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Kent Estate Agencies of Canterbury

Our correspondent writes ...

At the commencement of the last academic year (September 2005), my daughter and three other students rented a house in Canterbury. The leasing agreement was handled by Kent Estate Agencies of Castle Street, Canterbury on behalf of the owner.

The house was reasonably presentable on occupation although it was not particularly clean, especially in the kitchen. However, my daughter and her friends soon made it look spic and span. As winter approached, the house's warmth-retaining deficiencies soon became apparent. None of the windows was double-glazed and the ill-fitting metal frames allowed draughts to enter unhindered. To make matters worse, the gas boiler leaked and it operated haphazardly, rarely supplying enough heat to the radiators to make the overall temperature acceptable, especially as 2005/6 was a very cold winter.

My daughter and one of her housemates complained to the agency, adding that the shower in the bathroom also malfunctioned - alternatively giving off freezing and then scalding water because the mixing unit was faulty. I followed up the complaint some time later when nothing had been done to rectify the faults.

gordon millerThe proprietor, Gordon Miller (pictured left), replied advising that a "heating engineer" had visited the premises but could find no fault. Amazingly, he didn't even spot the boiler leak so his credibility was obviously questionable. 

I wrote again advising that a leaking boiler would probably be considered dangerous, as well as inefficient, but Mr Miller merely replied saying they had a gas safety certificate, although a copy was never offered in evidence. Nor did they ever supply the name and address of the house owner which I requested on several occasions.

I had also complained about the fact that tradesmen, and prospective house buyers, had been allowed to visit the house on several occasions unaccompanied by any member of the agency's staff. Any unaccompanied visits were particularly problematic as the tenants' individual rooms had no locks and their personal belongings could easily be stolen. Mr Miller denied this but his answer to most problems seemed to be to lie about them or ignore them entirely.

The final straw came at the end of the tenancy when the girls handed in their keys and asked Miller to return their deposits of 250 each. There was no response, even after my own daughter had emailed twice.

When I telephoned Kent Estate Agencies' office, a member of staff told me they were awaiting proof that the utility bills had been paid yet my daughter had never been asked for such proof. We later learned another girl was told to leave the utility accounts on the table, which she did. I questioned this request as all the household bills were in the names of individual tenants and were nothing to do with the agency.

When more time passed with no deposit refunds materialising, I again emailed and demanded the immediate return of the girls' funds. Although I threatened to take the matter to the police, the only reply I got was a note telling me that Mr Miller was on holiday for the next few weeks.

77 days after the premises were vacated, my daughter finally received her deposit refund but 28.13 had been deducted to cover her contribution towards a 112.50 cleaning bill submitted by Millin Services of Canterbury. This was really rubbing salt into the wound because my daughter and her friend, helped by my wife, cleaned the place thoroughly. When they left, the premises were decidedly cleaner than they had been at the commencement of the tenancy.

This whole fiasco was an eye-opener for my daughter at the start of her university life and I want to warn other parents to avoid dealing with Kent Estate Agencies. They are negligent and they have no interest in their individual tenants other than to hang on to their deposits for as long as they can. Nice little earner if you spin it out by making nonsensical excuses. And this agency certainly have plenty of them.

I would also like to think this warning may be read by the accommodation administrators at the various universities in Canterbury. If they want to protect their own reputations they will be well advised to steer clear of Kent Estate Agencies.

As for the unnecessary cleaning bill at the end of the tenancy, I am convinced that was just another of Mr Miller's scams. And if Millins Cleaning Services could not see that the premises had been cleaned, they were obviously prepared to take money under false pretences.

Editorial Comment:

Trustworthy estate agents are about as common as rocking horse droppings. They have a dreadful reputation and examples like this demonstrate why they deserve the bad stigma.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to find student accommodation without the help of an estate agent. Since most of the student houses in Canterbury are owned by three people, that's an awful lot of business for the agencies.

The universities themselves could do more to alleviate the problem by listening to student's complaints and by vetting landlords and estate agents. If the college administrators were more proactive, the recalcitrant agencies would be forced to clean up their act.

"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill

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