Thursday, 9 October 2008

Letting Agent shames tenants who refuse to pay rent

Merseyside letting agents Sutton Estates have come up with a novel and daring way to name and shame defaulting tenants.

"Rent Dodger Lives Here" signs are affixed to the property of tenants who fall into serious arrears and refuse to discuss or acknowledge the problem. Rob Downey, a partner in the letting agent, told us that they were targeting individual cases and this was "not about persecuting people".

So far just two signs have been used and the tenants have now left in both cases. Rob told us that in one case they also had to call in the RSPCA. Neil Heffey, a partner in Sutton Estates, said he was sick and tired of being “avoided” by those who refused to pay for their living accommodation, provided by or through his company. He added “They can avoid us, but not their neighbours. Now, every time they walk in and out of their door, the neighbours will be laughing at them.”

The Liverpool Daily Post newspaper reported that Mr Heffey said recent changes in how benefits are paid, which are intended to give tenants greater control over their rent payments, had seen more and more people falling behind. This also comes as the credit crunch sees property owners finding it more difficult to maintain mortgages.

The Liverpool Daily Post quoted John Tuson, head of commercial property at Kirwans Solicitors who said the estate agent’s signs could potentially open them up to legal action. Among the areas for concern, he pointed out, were the possibility of defamation, incitement to assault or affray, harassment, breach of the tenancy agreement, or even trespass.

Mr Tuson said: “There is also confidentiality, in that the landlord should not expose information about the tenant to a third party, and there’s the issue of privacy under Article Eight of European Convention of Human Rights, along with data protection issues. And I dread to think what the consequences would be if the signs were accidentally put on the wrong houses.”

Rob Downey from Sutton Estates claimed that there was no legal precedent and he said that no-one was sure what the legal implications were.

There is little doubt that many landlords and letting agents would support this kind of action against tenants who abuse the system without regard for the consequences. Many landlords who have responded to our Petition Against Changes to Section 21 Notices have called us to complain that their human rights are being infringed by tenants who simply refuse to pay their rent.

It will be interesting to see how this form of direct action by Sutton Estates develops.