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The Property Ombudsman issues letting agents with new guidance about property inspections

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - The Property Ombudsman

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme has issued new guidance for their members about the need to obtain express consent from a tenant before accessing a property.

TPO has issued the new guidance in response to a number of queries from agents about the changes made to paragraph 8f of the updated TPO Lettings Code of Practice, which came into force on 1 October 2016 (read here). The issue was also highlighted in a guest blog published on the London Property Licensing website last week (read here).  

The amended section of the TPO Code of Practice (Access to Premises) states:

Access to a property may be required by you, or an authorised third party on behalf of the landlord (e.g. a surveyor, builder, tradesman etc) for the purpose of viewing the condition, state of repair and/or to fulfil related statutory obligations and/or to carry out repairs. If you hold the key but are not able to accompany that person, the tenant must be given the appropriate minimum notice of 24 hours or that prescribed by law, of the appointment (unless agreed otherwise with the tenant beforehand), except in cases of genuine emergency. Notwithstanding providing the tenant with reasonable notice to access a property, express consent from the tenant to do so should be obtained.

The TPO say that some agents have misinterpreted this section and think that express consent must be obtained before any inspections can be carried out. TPO say this is incorrect.

So what does this mean in practice? According to TPO, an agent must provide written confirmation of their request to access the property to the tenant. Within that written request, the tenant must be asked for their confirmation of whether or not access is acceptable. The request must be issued in good time to allow the tenant a reasonable period of time to respond – the minimum period being 24 hours.

In reality, it is often the case that a tenant will not respond to an access request and in those circumstances, provided the tenant has been provided with the opportunity to respond, TPO say that the agent is entitled to make the assumption that access is permitted.

However, TPO reiterate that the tenant must be given the opportunity to refuse access, if they so wish. They say that express consent should, rather than must be obtained.

According to TPO, the change was made to the TPO Lettings Code following a number of cases whereby agents were giving tenants the minimum 24 hours’ notice, often sent by text, before entering the property (sometimes to the surprise of the tenant). Whilst still legal, TPO say this is clearly not good practice and not the manner in which they would expect agents, who had voluntarily chosen to follow the TPO Code, to behave.

All letting agents and property managers must by law belong to one of the three government approved redress schemes, providing landlords and tenants with access to an independent complaints mechanism in case anything goes wrong. In addition to TPO, the other schemes are the Property Redress Scheme and Ombudsman Services Property. You can find out more about the three redress schemes here.

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