A married couple who ran a lettings agency where they failed to protect tenants’ deposits have escaped jail.
George and Kim Overill ran Oakpark Properties in Harwich, Essex, and pleaded guilty to two counts each of contravention of professional diligence as directors and a further two each of fraudulent trading.
The couple failed to register 73 deposits totalling £42,794.
Prosecuting, Alison Lambert said that the Overills “stuck their heads in the sand and were not dealing with the problems”.
The court heard that Mrs Overill took exotic holidays and built a home extension, while staff raised concerns about the firm’s accounts and the opening of a new branch in Clacton.
One of the company’s book keepers was only asked at interview if she knew how to work Excel, and noticed that money coming into the company was not enough to cover its outgoings.
Mrs Lambert said: “She said Mrs Overill dealt with the deposits and that there was no system letting her know which ones where coming in and out other than to tell her verbally.”
In 2014, the company decided to merge with another letting agent, Valentines Properties, but that fell through once they too realised that accounts did not add up.
In mitigation, Stephen Dyble said the couple had never intended to commit fraud when setting up the company, and that the monies owed have been paid back.
His Honour Judge Christopher Morgan told the defendants: “Those who rent properties understand the reasons behind tenant deposit schemes.
“They are there to protect them. Tenants might have had to save for them or borrow money to raise them. For those receiving them, they may seem like insignificant amounts, but for many they represent many months of hard saving and are a lot of money to those individuals.
“You as letting agents sit in a position of trust and responsibility to tenants and landlords, and you have breached that trust by your actions.”
The couple were given an 18-month sentence suspended for two years. They were also ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and have been banned from being company directors for two years.
Cllr Susan Barker, Essex County Council councillor for Culture, Communities and Customer, said: “The outcome of this prosecution has been a success for Trading Standards in Essex. We have worked closely with partners to ensure that the defendants were brought to justice.
“Going forward we will continue to work hard with our partners to clamp down on fraudulent agencies that are unfairly taking advantage of tenants. My congratulations to everyone involved in the case.”
There will be a hearing on November 16 to decide compensation and Proceeds of Crime financial orders.