An agent who has gone on trial has been described as “brazenly dishonest”.
It is alleged that he fraudulently kept nearly £15,000 of holding deposits from tenants.
Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan, 54, and known as Mr Damo, denies two counts of fraudulently trading as two companies – See Own Properties and My Lawn Estates.
In all, Damo is accused of taking holding deposits in relation to 33 different tenancies.
The sums are said to range from £48.50 to £1,449.
None of the tenants ever got access to the flat they had paid to have the chance to rent, Croydon Crown Court heard in the prosecution brought by Croydon Council’s Trading Standards.
The court heard that in most cases, the move-in date for properties came and passed without the prospective tenants being supplied keys.
When they repeatedly tried to get their money back, it was said Damo would give excuses before eventually breaking off contact.
Sometimes, the court heard, Damo would say the landlord had decided not to let to the tenant, or he claimed money had been held up with a referencing agency.
In many cases, the incidents left people not only out of pocket, but on the verge of homelessness.
Andrew Johnson, prosecuting, told the court Damo would in some cases even take deposits from several different prospective tenants for the same property – with none securing the property – and even took deposits on properties which he hadn’t been given permission to let by the landlord, actions described as “fundamentally dishonest”.
He told the court: “What the prosecution say the reality was of Mr Damo’s business [is that] the holding deposits weren’t actually being treated by Mr Damo as deposits at all.
“He may have called them holding deposits but he was treating them as fees, effectively for the privilege of having dealt with him irrespective of whether the property was to be rented by them [the tenants] at all.
“Mr Damo treated those funds as money he had earned, he deserved.”
In one case, he was said to have told investigators the money had been an “administration fee”.
Mr Johnson said: “He continues to maintain the sums paid were an admin fee, even after having shown to him the receipts which referred to the sums as holding deposits.
“The [investigating] officer asked so actually you’re using the holding deposit as a commission payment for finding a tenant? To which Mr Damo replied ‘Yes please’.
“Mr Damo initially appeared to accept that once a holding deposit was paid it was payment he kept.”
But, Mr Johnson added, Damo told the investigators during interview he had let “hundreds” of properties successfully, and said that in all the cases brought against him “they had got their £300 back”.
The jury was also told that in February 2013, Damo had been previously convicted of fraudulently taking a £250 deposit for a property which he had not been instructed to let.
Further to that, the prosecution alleged he continued to take holding deposits from prospective tenants and failed to return them when the lettings fell through even after fresh criminal proceedings began against him in August 2015.
“The fact that payments continued to be taken of holding deposits, not only after his previous offence, but after he appeared before this court is evidence of brazen dishonesty on his part,” Mr Johnson said.
One alleged victim told the court he had succeeded in getting a county court judgement against Damo ordering him to repay a £540 deposit – but no payment had yet been made.
The trial continues and is expected to last about five weeks, reports the local paper.