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28/08 25 February 2008
The OFT has issued High Court proceedings against Foxtons Limited seeking a declaration on the application of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 (UTCCRs) to certain terms in Foxtons' lettings agreements with landlords. The OFT is also seeking an injunction against Foxtons preventing it from using the terms.
The action taken by the OFT is in response to consumer complaints. If successful in this case the OFT intends to enforce compliance with the law, as declared by the Court, throughout the letting industry wherever similar terms are being used.
The terms to which the OFT objects in Foxtons' letting agreements can potentially require landlords to pay Foxtons substantial sums in commission, where a tenant continues to occupy the landlord's property after the initial fixed period of the tenancy has expired - even if Foxtons plays no part in persuading the tenant to stay, and no longer collects the rent or manages the property. Foxtons' terms can also require the landlord to pay these sums after the landlord has sold the property. The terms also demand commission where the landlord sells the property to the tenant, even where Foxtons has played no part in negotiating that sale.
Foxtons contends that its agreements with landlords are not unfair and continues to use these terms, and accordingly, the OFT has issued proceedings so the courts can decide the matter.
1. The OFT is seeking an enforcement order against Foxtons Limited under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCRs).
2. The UTCCRs apply to standard contract terms with consumers. The UTCCRs protect consumers against unfair standard terms in contracts they make with traders. The OFT, and certain other qualifying bodies (such as local authority trading standards, national regulatory bodies, and Which?) can take legal action to prevent the use of potentially unfair terms. A term is likely to be considered unfair if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations under the contract, to the detriment of consumers. The regulations say that a consumer is not bound by a standard term in a contract with a trader if that term is unfair. Ultimately, only a court can decide whether a term is unfair.
3. It is estimated in the lettings industry that there are at least 15,000 letting agency businesses in the UK, including a number of national and multi-national companies in addition to many smaller businesses.
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