A letting agent – described by a judge as being “thoroughly dishonest” – has been jailed for 19 months after making off with thousands of pounds of clients’ holding deposits.
The trial of Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan, of Demesne Road, Wallington, came about after months of detective work by officers from Croydon Council’s trading standards department. Proceedings started with him denying two charges of fraudulent trading, and were expected to last five weeks.
However, he changed his plea to guilty after Croydon Crown Court had heard evidence from some 20 of his victims detailing how he had taken holding deposits and failed to return them when the proposed property rentals had fallen through.
Damayantharan ran two letting agencies – See Own Properties, in Airport House, Purley Way, and My Lawn Estates, which traded from several Croydon addresses, including Lansdowne Road. Over six years he fraudulently took holding deposits from prospective tenants. Sometimes this involved more than one for the same property, sometimes for properties which he had not been appointed to let, and he both failed to create tenancies and didn’t return the deposits.
The amount fraudulently received from the 33 transactions was £15,085 and related to properties across and beyond Croydon. The court heard that Damayantharan took the deposits – ranging from £300 to £1,449 – from would-be tenants saying the money would hold the property for them while credit reference checks were made.
As the projected move-in dates came and went, Damayantharan would stall his clients with tales of delays on the checks being carried out, or telling them that the landlord had elected to not proceed with the rental. Repeated refund requests were eventually completely ignored by Damayantharan.
His Honour 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 cashpoint 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.”
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“This is a dreadful case of fraud, leaving dozens of his clients out of pocket and, in some cases, facing the possibility of homelessness.
“This is the sort of thing that the council’s landlord-licensing scheme was designed to help combat; offering private tenants protection against poor-quality properties and the fraudulent behaviour of a small number of individuals who are out to line their own pockets at the expense of people who are, in some cases, desperate to put a roof over their own, and their families’, heads.”
Damayantharan is disqualified from being a director of any company for a period of five years.