I enlisted an Estate Agency (one of the big expensive international ones) to help me find tenants for a property I have to rent out as I can’t afford to live there myself!
Initially I was looking to pay for a Management service, but they were too expensive, so I negotiated a drop in the fees(8% plus VAT now), and for the agreement to be just a letting agreement. I signed the terms and conditions, however realised I got nothing for this letting agreement, and every service was at an additional cost, ie preparation of the contract was £160 plus VAT, etc. so I crossed out some of these services, in fact all of them under the heading Letting Services, and told them I would do everything myself instead, including check in, collecting rent, registering the deposit under the TDS and preparing the inventory.
Subsequently, I said I just wanted to pay them for the fact they had found a tenant, and thought that was agreed, as I did and do all the things listed above.
It is 10 months later and I have heard from the agency that I will owe them renewal fees if I renew the tenants agreement or if it rolls onto a periodic.
I have argued I owe them nothing as the agreement was purely for finding the tenants, and for which I paid them upfront 10 months ago, the 8% plus Vat.
They not only deny that they ever agreed that my fee was a finders fee only, but that as I signed the terms and conditions, and crossed out some, that I knew full well that the renewal fees would be due.
I of course do not have anything in writing, re the finders fee, and they deny us agreeing this on the phone, and am being held to the terms and conditions. However, how relevant are these things:
- the agent did not sign the terms and conditions themselves
- the agent did not return to me a fully executed agreement between us, as per a clause in the Code of Conduct laid down by the TPO that the agent says they are bound by
- there was no option to ‘buy’ my tenants from them
- there was no clause to limit the renewal fees to just two renewals and given the fee is £3,024 per year this could mean a hideous amount of money if the tenants stay for years, as I hope they will. Surely the Foxtons ruling made this unfair?
- I did not specifically agree to this renewal fee as per the TPO clause 3j in their Code of Conduct, which the agent say they are bound by
- there was no ability to terminate this agreement unless I do not renew the agreement with my tenants (the tenancy agreement is between me and my tenants by the way)
- the renewal fees were not actively flagged to me, but the agency says because I crossed out various things in the terms and conditions, and signed it, that I must have read them and agreed to them, which not only means, according to them that I specifically (see above ref to 3j of the code of practise) agreed to them, but also that I knew about them clearly.
I have tried to negotiate/discuss with them that this has come out of the blue, and that given I heard nothing from them, received no contract copy with their signature etc, that I assumed, after our discussions on the phone last year too, that indeed our business between them and me was concluded, but they are having none of it.
Have I got a case to proceed to court? I have so little spare money that I can’t afford a lawyer unless I have a strong enough case… And really don’t know!
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