London

Estate agents 'flouting tenant laws' BBC investigation finds

Some estate agents are prepared to flout critical laws that are designed to protect tenants from abuse, a BBC London investigation has found.

One rental manager was secretly filmed explaining he could harass problematic tenants by changing locks, calling them all day and lying to the police that they were running a brothel.

The housing charity Shelter and the National Association of Estate Agents have condemned the "shocking" practices uncovered by the undercover investigation and are calling for tougher regulation.

Under the Housing Act of 2004, which applies to England and Wales, the majority of deposits on a rental property must be protected in one of three official schemes.

The law tackles abuse of tenants' rental deposits by unscrupulous operators.

It also facilitates independent mediation by a third party over disputes such as cleaning costs and damage, at the end of a tenancy.

Surge in complaints

The BBC has spoken to numerous tenants suffering problems with agents and landlords over deposits, and Shelter has revealed a surge in complaints in the capital in the past year.

Several letting agents spoken to by a reporter in the Edgware Road area, posing as a landlord, revealed they were prepared, in theory, to break the law.

Image caption Letting agents had been secretly filmed

"We don't have to do this," said one agent who was secretly filmed.

"There are ways not to do that - depends on the tenant," said another.

"The tenant, he doesn't want his deposit to be with the government scheme. Nobody wants that."

Another agent revealed he had to register the deposit but advised the reporter posing as a landlord to break the law.

"I am telling you face to face - don't bother to do that scheme. Ninety per cent of landlords they don't do it.

"Just keep quiet about it, you're wasting money."

A reputable letting agent, the owner of Maida Vale properties Lucia Humphries told the BBC: "I feel upset, it gives the rest of us a bad name and I've been in the industry for 30 years.

"The law says you have to protect the deposit, it's what you have to do."

'Crying a lot'

BBC London discovered tenants often suffered more serious problems when the landlord or agent broke the law on deposits.

One woman from north London, who is in the middle of a deposit dispute and does not want to be named, said her letting agent had harassed her.

"At present, I have no accommodation.

"I was evicted from the property. I was crying a lot, I had sleepless nights."

One lettings rental manager from Eurogulf, who was secretly recorded about deposits, outlined methods of harassment he can use to deal with problematic tenants who do not pay the rent.

"I just like turn their lives like hell," he said.

"We call them every five minutes, we send some people to knock on the door. We change sometimes the locks. To make them just hate the life here.

"Reports to the police, they run for business, just like prostitutes and stuff. Then the police come."

Campbell Robb, from Shelter, said: "We're seeing more and more problems emerge and we're seeing the emergence of some rogue landlords, and we've got to see the government take tougher action."

Peter Bolton King, chief executive of both the National Association of Estate Agents and the Association of Residential Letting Agents, said: "What this investigation has uncovered is really quite shocking - the concern is the tenant is being left open to total abuse.

"It's horrifying some of the things we've seen."

Four of the agents who were secretly recorded located in west London: Eurogulf, Ameen Lettings, Delta Lettings and In House Lettings, did not explain when approached why they said they were prepared to break the law on deposits.

Sara Estates did not respond to explain why they had been encouraging landlords to break the law on deposits.

Eurogulf failed to respond to the BBC's approaches to explain why they said they could harass problematic tenants.

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