Thursday, February 28, 2008

OFT challenges unfair terms in landlords agency agreements

Landlords nationwide will be delighted at the action being taken by the Office of Fair Trading, regarding letting agents Foxton’s agency terms and conditions.

Under these agency agreements, Foxtons claim commission from landlords for tenants found by them when the tenant stays on after the end of the tenancy agreement, even if they (ie Foxtons) are no longer involved in the management of the property, and even if the landlord has sold the property! (In which case the landlord would not be receiving any benefit from the tenant at all.) They also claim commission if the property is sold to the tenant, even though they may have paid no part in the sale negotiations.

Foxtons claim that these terms are fair, but the OFT disagree and have issued a High Court action for an injunction to stop them using them. They are also asking the court to make a declaration that they are unfair, in breach of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

If the OFT are successful, they will be bringing action against any other letting agents which have similar terms in their agency agreements (and there are many!).

This is a much needed action. Landlords have been complaining for years about these clauses which in many cases are ‘money for nothing’.

You can read about the items on the OFT web-site here.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

More on the new tenancy agreements

Still working on the new plain English tenancy agreements for Landlord-Law. I had a fair few responses to my consultation and the responses were (one the whole) gratifyingly positive.

No-one said that they definitely didn’t like the new version (there were just a couple of not sure’s), and the main criticism was that it would take up more paper. However unfortunately this is inevitable if you use plain English (which generally means more words – legal jargon is often just legal shorthand) and spread the document out on the page a bit more so it is more readable.

I am actually really glad that I consulted with the members – some of them have come up with some really good points and made me look at things again and often change them. Plus they also picked up a few mistakes I hadn’t spotted!

I am now in the process of re-doing all the different varieties of agreement which is going to take some time. I am also developing a tenancy agreements section. Rather than have the agreements all on one page I am dividing them up, which will hopefully make them easier to find.

The new agreements should hopefully go live soon. I suppose I will then have to review all the other forms!

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Plain English tenancy agreements

I haven’t been writing much in the blog recently because I have been doing a lot of other stuff. One the main things I have been concentrating on recently is a new draft of my standard tenancy agreement. I was going to give it an overhaul anyway, then I got involved with a client who wanted one of my agreements to be checked for a crystal mark, and I decided to use this experience to amend and adapt my own agreements to a plain English format.

Plain English agreements now need to be in the first person, so the landlord is ‘we’ and the tenant ‘you’. I found this very strange to start with but now I have got used to it and have come to accept it. It does make for a more approachable document.

I have used this as an opportunity to check and re-do every clause. It has taken ages. I think I have it sorted and then I look at it afresh and find more things I want to change. I think that the new agreement is definitely much better though.

I have also radically altered the design of the agreement. My old agreement was crushed into a small space with fairly small type and close columns. However I have been reading a bit about design (having bought myself The Non-Designer's Design Book), plus I have also been learning a bit more about using my layout software, Adobe Framemaker (using the Adobe Framemaker Classroom in a Book). As I result of this I have created a new design, which you can see here. It takes up a lot more space (13 pages) but I think it makes the document far more readable, and it is much easier to find specific clauses. Having the new design has also helped me amend the wording as well as somehow I found it easier to read and check it in the new format.

I have now taken the perhaps rash step of putting a draft online for my annual members to have a look at and comment on before I use it to replace all my other agreements. I have often had very good ideas and suggestions from members about the tenancy agreements, many of the current adaptations came from members suggestions.

Next I think a design overhaul of the rest of the forms …

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