A letting agency which featured in last night’s Rogue Traders section of BBC’s Watchdog programme was said to have shut its doors after taking, and not returning, a £2,700 deposit from prospective tenants.
The programme has, once again, highlighted problems in a sector where anyone can start a lettings business and handle the public’s money.
Grattan Estates, of Finchley, north London, was alleged to have taken the money from a pair of young women who were quoted £420 weekly rent for a property they liked.
Lizzie and Claire – for whom the deposit represented a month’s income – paid over the money after their offer of £400 a week was apparently accepted.
However, when they came to sign the letting agreement, they found the weekly rent had been written in as £500.
That meant they could not afford the property, and they asked unsuccessfully for their deposit to be returned.
In the programme, a member of the agent’s staff called Adam was seen explaining that the deposit money had been taken by a firm called EU Estates.
The programme claimed that EU Estates had operated out of the same premises as Grattan.
Adam was also seen sitting next to a man, Mustapha, that the programme said was the boss of both EU Estates and Grattan Estates. Mustapha was also identified as ‘Martin’, seen showing prospective tenants – in fact TV researchers – around properties.
The programme also made allegations about Grattan Estate’s sales activities, saying that it had taken listings from other agents for its website, and that it was not registered with an ombudsman scheme as required by law.
In one sequence, present Matt Allwright knocked on the door of a property listed as being for sale by Grattan Estates. The woman who answered the door said her home was not for sale.
Property expert Henry Pryor, who appeared on the programme, appeared horrified as events unfolded. Rogue Traders sent in two members of its own team to Grattan Estates, both apparently looking for somewhere to rent.
The first person put down a £300 holding deposit on a flat, which Grattan Estates said would result in the property being taken off the market. However, the same property was shown to the second member of the team and a £700 holding deposit was taken from him.
Pryor described this as “outrageous”, adding: “It’s why the industry has such a shabby reputation.”
The two ‘tenants’ were then filmed turning up at the agency office at the same time and were seen as people who coincidentally knew each other. Mustapha offered to return their deposits.
However, Allwright insisted that the agent had taken a deposit off tenants and not paid it back, and had been seen taking multiple holding deposits on the same property, as well as selling homes that it had no right to sell.
He and a camera crew confronted Mustapha who was seen wedged behind a satellite dish on a balcony in a rental flat, calling the police and getting worried about his health.
The TV crew left, and further attempts to contact both Mustapha and Adam proved fruitless.
Allwright said that yesterday morning the Grattan Estates office was shut. He suggested that the pair featured in the programme might show up elsewhere, and warned that letting agents must play by the book.
For those who missed the way the programme covered the story – in three slots on Watchdog – go to the links below.