Estate agents and letting agents will often have their own complaints process. Many agents belong to a professional redress scheme which may be able to sort out problems if you're unhappy with the service you've been given by your agent. Letting agents don't have to be regulated, so it's important that you try to choose a professional agent with a good reputation whether you're a tenant or a landlord.
The Property Ombudsman (TPOS) deals with complaints about estate agents in Northern Ireland but it can only investigate if the agent is a member of the Property Ombudsman Scheme. If your agent doesn't have a complaints procedure and isn't a member of a regulated industry observer, you should get in touch with Housing Rights to see if there is anything that can be done about the problem.
Complaining to the property ombudsman
You can only complain to the Property Ombudsman if the estate agent you are dissatisfied with belongs to this scheme. You can check whether this is the case on the Ombudsman's website .
The Ombudsman will not be able to look at your complaint if the estate agent is not a member of the scheme, or if the complaint is about something that happened before the agent became a member. If you have already made a complaint to another body, such as the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Small Claims Court , the Ombudsman will not take on the case until other procedures finish.
You must make your complaint to the agent within 12 months of the problem, and you must take your complaint to the Ombudsman within six months of getting a final response from the agent.
Making a complaint
To complain you must first make a complaint to the estate agent directly. This usually means allowing eight weeks for the estate agent to address your complaint. If you don't receive a response within this period, or you receive a response you are not happy with, you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman.
You can contact the Ombudsman by telephone, email or letter, and you can talk to a caseworker about whether they can accept your complaint. If the Ombudsman accepts your complaint, a formal investigation will be carried out and an attempt will usually be made to reach an agreement between you and the estate agent at an early stage.
However, this may not always be possible and you may not be happy with the offer to settle early. If you do not wish to accept this offer, you can ask for a formal review.
Types of complaints
The Property Ombudsman will not consider all types of complaints and will only take your case on board if you have already exhausted the estate agent's internal complaints procedure. The Property Ombudsman published a code of conduct that its members should follow. If the behaviour is a breach of that code, you'll be able to complain.
Complaints that can be considered may involve:
- a breach of the estate agent's legal obligations to you,
- unfair treatment,
- failure to follow proper procedures,
- rudeness or discourtesy,
- poor service or incompetence.
You will have to show that you have suffered some kind of financial loss, stress or inconvenience for the Ombudsman to consider your case.
Property Ombudsman powers
The Property Ombudsman can reprimand, fine or expel an agent from the scheme. Fines can be up to £25,000. However, you should be aware that not all cases result in financial compensation. The Ombudsman may decide that an apology or criticism of the agent would be the most appropriate resolution to your dispute.
If you agree with the decision the Ombudsman has reached, the agent is committed to complying with the Ombudsman's decision as a condition of their membership. You will get whatever the Ombudsman has awarded, but you will not be able to take your case to court afterwards.
If you don't accept the Ombudsman's decision, you can either ask for a review of your case if you have some new evidence, or you can take your complaint to court.