Landlords and tenants who say they have been defrauded by a rogue letting agent have hit out at one of the government-authorised redress schemes.
They said the Property Redress Scheme was “useless” when it came to protecting them in their dealings with Carter Stones, and that after expelling the agent, the scheme left them “high and dry” with nowhere to go.
The agency, of Ilford, Essex, was yesterday featured in the BBC radio programme You and Yours. The same agency has also featured on EYE.
You and Yours said several landlords had contacted it, complaining about unpaid rent, or legal documentation, and claiming multiple people are living in the properties without any right to be there.
Landlord Doni Soeyono bought a small two-bedroom terrace house 18 months ago as a rental investment.
He signed up with Carter Stones which promised him that a couple would rent the house for about £1,300 a month.
But the couple Carter Stones claimed were renting the property did not live there.
Instead up to eight other people were in residence. Mr Soeyono has not received any rent for six months.
He managed to get inside the house last autumn and took pictures showing the sitting room with several beds.
When a BBC reporter went to the property with Mr Soeyono, they were shouted at by two women who told them to go away.
Mr Soeyono said he had seen one of the women a number of times and believes she lives in the property, helping to operate a sub-letting ring involving about 16 people.
Another landlord, Teresa, whose family have owned a two-bedroom terrace home in Ilford for over 30 years, signed a management agreement with Carter Stones and was assured that a couple would be living in her house.
“Alarm bells rang when the council contacted me to ask who was responsible for the council tax at the house,” Teresa said.
“They said many people were living in the house, but not the couple on the tenancy agreement.”
Teresa says the people seen coming out of Mr Soeyono’s house are also organising the sub-letting not only of her house but also her garage.
She said: “Carter Stones declined all responsibility for this. They were not transferring me the rent and I couldn’t get any sense out of them, even after telephoning them on a daily basis.”
The You and Yours reporter said: “I tried to talk to Carter Stones, but while I could see two people in their office, each time I knocked they hid behind the door.
“Since 2014 it has been a legal requirement for letting agents to be a member of one of three government-approved dispute resolution schemes: the Property Redress Scheme, the Property Ombudsman or the Ombudsman Service.
“The Property Redress scheme costs £200 to join. It is run by the insurance company Hamilton Frazer, and unlike the two other organisations, it is run for profit.”
Last year the PRS upheld four complaints against Carter Stones but the company failed to pay compensation of £15,406, and last September its expulsion by the PRS was announced.
While this expulsion made it illegal for the firm to continue trading, Carter Stones stayed in business.
In November, Shakeel Ahmed paid £2,350 as a deposit to secure a flat to rent.
Even though the flat fell through, Carter Stones kept his money.
When the landlords and prospective tenants complained to the PRS, they were told that as Carter Stones had been expelled from the scheme, nothing could be done.
Mr Soeyono said: “The PRS is pretty much useless.
“When things go wrong, they simply expel the agent and cast its customers adrift.”
Teresa said: “The PRS is not effective at all, absolutely not in the case of a rogue agent. They’re just using the scheme for their benefit.”
The PRS was also criticised for having no code of conduct, and for not publishing on its website a list of companies that have been expelled.
Paul Shamplina, who is on the PRS advisory council, said that none of the redress schemes are regulators, but are “escalated complaint-handling schemes put in place to prevent service related complaints from having to be issued in the court by consumers.
“This allows them access to a much quicker and cost-effective remedy to resolve matters with property agents.”
He told the programme that following expulsion from a redress scheme, “the bigger picture is the lack of enforcement”.
We have invited the PRS to comment further.