Fire safety complaint

Topic: Transparency and communication – balcony replacement and fire safety
Resolution requested: The member to share all fire and safety reports
Award: £200 Compensation
Resolved by: Early resolution
The complainant said that:
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  • Over the last two years, the leaseholders have repeatedly asked the agent to share any reports relating to fire safety, but this has not happened
  • The agent is demanding all leaseholders replace their wooden balconies as this is a fire hazard, but the member has not provided any supporting evidence from a fire report
  • The balconies should not be replaced without transparency of a report to support the work needed and the costs being reasonable
  • When they finally did receive the interim report there were additional questions which were sent to the agent but there has since been no response
  • All leaseholders are dealing with high levels of anxiety and stress
The member responded, saying:
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  • They also only have a copy of an interim fire report as the final fire report has been delayed, which is outside their control
  • It is highly likely that all the wooden balconies will need to be replaced as they are inflammable and untreated which is now a legal requirement
  • They have offered all leaseholders an estimate of how much the work will cost
  • The local authority and the fire brigade have agreed with their approach to getting this work done
  • They believed they were acting correctly in their approach to complying with their legal responsibilities
What evidence was provided?
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  • Letters
  • Email correspondence
  • The London Fire Brigade interim report
What was decided and why?
The agent to provide the report
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  • It was clear from the evidence that the agent had informed the leaseholders that a fire consultant was carrying out a full review of the building 16 months before they raised their complaint
  • While the agent did email all leaseholders the following month, it was to say that while the report was still pending, the advice was that the building required additional fire prevention and they were getting estimates
  • It was another 12 months, and many email requests from individual leaseholders later before the agent confirmed the report was still outstanding, re-iterating the likelihood that the balconies would need replacing
  • Leaseholders were then advised to follow a link to the interim report which did not work, however those that had requested copies were eventually sent one
  • In the final communication before raising this complaint, the leaseholders were informed that the balconies were at the end of their life however, there was still no supporting evidence of the fire safety concerns to confirm the work was necessary
  • Before any work is started, leaseholders are entitled to clear and transparent evidence which justifies the expenses charged
  • The agent was directed to share the final copy of the fire report when it becomes available to all leaseholders who have asked for a copy
There was a lack of communication and delay
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While it was appreciated that the agent had no control on the final report being produced, there was a poor level of service and communication to the leaseholders over a considerable length of time. There were some questions which the agent could have responded to, which are still outstanding resulting in an additional award of £200.

How can you avoid this happening in future?
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  • You must wait until all fire surveys are complete and have been shared with leaseholders before you make recommendations in relation to fire safety and any work required
  • Communicate and keep leaseholders updated on any delays in what is reasonably being requested
  • Estimates on costs should be clear and transparent and communicated to all affected leaseholders
  • Offer an estimated timeline to manage expectations and reduce frustration relating to any part of the process – i.e. final report, estimates, work starting and expected end date
  • Access to the property will depend on the terms of the lease

Misleading information complaint

Topic: Sourcing fees and misleading information
Resolution requested: The member to
Award: Refund the £9,600 fee
Resolved by: Proposed decision
The complainant said that:
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  • Their offer to purchase a rent-to-rent investment property was accepted by the seller
  • They paid the agent a sourcing fee of £9,600 on the basis that the property was fully furnished and in reasonable condition
  • It transpired that the property required a minimum of £15,000 worth of refurbishments and there was only a minimal amount of furniture
  • They made the agent aware of the issues in the property after the management company had carried out their inspection
  • When the complainant chased the agent for a response, they were told that the landlord of the property was happy to cancel the agreement based on the incorrect details
  • The complainant then requested a refund of the sourcing fee
The member responded, saying:
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  • After the fee was paid by the complainant, they provided the terms and conditions showing that the fee was non-refundable
  • The agent did offer to refund £3,600 of the sourcing fee to the complainant and would continue to search for a new property for them
What evidence was provided?
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  • Correspondence
  • Lease agreement
  • Deal sourcing terms and conditions
  • Bank statements
  • Photographs
What was decided and why?
The agent to refund the sourcing fee
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  • The sourcing terms and conditions said that the complainant would:
    - Pay a fixed price in return for receiving details of potential property investment opportunities
    - Pay the sourcing fee upfront, which was non-refundable
  • It appeared, on balance, that the terms and conditions were provided to the complainant after they paid the sourcing fee. Additionally, the instruction form provided before the sourcing fee was paid made no reference to the fee being non-refundable and while the fee was quoted on an area of the website as being non-refundable, it was not prominent
  • The terms and conditions did not confirm what happened to the sourcing fee if the agent was responsible for breaching the contract or say, in what circumstances, the sourcing fee might be refundable
  • The agent advertised the property using details such as “furnished to a luxurious standard” and “Gorgeous five bed detached property” and “FULLY FURNISHED – INCLUDING HOT TUB!” which were found to be misleading as:
    - It later turned out that the property required refurbishment work
    - The property was not fully “furnished to a luxurious standard”
  • These were important factors which affected the complainant’s ability to make an informed transactional decision, as the agent had not provided all the correct material information
  • Additionally, any transaction that does not have a cancellation process is fundamentally unfair and unenforceable
  • The agent completed the initial part of their service, by finding a property, negotiating the agreed price and then drafting documents. However, both parties mutually agreed to end their agreement as the landlord accepted that the property was not being provided as advertised by the agent
  • The agent is wholly responsible for what they advertise and must make sure the material information they are provided with by their client is correct. They should ask reasonable questions if they are unsure, such as what furniture was to be included in the sale otherwise, "fully furnished" and "luxurious" are misleading terms in their advertising
  • While the agent told the complainant the fee could be transferred to another property, this would have meant the customer was committing to a project and not a specific property, with no option to pull out of the contract if the client chose not to proceed. This was found to be unfair
  • The case officer found it unreasonable and unfair for the agent to retain the sourcing fee, considering it was paid on condition that the property was furnished and in good condition
How can you avoid this happening in future?
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  • When advertising a property or providing other material information to interested parties, any fees must be clear, accurate, not misleading or omit any material information
  • Agents must understand that prospective clients will rely solely on the information they provide so must carry out due diligence to make sure it is accurate
  • A client must clearly be told the fees they are expected to pay, the circumstances which may make it refundable and the circumstances where it is not refundable
  • Taking a fee and saying that it is non-refundable is not allowed
  • A consumer contract with no cancellation process is fundamentally unfair and unenforceable