How to complain about a letting agent
As the business of being a landlord becomes increasingly regulated and professionalised, letting agents too have upped their game. These days most of them are highly professional companies with experienced staff, codes of conduct and membership of industry bodies.
However, some companies are much better than others, and even with the best firms, things do still occasionally go wrong. If you’re unlucky enough for this to happen to you, there’s a process you can follow to try and get things sorted.
Talk to your individual agent directly
No-one sets out to do a bad job deliberately. Nine times out of ten, if your agent’s messed up it won’t be because of something they’ve done but rather something they’ve failed to do – whether that’s attending to a maintenance issue, marketing a flat that needs new tenants, or simply just answering their emails. Agents often deal with very large numbers of properties and they’re only human.
The first step is to contact the agent themselves calmly and respectfully. If all you want is to provoke them to action then a shot across the bows will often be enough. You don’t want to be ‘that’ difficult client but it’s also an unfortunate truth that you can sometimes get better service if people know you’ll nudge them when you don’t.
Put in an official complaint
On occasion, of course, the gentler approach may not work, or perhaps the damage is already done and you’re looking for them to make amends. Whatever the case, if your individual agent hasn’t been able to solve the complaint to your satisfaction, you should use the agency’s official complaints process.
Usually this will involve escalating your complaint to a manager or director. As this person will probably be unfamiliar with your specific situation, they’ll need time to review all the correspondence. There may be a two or three-week turnaround time for an official complaint to allow for this, but details of timescales should appear in the official complaints process.
Remember to be polite and not to exaggerate. Raise any relevant violations of the company’s own policies (eg, minimum response times), and be sure to double-check all your facts. If you make claims that aren’t true, however small, then whoever is investigating the complaint may focus on these to avoid admitting fault on other issues.
If you’re unhappy with the response you get, most firms will have a second stage to the process, where you can escalate your complaint to someone even more senior.
Go to the ombudsman
If you’ve exhausted a company’s own complaints procedure and still aren’t happy with the action they’ve taken, you can then go to the regulatory body.
Letting agents will be members of either The Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme. To use either of these schemes, you have to have complained directly to the agent first. You’ll need to demonstrate that they’ve either not resolved your complaint satisfactorily (by showing their ‘final viewpoint letter’) or that they haven’t processed the complaint within eight weeks of you making it.
The regulatory bodies can make a judgement on the complaint and order the agent to pay you compensation if they deem it appropriate. These decisions can be enforced through the courts if an agent doesn’t comply with them, and it’s likely that non-compliance will also result in the agent being expelled from the scheme and reported to Trading Standards.
Fight battles you can win
Complaining about an agent can be a lengthy and time-consuming process, so it’s important to make sure that the end result is worth the effort. For example, if you’ve been left demonstrably out of pocket by your agent’s actions and you’re looking for compensation, then that is an outcome worth chasing. If, however, you’re trying to get the agent to change their policies or ways of working, it may be better just to end the relationship as soon as you’re able and to hire a better agent.
Often a complaint will be the result of a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment. However, if you do decide to file an official complaint, it can be counter-productive to start dredging up every misdemeanour that’s taken place over the years. Remember that a simple apology is rarely worth the effort of putting in an official complaint – if you’re going to go through the process then you need to have something to gain from the outcome, and adding in more and more complaints on top of the main issue will only obscure it.
Give positive feedback too
A good working relationship with your agent can make both of your lives a whole lot easier – but that’s much harder to achieve if your feedback is always negative. It’s fair enough to complain when an agent gets things wrong, but it’s also important to let them know when they do a good job. In many cases they’re working very hard on your behalf.