A Croydon 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.
After months of detective work by Croydon’s trading standards department, Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan was put to trial on March 13.
Damayantharan, of Demesne Road, Wallington, initially denied two charges of fraudulent trading, which meant proceedings were originally expected to last up to five weeks.
However, he changed his plea to guilty after Croydon Crown Court heard evidence from some of his 20 victims, detailing how he had taken their holding deposits and failed to return them when the proposed property rentals had fallen through.
Councillor Hamida Ali, 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.
“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 other people,” she added.
Damayantharan owned two estate agents – including My Lawn Estates, which traded from several Croydon addresses including Lansdowne Road. Over 6 years, he made over 34 fraudulent transactions, amounting to £15,085.
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 passed, Damayantharan would make excuses of delays in the checks being carried out, or tell them that the landlord had elected not to go ahead with the rental. Repeated refund requests were made, and eventually completely ignored by Damayantharan.
Judge Peter 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,” he added.
On top of his 19-month sentence, Damayantharan is disqualified from being a director of any company for a period of five years.