Lettings agents who took rent for properties that were never in fact available have been given suspended sentences for money laundering.
The agents at Oliver Knights, an online property lettings business, pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, having knowingly allowed their bank accounts to be used to launder the proceeds of multiple letting frauds between December 2013 and September 2015.
It is reported that some £50,000 was obtained by the agents for properties that were advertised to let on websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla as well as their own site. Following initial viewings prospective tenants were persuaded to pay deposits and rent in advance only to be told some time later that the property was no longer available or just never hearing from the agents again.
Other properties were also advertised for rent without the owner’s knowledge and/or consent. In other cases, tenants were moving into properties having paid money to the agents only to discover that they had moved in without the landlord’s knowledge or without the rent being passed on to the relevant landlord by the agents.
Cases like these are rare. However, landlords who use agents should ensure that they carry out their due diligence and ensure they know who they are contracting with. Agents are required to be members of a redress scheme and have membership of a client money protection scheme. Landlords should be sure that the people they are dealing with have both of these. It is a good sign that these agents have been prosecuted as it demonstrates that some action is being taken against criminal agents that undermine the sector. However, many landlords and agents would like to see more being done.
Agents should also be conscious of their own obligations under the Proceeds of Crimes Act. An agent who is asked to pay money into the bank account of a relative of their client, for example, should consider whether that is being done to enable fraud or tax evasion.
The contents of this blog post is not legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only. If legal advice is needed readers should contact a solicitor. No responsibility for any information contained within this post is accepted and PainSmith solicitors accepts no liability in respect of the contents or for action taken based on this post.