The Property Ombudsman has taken further action against an expelled letting agent after it received seven additional complaints from landlords which resulted in awards totalling £20,566.
None of the money has been paid.
Earlier money ordered to be paid may also not have been handed over to landlords and tenants.
The case highlights how effective – or how toothless – regulation of the lettings sector is.
Premier Property Management, based in Truro, was originally expelled by TPO last November after a landlord alleged the firm had failed to pass on rental payments and delayed handing over deposits.
Despite its expulsion last November – which should have meant it was no longer legally able to trade – Premier Property Management was apparently still in business in February this year, when it was the focus of a BBC investigation.
Last November, PPM was excluded from TPO for two years but yesterday it was announced that the expulsion has now been extended by four years after more cases came to light.
TPO points out, as it did last November, that this means the agent can no longer legally trade. However, it appears that PPM is no longer trading and the website is no longer active.
While the business has been banned there is apparently nothing to stop the owner, Elizabeth Ann Treneer, from working in the industry.
A ‘blacklist’ of banned individuals in the lettings industry is due to be implemented this autumn. However, employers and the general public will have no access to this list, which will only be made available to local councils and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
It will therefore not be easy to ascertain who is or is not on it.
In February this year, a BBC South West Inside Out programme investigated PPM.
It alleged that over £35,000 was owed to landlords and tenants.
Treneer told the BBC that the money was safe in a ring-fenced account and would be returned.
However, the BBC said that by the time it screened its investigation, the money had still not been returned.
The programme featured interviews with a tenant about her attempts to get back a £775 deposit, and a landlord who was owed £4,200 even though the Property Ombudsman had ruled in his favour.
Treneer was a member of ARLA but was suspended in 2014 after she failed to produce the necessary documents for auditing purposes. However, she continued to show the ARLA logo until last year.
She also continued to be a member of APIP, now ARLA Inventories, but her membership was suspended following the BBC investigation, and an inquiry was opened.
The matter is also under investigation by Cornish Trading Standards. Yesterday a spokesperson told EYE: “The investigation is still ongoing and so we are unable to make any further comment at this time.”
Property ombudsman Katrine Sporle said yesterday: “This agent’s behaviour fell well below the standards expected and their systematic failure to pass on rental payments and deposits received has affected the lives of several landlords.”
TPO said the agent’s emails often offered unacceptable reasons for the delays in payments and made repeated assurances that rent had been transferred, yet some payments were then rescinded.
A similar pattern occurred with deposits where the firm would promise to act or would claim a deposit had been paid or transferred.
One landlord claimed they visited the agent’s office and were shown ‘evidence’ of a payment having left their bank account but this never materialised in the complainant’s own account.
The Ombudsman found the agent had made false promises on many occasions and had failed to correspond with the complainants during certain periods.
The agent also failed to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s investigation into the complaints.
Gerry Fitzjohn, chairman of TPO’s Board, said: “While it is believed that the firm is no longer trading, we have taken action to ensure the firm’s expulsion is extended so they are unable to trade if they attempt to register with any redress scheme.”
EYE yesterday asked TPO how a firm it expelled in November was apparently still trading months later; and to comment on whether the ban was on the firm, rather than an individual.
Deputy Ombudsman Jane Erskine confirmed: “It is Premier Property Management (PPM) who is a member and hence the agent who has been expelled from membership of TPO.
“An agreement between the three Government-approved redress schemes means this agent will not be able to register for any form of redress until all awards are paid. Expelling an agent also affects a decision to allow any other agent with the same director or partner to join TPO in the future. Redress registration is required for an agent to trade legally.
“As a consumer redress scheme, we cannot regulate the industry.
“When an agent is expelled by TPO, we notify Trading Standards as they are the regulatory body who are able to take enforcement action to stop an agent trading illegally. Trading Standards were notified of the expulsion in November 2016.
“As Premier Property Management failed to abide by the Ombudsman’s decision in other cases (that had been referred to TPO prior to November 2016), these further case were referred to the Disciplinary and Standards Committee, who increased the expulsion period. TPO understands that PPM is no longer trading and the website is no longer active.”
EYE points out that there are a number of other firms with similar names, but these are totally unrelated to this case.