to be obstructive. As mentioned above, agents should not try to avoid passing on messages or telling you they can’t give you landlord details. If you want to take action or make a complaint against an agent then this usually means first complaining to the landlord, then to the agency itself and then to any of the professional bodies the agent is a member of (such as ARLA or the Property Ombudsman).

Things that agents often say…

Some agents intentionally mislead tenants to protect their own interests, others simply don’t realise that they are doing it. Either way, it’s a good idea to be aware of the most common statements agents make that aren’t entirely true.

We will be arriving on [date] to do a property inspection. This is non-negotiable. The landlord’s (and so the agent’s) right of entry comes with the condition of giving at least 24 hours notice and obtaining the tenant’s consent. So this statement is misleading. You can tell the agent (in writing) that you don’t consent to the visit taking place at the time they want to do it and suggest a time that better works for you. That will probably annoy the agent and they will attempt to insist. However, the reality is that if they enter the property without your consent then they could be opening the landlord up to a claim for trespass and possibly putting the landlord in breach of the tenancy agreement.

I’m sorry, I can’t give you the landlord’s name and address.

Section 1 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 allows you to request the address and identity of the landlord from the agent, who must provide it within 21 days.

You must pay full rent even though the boiler doesn’t work. This is true to the extent that if you stop paying your rent, or you withhold some of it, that will put you in breach of your tenancy agreement and the landlord can start the process of removing you. However, not repairing the boiler puts the landlord in breach of their repair requirements in the tenancy (and in law), so most landlords will offer a rent reduction to account for this.

You can’t dispute deposit deductions. You can dispute deposit deductions – the deposit remains your money until the landlord proves a right to make a deduction and you agree to that deduction. If you’re not happy with a suggested deduction then raise a dispute with the deposit protection scheme holding your deposit and the landlord will then have to prove the right to any of your money.

If you don’t leave we will remove you. If you don’t leave a property after notice has been given then you can be removed – but not by the agent or the landlord. Only court appointed bailiffs can touch your possessions, anything else will be an illegal eviction.

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