Hammersmith letting agent fined for false advertising after council investigation

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 - Hammersmith and Fulham Council

A Hammersmith letting agency has been fined £4,000 following an investigation by Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

Thorgills Limited of Hammersmith Grove appeared at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court in September 2015 where they admitted four charges of unfair trading.

The court was told how Thorgills had three properties advertised on its website as available for let despite not having written instructions to market them.

The investigation from the Council’s trading standards team arose as a result of a complaint from a landlord who discovered Thorgills were offering a larger property in the same development as one he was marketing, but for a lower monthly rental.

The court heard the landlord made his own enquiries and discovered Thorgills had not been instructed to market the property and the landlord had to lower the rent of his own property to be competitive as a result.

The trading standards team uncovered two further properties on Thorgills’ portfolio being falsely advertised to let. During the course of the investigation, it was uncovered that no written instructions were made for those properties either, so they were subsequently removed from the website.

During a formal interview, Mr Madden, a company director, stated a rogue ex-manager was responsible for listing the properties.

The court was told both Thorgills and Mr Madden were both of good previous character and that the rogue employee had been sacked for not following company procedures. Mr Madden added that all other rental properties where their landlords could not be contacted were removed from their website.

Acting as Thorgills Limited, Mr Madden, of Hodder Drive, Perivale, admitted offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Representing the business, Mr Madden admitted falsely advertising three properties available for let and also personally admitted one charge of failing to comply with the Property Ombudsman Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents, as its company director.

Thorgills and Mr Madden were fined £1,000 for each offence and ordered to pay costs of £4,800.

Speaking after the case, Cllr Wesley Harcourt, Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport and Residents’ Services said: “This case serves as a warning to unscrupulous traders that the Council is determined to protect our residents and local businesses.

The case highlights that false advertising of this sort is not a victimless crime and can result in a real loss, in financial terms, to our residents and businesses.

Letting agents are required to belong to a redress scheme and ensure that there are robust consumer complaints handling procedures in place. If businesses are not signed up to such a scheme, the council can issue a penalty notice of up to £5,000.