Landlords and letting agents can blur into one sometimes and it can be difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. In fact, they are always two completely separate beings and it’s a good idea to understand who is responsible for what in relation to your renting experience.
Your contract is with the landlord
Even if the agent is the only person that you deal with, your contract will always be with the landlord. Look in your tenancy agreement and you will see that the name is the landlord’s. There should also be an address for the landlord in the contract, should you ever need to contact the landlord directly. The agent is ‘an agent’ of the landlord i.e. they are working on the landlord’s behalf, representing the landlord, but they never become the landlord in terms of responsibilities.
The agent is not working for you
The way that this relationship works is that you are paying the landlord for a service (living in their property). In turn, the landlord is paying the agent for a service (this could be either managing the property for them or just finding tenants and dealing with the process of move in and move out). At no time is there any official relationship, legal or otherwise, formed between you and the agent. That is worth remembering because in any conversation you have with an agent their loyalties will normally always lie with the person paying their bills (the landlord).
What are the main responsibilities of the agent?
It depends on the contract that the agent has with the landlord. When you first view a property it is always worth asking whether that property is ‘managed.’ That means that, if there is an issue, the agent will be your first port of call as they are managing the property on behalf of the landlord. In general, agents tend to have more experience and be more accountable than private landlords so it is often worth choosing a managed property. If your property is managed then you can contact the agent about any issues that you have including a broken boiler, keys that don’t work in doors, kitchen fixtures that don’t function, any dangerous looking wiring. Agents should behave professionally and responsibly, for example passing on clear communication between landlords and tenants, responding quickly and being honest and up front about costs and consequences.
What about the landlord?
All the main responsibilities remain with the landlord. So, for example, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to protect your deposit and even if they have employed the agent to do that on their behalf and the agent fails to do it, the landlord is still the person that you can make a claim against (the landlord can then make a claim against the agent if that happens but you can’t). All the legal requirements for structural repairs, providing running water, keeping tenants safe can never shift from the landlord. All that happens with an agent is the landlord tasks them to do certain things on their behalf – but it’s still up to the landlord to make sure they are done.
So, what happens if things go wrong?
Agents have a tendency to try to protect landlords because, if a landlord gets sued/pursued by tenants, then the landlord will inevitably do the same to the agent. So, be wary of agents who say they can’t pass certain messages on to a landlord or they can’t put you in direct contact. In fact, agents are just the middlemen and they should not be obstructive. As a consumer, you can make a complaint about the professional service of a letting agent by contacting one of the professional bodies for letting agents – if that agency is a member. These include the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the Property Ombudsman.
Common letting agent misdirection
Letting agents – whether by intention or not – do sometimes misdirect tenants when it comes to their own legal rights. Here are a few of the most common instances.
“You can’t have contact details for the landlord, all communication has to go through me.” Tenants have a legal right to know the identity of their landlord and to have their address. Section 1 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 allows you to request this from the agent, who must provide it within 21 days.
“Below is a list of deductions that will be made from your deposit.” Actually, deposit money remains the property of a tenant so neither the agent or the landlord can deduct anything unless you agree. Of course, agents will never mention that. If you don’t agree with deductions then offer an alternative figure and/or raise a dispute with the deposit protection scheme that has held your deposit and let the landlord prove their right to deduct a certain amount.
“You don’t have a right to stop paying rent because the boiler is broken.” It’s true that you need to keep paying your rent but it’s normal for landlords to offer a rent reduction for the period in which your boiler wasn’t working. It’s part of what you’re paying for after all.
“You must move out or we will send someone around to remove you.” If you’ve been given proper, legal notice then you are required to leave the property. However, only the courts can send bailiffs. If an agent or landlord was to remove you personally that would be an illegal eviction.
“We are sending someone today to do a maintenance check.” The agent or the landlord must always give you 24 hours notice before they – or anyone working for them – enters the building. They must also have your consent, which you can refuse to provide if it’s not convenient. Agents have a tendency to state that something must happen to their schedule but, actually, if they send someone around without notice and without your consent then they are the ones in the wrong. You can refuse your consent but if it’s a visit that the tenancy requires (repairs, maintenance etc) then you need to provide an alternative date and time that’s more convenient to you.