A letting agency has been ordered to pay a £167,000 fine, plus costs and compensation of £740 to a tenant after a prosecution by Trading Standards.
London agent Sterling De Vere was taken to court after Tower Hamlets Council intervened after complaints about a ‘bait and switch’ scam – in which prospective tenants are typically shown a good quality property at a reasonable price, but are then told it is not available after they have agreed to rent it, and end up with something far inferior.
In this case, the prospective renter was shown pictures of a room in excellent condition and agreed to rent it.
When he took possession of the property, it was of a completely different room.
The council said this “kind of misleading illegal practice is against the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations”.
Following a guilty plea by SDV HQ, which trades as Sterling De Vere, the company was ordered to pay a £167,000 fine, costs of almost £8,100 and £740 to the complainant, Justin Wright.
The company has three months to pay.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said: “This is a major victory for residents and for our Trading Standards team. It sends out a message that we can and will take the strongest action against letting agents who undertake this practice.”
It is not the first time that Sterling de Vere has apparently been in trouble with the council, according to the local paper.
Last September, it was handed a bill of over £50,000 after residents complained about living conditions in a former three-bedroom council flat which had been converted into a five-bedroom house for six people (link to local paper’s report below).
Thames Magistrates Court said that an overcrowded housing market was forcing people into accepting sub-standard homes, and that the firm should have known the licensing requirements.
Sterling De Vere, whose head office is in Poplar, features on its website images of allAgents awards dated 2015, plus the UKALA logo.
The firm runs a franchise operation. As well as Poplar, it has offices in Bethnal Green, Barking, Camden and Archway, plus a logistics centre. It also has offices in Istanbul, Wroclaw (in Poland), Mauritius and Dubai.
According to Companies House, the appointment of a director, Baharul Alam Shayeb, was terminated last week on January 1.