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Minutes of the Fast Track Tribunal Wednesday 18th April, 2007, Unipol Student Homes Present: Dr CAG Brooks (Chair); Mr S Kettlewell (Vice Chair); Ms J Piddington (Vice Chair) In Attendance: Simon Kemp (Code of Standards Administrator) The Fast Track Tribunal discussed complaints brought against the following owners: Rory Aitkens of Leeds Lets – Three separate complaints Complaint number 1 A former tenant of Mr Aitkens complained that he had breached two particular sections of the Code: 5.02 – returning deposits within 6 weeks of the end of the tenancy; and 5.03 - where monies are retained, providing a written statement of account providing details of any and all deduction made. The former tenant claimed that he had received a letter from Mr Aikens in 2005 stating that the deposit was being held because money was owed by one or more members of the joint contract. A year later he was informed the deposit was withheld because of damage caused to the property. In response to the allegations Mr Aitkens claimed that the tenants of the property were aware that they were to be charged for damage caused to the property. However, Mr Aikens was unable to provide evidence that the former tenants had been supplied with a breakdown of the costs at the time he wrote to him in August 2005. Following correspondence with the Code of Standards Administrator, Mr Aitkens provided a breakdown of costs in March 2007. As the dates given on the breakdown were after the end of the former tenant’s tenancy, the Code of Standards Administrator asked Mr Aitkens to explain this. Mr Aitkens’ response was that this is when his records were updated and that he had been waiting to get information from the landlord about the exact costs of repair/replacements. The Tribunal Panel upheld the complaint against Mr Aitkens. Members were of the opinion that the matter could have been dealt with in a better way, including returning the remaining amount of the deposit within a quicker period of time along with a written statement detailing why other monies were to be withheld. The Tribunal Panel were informed that Mr Aitkens’ company will cease to operate from the end of June 2007, and that another agency – albeit with a different name and set of directors – will take over the operation. Given that some of the people managing the new company are have been involved in Leeds Lets, the Panel recommended that the Code of Standards Administrator meet with the staff of the new company in order to discuss concerns that previous management failings are not repeated by the new owners. Complaint number 2 Existing tenants of Mr Aitkens complained that he was in breach of sections of the Code relating to repairing obligations (3.07) and responding to disputes (6.02). An inspection of the property was conducted which revealed that although some of the repairs mentioned in the original complaint had been completed, the property was found not to comply with certain aspects of the Code – the most significant of which was the lack of a fire door on the kitchen. Mr Aitkens was written to and asked to reply within 7 days. As he had not done so by then, another letter was sent in which it was made clear that unless he were to do so within 5 working days the matter would be referred to this hearing. The deadline for this response was also not met The Tribunal Panel was informed that a letter had been received from Mr Aitkens on the morning of the Panel’s meeting, stating that although he was prepared to fit a fire door on the kitchen, the tenants had requested that the work not take place until after the end of the tenancy. The Tribunal Panel therefore agreed that, subject to confirmation from the tenants that this was indeed the case, the complaint could not be upheld. Complaint number 3 An existing tenant of Mr Aitkens complained that he was in breach of sections of the Code relating to repairing obligations (3.07) and failure to enter into correspondence in respect of a complaint (6.02). An inspection of the property was conducted which showed that whilst some work was in the process of taking place, the property did not contain a fire door on the kitchen – itself a breach of the Code Mr Aitkens was written to and asked to provide an action plan for undertaking the required work of fitting a fire door as well as to offer an explanation for delays in responding to requests from the tenants to deal with disrepair. Mr Aitkens reported that a fire door had been fitted, but offered no explanation as to the delay in responding to the tenants’ previous requests. It was subsequently alleged by the tenants that although they were promised work would begin on repairing the roof by March 16th, it had still not started 5 days later. Mr Aitkens was therefore asked to respond to this matter before the Panel meeting, but failed to do so. The Tribunal Panel were extremely concerned to ensure that work on the roof had begun and recommended that the tenants be contacted to see if this was the case. If it had not then the Panel agreed that Mr Aitkens should be suspended from the Code until the work had been finished and then be required to reapply for membership. Postscript – The tenants have confirmed that the work has now been completed. Robina Bowers A former tenant of this owner complained that Mrs Bowers had breached a number of sections of the Code, especially with respect to dealing with deposits. It was alleged that Mrs Bowers had not provided guidance for bringing the tenancy to an end, returned the deposit (or balance) within 6 weeks of the end of the tenancy, responded promptly or reasonably to complaints, or responded to correspondence within given timescales and maintaining courteous professional relations. Mrs Bowers responded to these allegations and supplied some additional information to support her case. Mrs Bowers provided what she claimed to be a ‘written statement’, along with photos indicating alleged damages that had been caused. Mrs Bowers was written to on several other occasions and asked to respond to issues relating to the complaint, but failed to do so by the date of the Panel’s meeting (failure to respond to complaints was the main reason why she was suspended from Code membership for 6 months at the February meeting of the Panel). The Tribunal Panel upheld the complaint. The Panel were also concerned that Mrs Bowers had not taken on board their previous recommendations to respond in full to all complaints. It was agreed that unless she responded in some detail to letters from Unipol and the former tenant’s representative then the period of her suspension from the Code should be extended indefinitely. It was recommended that her status be reviewed at the next meeting of the Tribunal Panel. Oliver Rooke Former tenants of Mr Rooke complained that he had not administered their deposits efficiently and reasonably and had withheld monies for purposes other than for which they were levied (5.00); that he had not provided a written statement of account within 6 weeks of the end of the tenancy providing reasonable details of deductions to be made (5.03); and that he had not responded to correspondence about the dispute that had arisen within given timescales (6.02). Mr Rooke responded to the allegations, giving his reasons for withholding money and providing some evidence for his reasons. Because he claimed to have undertaken some of the work himself, he was asked to give indications of how these costs were broken down. The former tenants then raised concerns about these. In response, Mr Rooke provided some photocopies of receipts he claimed were for the works he carried out. Mr Rooke submitted a letter to be given to the Tribunal Panel on the day of its meeting. In the letter he claimed not to have been a member of the Unipol Code for the whole of the period of the tenancy of the former tenants bringing the complaint. The Tribunal ruled, however, that as he was a member for the 2004/05 period and the former tenant’s contract had begun in 2004, then the complaint should be heard. The Tribunal Panel took the view that there were faults on both sides. They were of the opinion that as most of the deposit deductions related to unpaid rent, they could not uphold the section of the complaint relating to administering the deposit efficiently and reasonably. The Tribunal Panel did uphold the complaints in respect of the non-provision of a written statement of account and failure to respond to correspondence about the dispute within a given time period. Mr Rooke would be issued with a written warning by the Code Administrator.
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