Finding a house to rent these days is a stressful process. It’s expensive, properties can get swept out from under your feet in moments, and the perfect house can be near impossible to find. So what if your letting agent is lying to you (about more than just their name) and breaking the law in the process? Well that’s an added struggle that nobody needs.
After weeks of fruitless flat-hunting, Lizzie Davies and Claire Coldwell found their ideal place to rent in London, with a company called Grattan Estates. They paid a substantial holding deposit to take the property off the market. They were given a receipt, which confirmed that the monthly rent was £400 per week.
However, when they went back to sign the tenancy agreement they noticed that the rent had been inexplicably raised by £100 per week. They refused to sign.
Grattan Estates claimed that the rent had always been the higher figure. But as Lizzie and Claire couldn’t afford it they were left without a flat. They were initially promised a refund of their deposit, but six months on and they are still waiting for the grand total of £2,723.
After Lizzie got in contact with the Rogue Traders team, they decided to secretly film a meeting between her and Grattan Estates – to get to the bottom of why her deposit had not been refunded.
Employee Adam (who took Lizzie’s money and drew up her contracts) denied all responsibility for returning her money. In the secretly filmed meeting, he said that Lizzie’s money was with the previous owner of the company. He also said that the new manager of Grattan Estates called ‘Sam’ would call Lizzie.
However, the Rogue Traders team knew that ‘Sam’ didn’t exist. In fact the person responsible for Grattan Estates – a man called Mostafa Shahnavaz – was sitting silently throughout the meeting.
What else was this company misleading consumers about?
As well as lettings, Grattan Estates also have a host of properties advertised for sale. But they are not permitted to sell property, as they’re not signed up to an Ombudsman Service.
So they seem to be breaking the law.
But, when the Rogue Traders team made several attempts to view these properties advertised as for sale, the team were told they were ‘no longer available’.
So the team decided to contact some of the homeowners. They discovered that the homeowners had never heard of Grattan Estates, let alone marketed their houses for sale with them.
That means the adverts were fake.
The team decided to find out more about how Grattan Estates operate. What would they find?
They sent in undercover researchers ‘Sarah’ and ‘James’ to view a few rental properties.
The undercover researchers were greeted by none other than manager of Grattan Estates – Mostafa Shahnavaz, who confusingly introduces himself as ‘Martin’.
Undercover researcher ‘Sarah’ showed that she was interested in one of the flats, and so the very next day went into the Grattan office to put down a holding deposit. She explained that she could not afford to pay the required £700 upfront, and so asked to put down £300 to hold the flat whilst she raised the rest of the cash.
Mr Shahnavaz and Adam assured ‘Sarah’ that, not only will they not show the flat to anyone else, they would take the property off the market.
All seemed well and good, except that the next working day Mr Shahnavaz showed another undercover researcher ‘Sam’ the very same property. And later that day, Adam of Grattan Estates was more than happy to accept a full £700 deposit from ‘Sam’.
But during that same time, ‘Sarah’ had transferred the remaining £400 of her deposit to Mr Shanavaz, who still failed to mention anything about another interested tenant.
Within the space of 24 hours, Grattan Estates had taken two deposits of £700, from two different people – promising both of them the property.
Estate Agent and industry expert Henry Pryor explains that that this kind of behaviour is ‘…outrageous. It’s scandalous. It’s why the industry has the shabby reputation that it does.’
To expose the dealings of this company, the Rogue Traders team set up a conveniently timed meeting between two undercover teams.
When ‘Sam’ and his flatmate ‘Ben’ went in to deliver some paperwork to the Grattan office, ‘Sarah’ just happened to be there, doing the exact same thing. The situation came to a head when Mostafa realised that the two ‘prospective tenants’ were talking to each other and had discovered that they had both paid a deposit for the same property.
Mostafa ushered the confused ‘tenants’ into a room at the back of the office only to promptly make his exit – leaving his colleague Adam to explain.
Adam told ‘Ben’, ‘Sam’ and ‘Sarah’ that the reason they took two holding deposits for one flat was in case one of the groups failed the credit check. But how about if they both passed the credit check, who would get the flat then?
‘Who knows?’, said Adam.
Eventually Mostafa returned and agreed to refund both holding deposits, which he does within a few days.
But as Lizzie and Claire are still waiting for their refund, the team decided to confront boss Mostafa Shahnavaz during one final flat viewing.
He refused to speak to them and tried to call the police but they never arrived. He continued to avoid answering the questions put forward by the Rogue Traders team and eventually threatened to climb off the balcony, at which point the team decided to leave.
But Lizzie and Claire are still out of pocket.
source : BBC One – Watchdog – Rogue Traders