BBC Watchdog programme accuses letting agent over deposits

Thursday 19th September 2013

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.

 

 



 



 

(27) Comments

Added by Robert May on 2013-09-25 08:16:11

Sorry Letting Agent, are you saying that CMP should be more available than it is and that an agent shoul be able to look after £ millions without any outside control over what they are doing with client money?
Added by Letting Agent on 2013-09-21 20:12:04

It beggars belief that agents like Gratton can operate in this manner and still actually get away with it! What riles me most though is that all agents should be able to access Client Money Protection, regardless of whether you choose to be a member of a trade association. Even if you are a well established letting agent that chooses not to be a member of a trade association, but do join the TPO, it is virtually impossible to buy CMP. There is very little alternative to CMP unless you join NALS, UKALA or ARLA. Surely this is not right?????
Added by Kirsty McGregor on 2013-09-20 21:14:53

For heaven's sake PRS - stop turning on yourselves and look at what you are doing! As Henry says, so many of you need to 'man up', stop acting like sheep and come out of the shadows....just look what you are missing here, an opportunity to stop being tarnished with the same brush as those idiots at this-week-called Grattan Estates!

There's far to much to say on this forum post, so there's more on my blog here - if anyone can be bothered to actually look into what I'm saying instead of reacting defensively and posting some daft comment in reply.

http://www.realsurv.blogspot.co.uk/
Added by Robert May on 2013-09-20 09:02:09

Mr Pryor you enjoy a very privileged position; you are regarded and respected by the BBC as an expert in property matters, you can tell them anything and it will become 'BBC fact' and regarded as true and unbiased across the globe.

In my opinion you are charged with telling the story as it is and not just going along with the Campaign Du jour. That puts you in the difficult position of potentially pleasing no-one but serving the truth.
There are no doubts ‘rogue agents’ , I have come across RICS rogue Agents, ARLA rogue agents, NAEA rogue agents and no trade association rogues but no Law society rogues. In my direct experience of over 4000 agents spanning 19 years I have seen less than 10 rogues.
Using the TPO figures from last year 0.024% of tenants or landlords had a complaint upheld against an Agent. Now that figure might have doubled or trebled in 5 years but the fact that complaints are so low ought to be the headline rather than the marketing spin that was used to kick off the Rogue Agent campaign that so many in the media and government picked up on (the doubling or trebling of complaints) The truth behind that doubling or trebling of complaints was that simply more Agents had voluntarily signed up for the TPO redress scheme, more subscribers naturally brings more complaints.

The Rogue Agent campaign is an easy, newsworthy, political football, one which is self fuelling; a series of parties have come together all with a common goal of stamping out mal-practice. Each has heard evidence from each other and again naturally enough all told stories of Rogue Agents, reinforced by media coverage with opinion from experts like yourself, the letting Industry has gone from respectable to rogue in 12 months, everyone is tarred with the same brush and at no point other that in angry and protest posts on LAT has the very vast majority of Agents [99.75% by my experience] had any representation in this very one sided besmirching of the industry.
That wholesale besmirching of everyone might not be the intention but I would challenge anyone to find a news story where the problem has been isolated away from the main stream Agency.


Added by Arnie from Newington on 2013-09-19 19:05:31

Henry are you aware of the saying people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones?

Are you aware of the widescale mortgage fraud that occurred on buy to let and liar loans that occurred before the crash.

This fraud could not have taken place without the practice of surveyors valuing properties 15-25% higher than the market value.

This practice left hundreds of thousands of homeowners in negative equity and many went bust.

This was portrayed on the BBC drama downfall in case you are oblivious to this practice.

I suggest you get your own house in order before slandering all letting agents.

The simple facts are regarding regulation is that if their was a demand for the services that RICS and ARLA provide then both landlords and tenants would flock to use ARLA and RICS firms .

The fact that they don't show that outside a few vested interests there is no real desire amongst either landlords or tenants for regulation. The reason for this is that the market is the best regulator there is.
Added by WinniethePooh287 on 2013-09-19 17:06:09

Henry, can think of any reason why the BBC have not yet corrected the errors or inconsistencies in the Nigel Havers "ripped off" episode of Watchdog.

It was clear that Mr Havers had a rented a flat through his business and it appeared that he rented directly from the landlord rather than through an Agency yet Watchdog portrayed Mr Havers a hapless private punter ripped off by unscrupulous letting agents. Give Mr Havers his due he played the part beautifully and it was certainly most convincing.
Do you think the campaign to smear an entire industry for the sake of supporting a crusade for regulation is fair and ethical?

As for dialogue with real people with real names there has been plenty of opportunity for that and I would suggest it is the likes of Peter Bolton King, Ian Potter, Isobel Thompson and the likes who are sat in the various ivory towers who are above grown up conversation.

As for a poster’s moniker that really doesn’t matter, if the conversation is polite and the opinion valid it is down to other posters to discuss the opinion rather than the poster.

As for manning up, was it you who missed those basic points that robbed the Haver’s story of credibility and helped alienate the majority if decent agents?

I am more than happy to have robust (real name) dialogue with people I respect but right now I have so little regard for those behind the Rogue Agent campaign they will be treated with the same contempt they display for 99% of decent and honest agents.
Added by Andystrev on 2013-09-19 16:19:17

The huge response to the Watchdog story speaks volumes about how upset agents are becoming with a media that seems to be portraying us all as fly-by-night conmen. I started my business in 1996 and have no plans to dispose of it until I retire. I am proud of the job I am my staff do and proud to say that most of the other agents I know are decent people working hard to earn a living legitimately. If the rogues need to be regulated out of the industry then the industry should be regulated. This has gone on too far and it is ridiculous that unsuspecting people are handing over hundreds of pounds to unregulated conmen. The problem is that until there are laws to stop this it will become a target for more and more conmen until it ends up like the scrap or skip hire industry. Let's not go there guys if we want to be professionals then we should expect regulation this light touch thing just isn't working is it?
Added by IHS on 2013-09-19 15:36:02

It is pity Watchdog cannot spend a few weeks with a professional letting agency showing how the job should be done as Channel 4 did with The Dealership, a program about a second hand car dealer in Essex.
Such a program would hopefully show the public that the majority of us are not rip off merchants but provide a good service to both landlords and tenants.
Most of the criticism at the moment relates to fees but it is what we do during the time the property is let that should receive more publicity.
For example if you own your house there is no-one their to immediately help you if you suffer a catastrophe such as a burst pipe whereas we will have contractors on hand to stabilise the situation and provide assistance to the tenant in drying the property out as quickly as possible or even find them alternative accommodation if the property is deemed uninhabitable. We will also process an insurance claim on behalf of the landlord and liaise with loss adjusters etc. at no additional cost.
Although the saying goes that no news is good news with consumer programs it is the opposite.
Added by Henry Pryor on 2013-09-19 15:20:23

To those who hide in the shadows of my scroll bar.

I'm a huge fan of EAT and all that Roz works so hard to do on this site but I have stopped contributing and sadly from listening to the contributions of my peers as their real voices are now drowned by the flotsam that obscures their opinions.

I'm all for a robust exchange but if you want to engage or for your view to be taken seriously then you will find that commenting under a real name might help. I'd need to be far more pissed than I am now to want to have a debate with someone calling themselves 'WinnieThePooh287' and wouldn't expect such a person to understand a rational, informed argument less profit from it.

It's a shame that such a well-informed audience cannot openly debate some of the biggest and most important developments in property - to argue and to learn from each other or to help bring shape and develop a business that so many of us enjoy and are proud to be working in.

If you want to be taken seriously then you need to 'man up' and step out of the shadows. No one is that interested in the views or brickbats from a barcode. My point that will doubtless be well illustrated by the comments that follow this post.
Added by Reg Ulation on 2013-09-19 14:16:11

This is yet another example of why regulation, rather than redress, is needed in the residential lettings industry. The recent complaints about agent’s fees and charges are a side-show compared to this. Reputable agents charging a fee for a tenancy agreement, a reference check, or a check-in and being transparent about it are doing nothing wrong. Agents who take people’s money and fraudulently make off with it should be closed down and prosecuted. Currently anyone can set themselves up as a letting agent and start handling other people’s money, even someone who has been banned from practicing as an estate agent. The public are horribly unaware of this, and programmes like BBC Watchdog are vital in raising public awareness.
Added by EPCO2 on 2013-09-19 13:51:01

The programme made great telly, for the man on the street. For you professionals, it would be infuriating, as it was an extreme. However, the sooner letting agents are regulated the better. The professionals have nothing to fear and welcome regulation, whilst those playing at it and ripping off tenants, will either have to provide a service or go and do something else with their talents.

Toby B-F - I think you'll find that it is that hanger on, Nick Clegg who wants to spend 600m on free meals for primary school kids, not David Cameron. I quite fancy a married allowance.
Added by J on 2013-09-19 13:41:54

Can someone explain to me how a company so dodgy does not even have one review on www.allagents.co.uk;

http://www.allagents.co.uk/grattan-estates/

It looks like allagents also needs regulating?!
Added by Arnie from Newington on 2013-09-19 12:59:12

This is the second expose by Watchdog of Rogue Letting Agents in what appears to be a proregulation agenda backed by RICS and ARLA.

Funny how when Watchdog expose the various other rogue traders they do not call for the entire industry to be regulated.

For some reason letting agents are deemed to be fair game for regulation and once it is introduced then we will be subject to every whim and kneejerk reaction that the regulator thinks would be a good idea.
Added by wow on 2013-09-19 12:53:31

Voice of Sanity - "These people were operating with the prime motive of conning people therefore hard to establish them as actual agents"

Try telling that to Joe Public because as far as they are concerned they represent as agents so its a bit weak to argue semantics.

Actually are you kidding me - "Henry Pryor is part of an active campaign to paint the whole lettings industry in a bad light"

It beggars belief that the above statement is all you got from this...
Added by Right call Oliver? on 2013-09-19 12:04:10

Surely Agents need PI to protect them from errant employess and the trade associations should hold the CMP for errant employers.

Travel Agents have PI but belong to ABTA who provide the insurance for business failure.

If CMP were only available from ARLA the rogues are left standing out in the open with no insurance and no means of trading.

RICS won't like it but hey ho, tough!
Added by Where have you been? on 2013-09-19 11:26:38

type "Rogue Agent" into Google and trawl through the active and orchestrated campaign for regulation of which RICS, ARLA, TPO and Shelter have been running with the help of the BBC and their active lobbying of CLG

You might also want to watch the other watchdog programme where someone spoon fed the BBC with a whole article of incorrect information about Lettings Agents.

Added by on 2013-09-19 10:28:32

Why have a go at Henry Pryor? He was presumably asked to provide expert comment by the BBC and did so. Furthermore, he did so very well. I can think of many bad ambassadors that various industries have and Henry is not one of them. He comes over very professionally on television and in a consumer friendly way. As for him wanting to paint the whole lettings industry black, that seems a sweeping comment when the Watchdog programme, which I also saw by chance, concentrated only on one particular outfit and its practices.
Added by David d'Orton-Gibson on 2013-09-19 10:20:27

I have no doubt this will call for more legislation that all the good agents will have to follow. when will we hear that the regulatory bodies have taken enforcement of the EXISTING legislation. The programme stressed all the rules being broken and I am sorry to say passing further law will make no difference (look at the attitude to parking tickets).

I hope LAT will report the prosecution for the existing offences and give the good hard working some hope.
Added by Actually are you kidding me... on 2013-09-19 10:09:15

No, Henry Pryor is part of an active campaign to paint the whole lettings industry in a bad light while protecting the so called professional RICS.
Have a look through the RICS disciplinary hearings and there are cases there neatly swept under the carpet and never mentioned that put the scale of this roguery to shame.

What harms the indusrty is;

Self apponted (ill-informed) experts telling an ignorant BBC misinformation which is regurgitated to the nation who swallow it like and Eastern European hooker.

The closed shop chummines of ARLA and RICS who deter membership rather than encourage it

The TPO and independant CMP providers who facilitate non trade body membership and free agents from the scrutiny of Account Audits.



Added by Christopher Clarke on 2013-09-19 09:33:30

I watched the program by chance and the brazen nature of it was quite shocking.

I work for a large, friendly private lettings agent and was sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

The funny thing was, at he end of the show two things came to mind:

1. Anne Robinson has taken the plastic surgery one step too far;
2. That when I "failed" my references back in 2004, I really didn't and they just took my deposit money from me. I thought the agent was dodgy and now I know they probably were
Added by Toby Belching-Felcher on 2013-09-19 09:32:21

Soft sentencing & prison life is the problem. We need to build another ten large prisons to house all these crims.

Wet drip Cameron hasn't got the guts to do it, but he can blow £600m on free school lunches & same amount on marriage allowances.

Democracy is going to kill this country. The electorate are like toddlers wanting another sweetie. That's how we end up with £1.4 trillion national debt.
Added by Oliver Wharmby on 2013-09-19 09:31:12

Another classic example of why the lettings sector needs regulation and compulsory PI + CMP. http://psrib.com/chartered-surveyors-property-professionals
Added by Voice of Sanity on 2013-09-19 09:18:08

Constructive input to insult people, maybe we should legislate against that as well?
Yes we need tighter controls (as stated) but not knee jerk reactions to unbalanced reporting of con artists.

These people were operating with the prime motive of conning people therefore hard to establish them as actual agents. Is this the norm no. Therefore if a true wish to report issues that would be useful would be to look into the actual practices that operate across the industry and push to have entry level qualifications or a register.

Good business with years of local reputation dont get harmed by odd idiots like this because our clients know it is not anything to do with us.

Does the industry need a register - yes all industry benefits from regulation, but it needs to be useful and proper and not badly thought out. It also needs a party in Governement to push it through and none once out of opposition have ever been bothered.
Added by Are you kidding me? on 2013-09-19 09:12:35

Jeez, even when confronted with visual evidence of rogue agents trading in our industry we get numpty's posting like the first three.

It's a pity you guys don't see the bigger picture or maybe you're just ignoring it but agents like Grattan Estates and EU Estates harm our reputation and so do your comments. Both these agents operate with impunity and I welcome the day that tighter control is established and enforced so that there's a more thorough vetting of whom may join our profession.
Added by Voiceof Sanity on 2013-09-19 08:54:00

There are rogues in very industry, these people are not memebrs of the required bodies so it is akin to saying all Doctors are bad when someone practices without being qualified. Yes more stringent controls are required but is this the norm no it isn't. This pair are con artists not rogue agents. BBC get back to balanced reporting which you used to be so rightly praised for. Also a bit of advice get proper paperwork from whoever you are dealing with and check them out - google is a good source for those who haven't heard of it, rather than blindly hand your money over to people who are effectively strangers.
Added by kevin on 2013-09-19 08:46:15

If the deposit represented a months income then they couldn't afford it anyway.
Added by One has to suspect on 2013-09-19 07:23:49

Henry Pryor was also the expert behind the last Watchdog exposé where a commercial tenant with a commercial tenancy was painted up as a Tenant wronged by an agent rather than a rogue landlord.

Great telly Henry, it is easy to appear an expert when you are dealing with the level of knowledge available in the BBC.

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