Student tenants of ATS Properties have been left hundreds of pounds out of pocket after deposit disputes with the Newcastle-based landlord and agency.
Complaints have been made concerning the company’s malpractice surrounding deposits, as students have been unaware that their deposit in protection (DIP) scheme expired after a matter of months.
The complaints against the company are rooted in the insufficient issuing of prescribed information about the deposit scheme that the student tenants have signed up to, with employees of the company delaying deposit payments and being found difficult to contact.
ATS Properties employees are known to offer a ‘knockdown’ price in order to satisfy tenants, but for most this can still be a figure upwards of £500.
Mr Taylor, a former ATS Properties tenant that preferred not to give his full name, remembers: “After continued assurances of deposit return for several months, three months down the line there was no response to e-mails texts or phone calls.[pullquote]The tenancy deposit protection scheme outlines that the tenants must be “protected in an authorised scheme”, and that “the tenants must be provided with Prescribed Information about where their deposit was protected and how the tenancy deposit protection scheme operated.”[/pullquote]
“Following advice from the Student Advice Centre, we found out that three months had already elapsed, which was the window to open dispute, therefore our deposit had already been released to the landlord as we had missed our window.”
The tenancy deposit protection scheme outlines that the tenants must be “protected in an authorised scheme”, and that “the tenants must be provided with Prescribed Information about where their deposit was protected and how the tenancy deposit protection scheme operated.” The landlord is obligated to provide this information to the tenants within 30 days of receiving the deposit.
All of this information is initially outlined in the 2004 Housing Act, but was further amended by the Housing Order of 2007, clearly defining the contents of the prescribed information that landlords should provide to tenants.
Crucially, this amendment not only outlined that tenants should be thoroughly informed about the scheme that they have signed onto, but this information should also include “the procedures that apply under the scheme where either the landlord or the tenant is not contactable at the end of the tenancy.”
In the case of ATS Properties, this has been a consistent story. Having not been given any deposit information until 15 months after his deposit was protected, Mr Jones, another former tenant, was left waiting for over a month for evidence that the prescribed information regarding the deposit protection was provided and when. He had still not received the information when he contacted the City Council about the dispute.[pullquote]Mr Jones suffered issues relating to damp and roof leakage, whilst Mr Taylor moved into a house in a dirty state, with mould coating many surfaces, bins filled with refuse and a dysfunctional central heating system.[/pullquote]
Tenants’ deposits are not the only issues that have been reported about ATS Properties, with the quality of the properties and poor maintenance also being called into question.
Mr Jones suffered issues relating to damp and roof leakage, whilst Mr Taylor moved into a house in a dirty state, with mould coating many surfaces, bins filled with refuse and a dysfunctional central heating system.
Both experienced cases where ATS Properties were unresponsive to requests to fix these issues, and were subsequently charged out of their deposits at the end of their respective tenancies.
Newcastle University Students’ Union’s Student Advice Centre (SAC) provides specialist housing advice for students, and deals with multiple cases each year relating to students that are either current or former tenants of ATS Properties.
Most of these cases are not able to be resolved, with the housing charity Shelter advising not taking the incidents to court. However, SAC advisors have made efforts to register ATS Properties on the City Council’s rogue landlord database at the earliest opportunity, though they fear that may come too late before students start to sign for a place to live in the 2019/20 academic year.
The SAC’s housing advisor, Ruth Gibson said: “The SAC monitors the cases that come forward, which allows us to identify where issues are reoccurring. We use this information in various ways including notifying all students of the issues and by informing relevant authorities especially if it concerns breaches of legislation or regulation.”
Sarah Craggs, the Union’s Welfare and Equality Officer, encourages students to spend time doing some research into who they’re signing with: “It is very easy for students to rush into signing for a house due to the pressures from housing agents from November. There’s no need to be so early when signing for a house, and deciding who you want to live with for the next year, so we recommend that students don’t panic, and not to sign a house until after the Christmas break.
“We run a housing fair in November to give students guidance of what to look out for. If you need anymore information, you can book an appointment with the SAC with our Housing Advisor, and check out our housing supplement which tells you everything you need to know when going into the rental sector, from bill management, to key questions to ask when you’re viewing houses, and your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.”
We have been unable to contact ATS Properties for a comment.