Tag Archives: Scam

Crooked letting agent with previous fraud convictions jailed for 19 months for scamming tenants

Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan outside Croydon Crown Court
Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan outside Croydon Crown Court

A crooked letting agent in Croydon with previous convictions for swindling tenants has been jailed for 19 months and banned from being a company director for five years.

Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan, 53, scammed victims out of sums ranging from £300 to £1,449, in frauds relating to 33 tenancies. It is believed that the total amount stolen is around £15,000.

In a prosecution brought by Croydon Council’s Trading Standards team, Damayantharan, also known as Mr Damo, originally denied two counts of fraudulently trading as two companies – See Own Properties and My Lawn Estates – over the past six years.

He later changed his plea to guilty after hearing evidence from around twenty of his victims who testified how he had taken holding deposits from tenants which he refused to return when he deliberately failed their reference checks.

Damayantharan then invented reasons for withholding the money before eventually breaking off contact. Common excuses included claims that the landlord had decided not to let to the tenant or that the money had been held up with a referencing agency.

In some cases Damayantharan even cheated multiple tenants out of their holding deposits for properties he advertised to let without permission.

Andrew Johnson, prosecuting, told the court that  in some cases Damayantharan took deposits from several different prospective tenants for the same property – with none securing the property.

During sentencing at Croydon Crown Court, Judge Gower told Damayantharan: “Before you changed your pleas, the court heard evidence from more than a dozen prospective tenants. All painted a similar picture.

“You were quick and efficient at relieving them of their money, if necessary by driving them, there and then, to cash-point machines. Some have spoken of being made to feel rushed.

“Thereafter, they found it increasingly difficult to make contact with you, as the time for commencing the tenancy in their home grew ever nearer. A variety of different excuses were put forward by you as to why they were not able to move in.

“Only one prospective tenant managed to get back the whole deposit, but it took a considerable time and a great deal of persistence. The majority got nothing.

“The way you operated was thoroughly dishonest.”

Previous Convictions

Damayantharan’s case raises important questions about public protection from rogue landlords and letting agents. At trial, the jury was told that Damayantharan was convicted in February 2013 of three offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act. He had also pleaded guilty to two Companies Act offences at an earlier hearing in relation to the same case.

The jury was further informed that Damayantharan continued to operate the deposit scam even after fresh criminal proceedings began against him in August 2015.

Furthermore,  despite the mandatory requirement since October 2014 that letting agencies belong to a redress scheme, one of Damayantharan’s companies, My Lawn Estates, continued to operate for two years following its expulsion from the Property Ombudsman in August 2015.

Damayantharan could also now be be placed on a blacklist of agents which is planned later this year. However, the list will not be publicly accessible which raises serious questions about the effectiveness of scheme to protect the public.

Speaking following Damayantharan’s conviction, Councillor Hamida Ali, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for communities, safety and justice said: “This is a dreadful case of fraud, leaving dozens of his clients out of pocket and, in some cases, facing the possibility of homelessness.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Electronic tagging order for rogue landlord who waged ‘unforgivable’ harassment campaign against single mother

Rogue trader Derrick Stuart filmed by the BBC
Rogue trader Derrick Stuart filmed by the BBC

A landlord has been fitted with an electronic tag after a “campaign of harassment” against a tenant that including switching off her heating and electricity in the middle of winter.

Joel Zwiebel who waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against single mother Angela Agyemang received the electronic tagging order after losing an appeal last month against a conviction for illegal eviction.

Miss Agyemang incurred Zwiebel’s ire after she complained that damp conditions, leaks and serious disrepair in her south London flat were damaging her son’s health.

After Mr Zwiebel and his company refused to carry out repairs, Miss Agyemang began withholding her rent prompting Zwiebel to begin eviction proceedings. Zwiebel finally locked her out of the flat with all her possessions inside leaving the pair homeless and forced to find temporary accommodation.

At this point the council intervened and negotiated a compromise agreement in which she would pay the rent she owed and he would carry out the necessary repairs.

However within days Mr Zweibel reneged on the deal. Instead of fixing the defects he sent Mr Stuart – who had previously been the subject of a BBC Rogue Traders investigation – to the property who switched off the gas and electricity supply even though it was the middle of winter.

A few days later Miss Agyemang returned to the flat to find the locks had been changed and she could no longer enter her home. It took her 18 months to eventually regain her possessions, most of which had by that stage either disappeared or been broken.

Conviction

Zwiebel, of Hackney, and his property company Interpage, were found guilty last November of harassment and carrying out an illegal eviction in a case brought by Wandsworth Council at Wimbledon magistrates court.

In February, Mr Zwiebel and Interpage lost their bid to overturn the magistrates court conviction and sentencing when their appeals were thrown out by a judge at Kingston Crown Court.

On Monday this week, the judge imposed a stiffer sentence against Mr Zwiebel. Zwiebel was ordered to wear an ankle tag and comply with an overnight curfew for three months between the hours of 9pm and 7am. He was also ordered to pay £4,000 in costs and £1,000 compensation to his victim. Interpage Limited was fined £4,000 plus costs of £3,500 and £1,000 in compensation.

For his role in the eviction, Mr Stuart, from Newham, was fined £1,500, with £2,500 costs and also ordered to pay a further £1,000 in compensation.

Wandsworth’s housing spokesman Cllr Paul Ellis said: “This was an utterly appalling display by these men. They waged a disgraceful and unforgivable campaign of harassment against this mother and her son.

“To switch off their gas and electricity in the middle of winter showed a shocking lack of compassion so I am pleased the court has upheld these convictions and imposed a stiffer sentence against Mr Zwiebel and his company.

“Let this case and its outcome serve as a salutary warning to other landlords thinking of following the same illegal path.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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London landlord who part-owned racehourses fined £200,000 for tax evasion

Rogue landlord convicted of tax evasion

A rogue landlord has received a two year suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay a £200,000 fine for tax evasion and failing to declare he was a company director.

Michael Charles Waddingham had been a director of property development firm Chantry Estates, owned 17 properties and had income of more than £100,000 per year from various directorships.

Waddingham pleaded guilty tax fraud at Kingston Crown Court on 17 January this year admitting he had failed to submit Self Assessment tax returns between 2008 and 2012.

During that time he had failed to declare his rental income and that he was the director of seven land and property development companies.  In addition to his property portfolio he was also the part owner of several racehorses and the director of a betting syndicate which is also a registered UK company.

Following his arrest in 2015, Waddingham’s accountants cooperated with a HMRC forensic accounting team to calculate that £281,000 was owed in Income and Capital Gains Tax.

Waddington paid the unpaid tax to HMRC prior to sentencing at Kingston Crown Court this month. He now has six months to pay the additional £200,000 fine in order to avoid the suspended prison sentence being realized.

Waddington was also given 200 hours of community service and a six-month curfew between 8pm and 5am, enforced with an electronic tag.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Rogue landlord who conned more than 100 tenants jailed for 45 months and ordered to pay £225,000

Housing scam Manchester
Tahir Khaliq was jailed for 45 months (Photo: National Trading Standards)

 A rogue landlord who exploited over 100 tenants has been jailed. Tahir Khaliq, 49, who ran a chain of letting agency firms from his office in Bury, Greater Manchester accepted holding deposits from multiple prospective tenants for the same same property then claimed they all failed credit checks and kept the cash.

During his trial at Bolton Crown Court, it was revealed that Khaliq also falsified home insurance claims and left many tenants living in squalid properties.

Khaliq is previously know for sharp practice. In 2012 he was the subject of a Channel Five ‘Cowboy Traders’ investigation into one of his firms Lancashire Lettings.

Perhaps his most lucrative scam was deliberately failing credit checks for prospective tenants and pocketing their holding deposits. Khaliq asked prospective tenants who wished to rent one of his properties to pay a  holding fee/deposit of £200 to £400 to take a property off the market.

However, unknown to the tenants, money was collected from several other prospective tenants all hoping to rent the same property. Once the money was collected, Khaliq informed them that they had failed credit checks and refused to refund their money. He further instructed his staff to participate in the scam ordering them to accept but never return the holding deposits.

Khaliq also arranged for fake home insurance claims to be submitted with fabricated quotes and invoices with the help of employee Paul Dickinson.

Prosecutor Andrew Thomas told the court the “blatant” insurance scam worked by submitting genuine-looking but inflated quotes from two invented firms.

The prosecutor also revealed that Khaliq used the pseudonym ‘Jack Daniels’ in these transactions in a bid to hide his identity from complainers.

Mr Thomas said: “It was blatant dishonesty. Lies were told to fob off those who wanted their money back.

“Many of the victims were vulnerable people, mainly people on low incomes who were struggling to obtain adequate housing.

“Many of the tenants were on housing benefits and not well off and very often vulnerable because of financial circumstances or other difficulties.”

“Lies were told about two things: who was living in the property and the fabrication of estimates and invoices for repair work.

“Internal emails showed Paul Dickinson was the author of the bogus documents and Mr Khaliq was involved.

“In reality the works were done by their own handymen at a fraction of the cost.”

A third scam also saw Khaliq and Dickinson collect rent for 119 properties they managed on behalf of liquidators Ernst and Young – which a court heard they failed to pass on.

Khaliq also instigated a council tax avoidance scheme perpetrated against Bury and Bolton councils. He also arranged for counterfeit accountant letters to support a £3million Co-op Bank loan application.

Khaliq admitted two counts of making an article for use in fraud, two of conspiracy to commit fraud, one of theft and three counts of fraud. He has now been sentenced to 45 months in prison and has been ordered to pay back £100,000 and pay court costs of £125,000. He was also disqualified from being a company director for 10 years.

During sentencing,  Judge Graeme Smith told Khaliq: “You instigated and directed several different fraudulent schemes.

“Though some were directed at institutions such as banks and insurance companies, one of them caused harm to those in a vulnerable position.”

Dickinson, of Leigh, Greater Manchester, admitted theft and six counts of fraud and was given a two year suspended sentence. He was also ordered to pay £24,280 and prosecution costs of £15,000, was disqualified from being a company director for six years and told to complete 240 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Graeme Smith told Dickinson he was suspending his sentence so he could dedicate his spare time to his 10-year-old twin sons – one of whom is seriously ill.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Landlords Still Issuing Licenses to Occupy to Evade Deposit Protection Rules

Deposit Protection

Since the entry into force of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme many landlords and letting agents have devised ways of evading and ignoring deposit protection rules.

One common tactic which renters should be aware of is issuing tenants with a “licence to occupy” in place of an “Assured Shorthold Tenancy”.

A licence gives the right to occupy and is typically used for bed and breakfasts, hotels, holiday lets and some HMOs.  Often tenants only discover that a license has been issued when attempting to recover their deposit at the end of their occupation. However, despite being called a license, you may still have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the eyes of the law. In this event it may be possible to use typical AST measures to recoup moneys owed.

Do I have a License or a Tenancy?

A tenancy is created automatically if someone moves in and starts paying rent. Some landlords incorrectly issue licenses, either through inexperience or design to give tenants less rights than they would usually expect with an AST. A tenancy cannot be turned into a license merely by both parties signing a piece of paper headed ‘license agreement.’  A landmark case which defined the requirements for a tenancy as opposed to a license was Street v. Mountford in 1985. This stated that one has a tenancy if one:

  • pays a rent
  • occupies the property for a term
  • enjoys exclusive possession of land / property

These conditions do not apply if one does not pay rent  or if the occupier does not enjoy exclusive possession such as in a shared room or if cleaning and meals are provided as in a hotel.

The clearest way to identify the difference between the two [license and Assured Shorthold Tenancy] is exclusivity. If a tenant has exclusive use of at least one room in the property, and that room(s) is specified, this will usually be classed as a Tenancy Agreement. If the property is shared with more than one individual, this is more likely to be a Licence.

I believe I have been incorrectly issued with a license and my landlord has not protected my deposit, what should I do?

It may therefore be possible to claim damages from your landlord if they incorrectly issued you with a licence and failed to protect your deposit. According to current deposit protection rules, your landlord must register your deposit in one of the three government-approved deposit protection schemes within 30 days of the start of your tenancy.  The penalty for non-compliance is a fine of between one and three times the deposit amount.

 

 

 

 

 

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Renters Alliance notices increase in fake property rent deposit scam

National Renters Alliance scam alert fake property deposit

The National Renters Alliance has recently noticed an uptick in the incidence of the fake property rent deposit scam and is warning students and foreign nationals to be vigilant when looking for properties.  

The scam which in the past gained notoriety from its association with the listings website Gumtree, works by offering to let properties in prime areas at below market rates and asking for a deposit.  Extreme examples often ask prospective tenants to pay for 6 months or 1 years’ rent in advance to secure the property prior to visiting it.  Payment of large sums of money in advance targets foreign nationals who are frequently required  to pay 6 month’s rent in advance by established letting agents in London and student towns such as Cambridge and Oxford.

In the scam, prospective tenants are convinced to part with either credit card details, cheques or cash before seeing the property which does not exist.  Further ,since the fraudsters leave no legitimate correspondence address it is almost impossible for victims to pursue fraudsters in court.  Other variations include instances where fraudsters do access the property and show around prospective tenants.  The property already be rented or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time.

The National Renters Alliance recommends several measures which tenants can take to help protect themselves from falling victim to this scam.

  1. Never pay money upfront before visiting a property.  Always be suspicious if anybody refuses to let you visit the property before paying a deposit.
  2. Ask to see identification such as a driving license and/or passport from the prospective landlord or letting agent. If you are dealing with a company ask for a correspondence address.
  3. Prospective tenants can also check whether the landlord is a member of the National Landlords Association (NLA) using the NLA accreditation website  www.landlords.org.uk
  4. If you are still a student, you can often uses your student union or accommodation office to check whether a landlord is on an approved housing list.
  5. If dealing with a letting agent check whether the agent is accredited by organization.  Examples of such bodies include the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS),
  6. Use commonsense. If the property looks too good to be true, too cheap for the location then it possibly is.
  7. Before paying a deposit ask the landlord or agent which government-backed deposit scheme is being used.  Currently there are three: mydeposit, The Dispute Service (TDS), The Deposit Protection Service (TDPS).
  8. If the property is shared ask the current occupants how they found the property and how they pay their rent. If the landlord or agent collects only cash or regularly changes bank accounts this should warrant further vigilance.
  9. If possible use a credit card to pay for a deposit after the letting agreement has been signed. Be wary if you are asked to transfer money via money transfer agents such as Western Union or Money Gram. Only use these services to send money to people you already know and trust.
  10. Always check the legitimacy of an advert.  This is especially true for a non-property website such as Gumtree, Avoid adverts with no photographs or ones with photographs used on multiple adverts.

 

 

 

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Online rental fraud rising steeply

Businessman's hand holding bunch of money - various Euros (Eur) banknotes, isolated over white background

A BBC investigation has uncovered the a rapid rise in rental fraud in England and Wales.  According to figures from Action Fraud, which collates national fraud statistics for the City of London Police, the number of rental fraud cases rose from 2,216 in 2014 to 3,193 in 2015.

The most common type of fraud consists of scam artists offering flats to rent which they do not actually own and demanding instant deposits.  Very often the lure of a significantly below market rate rent is used to attract victims.  Extreme examples often ask prospective tenants to pay for 6 months or 1 years’ rent in advance to secure the property prior to visiting it.  Payment of large sums of money in advance targets foreign nationals who are frequently required  to pay 6 month’s rent in advance by established letting agents in London and student towns such as Cambridge and Oxford.

Further, since the fraudsters leave no legitimate correspondence address, it is almost impossible for victims to pursue fraudsters in court.  Other variations include instances where fraudsters do access the property and show around prospective tenants.  The property already be rented or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time.

The scam which in the past gained notoriety from its early association with the listings website Gumtree, has now extended to other property lising and flat-sharing websites.  EasyRoomMate for example blocks 5% of the 1,000 adverts placed on its UK site each week over fraud suspicions.  Other common websites targeted by rental fraudsters include Gumtree, Air BnB.

The National Renters Alliance recommends several measures which tenants can take to help protect themselves from falling victim to this scam.

  1. Never pay money upfront before visiting a property.  Always be suspicious if anybody refuses to let you visit the property before paying a deposit.
  2. Ask to see identification such as a driving license and/or passport from the prospective landlord or letting agent. If you are dealing with a company ask for a correspondence address.
  3. Prospective tenants can also check whether the landlord is a member of the National Landlords Association (NLA) using the NLA accreditation website  www.landlords.org.uk
  4. If you are still a student, you can often uses your student union or accommodation office to check whether a landlord is on an approved housing list.
  5. If dealing with a letting agent check whether the agent is accredited by organization.  Examples of such bodies include the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS),
  6. Use commonsense. If the property looks too good to be true, too cheap for the location then it possibly is.
  7. Before paying a deposit ask the landlord or agent which government-backed deposit scheme is being used.  Currently there are three: mydeposit, The Dispute Service (TDS), The Deposit Protection Service (TDPS).
  8. If the property is shared ask the current occupants how they found the property and how they pay their rent. If the landlord or agent collects only cash or regularly changes bank accounts this should warrant further vigilance.
  9. If possible use a credit card to pay for a deposit after the letting agreement has been signed. Be wary if you are asked to transfer money via money transfer agents such as Western Union or Money Gram. Only use these services to send money to people you already know and trust.
  10. Always check the legitimacy of an advert.  This is especially true for a non-property website such as Gumtree, Avoid adverts with no photographs or ones with photographs used on multiple adverts.

 

 

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