Sutton Rotten in the State of Merseyside

Yesterday, in Liverpool on a visit to see the new spider, I picked up a copy of the Daily Post in a local hostelry whilst sheltering from the downpour. The headline was truly shocking and shows how the credit crunch is biting everyone.

Sutton Estates, a property management company, have obviously been hit hard. On my recent visits to a bank that shares its premises with estate agents I have witnessed that the staff's day seems to be drifting by like the arctic tundra. Presumably, the same is happening in the buy-to-let market.

Sutton have come up with a brilliant solution to non-payment of rent by serial defaulters: use the News of the World ploy of Naming and Shaming.

The article begins,
  • SIGNS naming and shaming those who have fallen behind with their rent will be put up outside dozens of homes across Merseyside in the next few weeks as landlords feel the bite of the credit crunch.
Neil Heffey, a partner in the firm wades in,
  • “They can avoid us, but not their neighbours. Now, every time they walk in and out of their door, the neighbours will be laughing at them.”
Now, obviously I wouldn't condone non-payment of rent but there may be extenuating circumstances. Although the agency say they will not do this in cases of hardship, who is the arbiter of this? Heffey then scrapes the barrel with this gem:
  • He said those avoiding paying their rent were “taking the food off my children’s plates."
So, we are asked to believe that a partner with this firm has not made a tidy sum throughout the years when the credit crunch was not around? He sounds like Theo on Dragons' Den blabbering on - albeit in jest - about taking his kids' inheritance. He also reminds me of a former boss of mine - a millionaire in the 90s - who also used this same phrase when negotiating wage rises.

The signs will be ignored by those people who do not wish to pay in any event. Indeed it appears that one of the signs in Birkenhead has been torn down. I question the legality of such a move.
John Tuson of Kirwans solicitors agrees:
  • He said the estate agent’s signs could potentially open them up to legal action. Among the areas for concern, he pointed out, were the possibility of defamation, incitement to assault or affray, harassment, breach of the tenancy agreement, or even trespass.

    Mr Tuson said: “There is also confidentiality, in that the landlord should not expose information about the tenant to a third party, and there’s the issue of privacy under Article Eight of European Convention of Human Rights, along with data protection issues. And I dread to think what the consequences would be if the signs were accidentally put on the wrong houses.”

The most disturbing aspect is that the Daily Post appears to give tentative support to this. In its comment section it stated that,
  • Being labelled a rent-dodger is a stigma, certainly, but one which they have brought on themselves by failing to use their housing benefit for the purpose it is intended.
The article itself does not specifically say that the cases are all connected to Housing Benefit payments but the post is certain that this is the case. More stigma?

The fact remains that there are legal avenues available, which although lengthy and costly, are the proper solutions to the problem. Given the effect on cash flow of small businesses. I only hope that Suttons are better at paying their own bills than some other professionals I know of.

At first I thought this had something to do with the long-established firm of Sutton Kersh. This surprised as I have had dealings with them in the past and this did not sound like something they would be involved in. Sure enough, their website here, points out in a home page statement that,
  • Sutton Kersh would like to point out that Sutton Estates is not part of the Sutton kersh Group.....and are not responsible for Sutton Estates actions and wholly disassociates itself from their actions........and prides itself on professionalism and best practice.
Perhaps an indication of the difference in the firms can be seen by comparing sites. On Sutton Estates' own website, they claim to be, Sutton Estates Residential Letting's (sic), a friendly, honest and professional experience.

Next week, those failing to pay their window cleaner will be forced to wear a yellow flannel.

A poster on the anorak site claims this could just be a piblicity stunt and that the signs were on empty properties. Not been able to check but there was a video on BBC.