News item

Crooked lettings agents duped tenants out of their savings

A lettings agent who conned prospective tenants out of  thousands of pounds of deposit money has been jailed for three years. 

Robert Boateng, 35, worked at Holland Taylor & Associates in London Road, Barking. His co-worker Clara Sorkpor, 32, was also found guilty of fraud and sentenced to unpaid work in the community. Their crimes came to light following an investigation by Barking and Dagenham Council’s Trading Standards team. 

Between April 2011 and early 2012 Boateng and Sorkpor worked together to get access to properties so they could use them to obtain advance rent and deposits from prospective tenants. Frequently the tenant was left empty handed, and sometimes the owner of the property had no knowledge of what was happening. The total fraud added up to around £85,000. 

Often the hopeful tenant handed over savings or acquired a loan in order to pay upfront fees as they were led to believe that paying an extra month up front would help to secure a property. On one occasion the tenants moved in, only for the genuine owner to turn up and find his property occupied by tenants he knew nothing about. 

Both Boateng and Sorkpor falsely presented themselves as landlords in order to dupe victims. Sometimes they rented properties from other estate agents in order to use them to tempt victims. Other times they contacted landlords renting elsewhere to get details of properties. One property was a council flat where there was no permission to sublet. 

Council trading standards officers started their investigations after receiving complaints from tenants and landlords. Some of the victims are still homeless, having lost large sums of money. 

The case was heard at Basildon Crown Court between 25 November and 5 December. Boateng and Sorkpor, both of Westfield Road, Dagenham, pleaded not guilty. They were found guilty and sentenced on 9 January. 

Boateng was imprisoned for three years and Sorkpor was given 150 hours unpaid work in the community. 

Cllr Jeanne Alexander, Cabinet Member for Crime, Justice and Communities, said: “This was a particularly callous fraud because the victims were duped into handing over large sums of money, often from their savings. These people were in a vulnerable position and they were exploited. 

“The increase in demand for housing means many more people are now renting on the private market. If there’s one lesson to take from this case it’s the importance of making sure you deal with a reputable lettings agency, whether you’re a landlord or a tenant.” 

DATE: 27 January 2014