There are some very unhappy landlords and tenants in the South Kensington area of London. A couple of months ago, the London letting agents Aron and Lewis disappeared overnight and with them went all their clients' money.

Needless to say, the agents were neither members of Arla (Association of Residential Letting Agents) or the Rics (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors), but they did have a good reputation locally.

Jacqueline Ironside of Ironsides, residential lettings specialist, says she was not alone in being astounded at the news. "We heard about it initially from somebody who picked up the keys from their office on a Friday and by Monday they had gone. We have known them for years and they were considered good, successful agents.

"It underlines how important bonding is, as anything can happen from one moment to the next. Even reputation counts for nothing if people's money is not protected." Indeed the Government is being pressed to regulate the lettings market to protect deposits and rent from fraud and mismanagement.

Arla estimates that pounds 1bn of clients' money is in unbonded accounts. For the time being, the South Kensington victims, who could number 200, only know that the owners of Aron and Lewis are no longer in the country.

Owners of new homes who encounter problems during the first two years should get them resolved more quickly under a new conciliation service proposed by the National House-Building Council (NHBC).

At present repairs in this period are the responsibility of the builder, but in too many cases this amounts to botch jobs and foot-dragging. The NHBC guarantee has been criticised recently as owners describe a catalogue of faults with their new properties, many of them starting within months of moving in.

The NHBC is also prepared to step in at an earlier stage in disputes between owners and builders, to put more pressure on builders to respond quickly to complaints and to monitor the repairs more closely. As part of its current review it has highlighted an unacceptable level of finishing defects at handover; builders who are slow to respond to complaints and some builders failing to repair defects properly.

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