A new Scam…or is it?
A couple of years back one of Safer Renting’s partner boroughs sent us a renter’s contract they hadn’t seen before and asked for an opinion on its lawfulness.
I duly printed it off, made myself a coffee and grabbed a Kit-Kat, put my feet up on the desk and settled in for a read. By the time I’d finished I had spilt coffee and chocolate all over my front, I was laughing so much.
The contract in question was issued by a company called Lifestyle Club Ltd. Essentially a letting agency who had fallen into that urban myth that if you don’t want to be subjected to pesky trivialities like law, that regulates the conduct of letting agencies, then don’t call yourself an agent.
You see this myth cropping up all over rogue landlord world. Let’s just pretend its something else.
Playing with words
In a recent chat I had with an employee of a property guardian company he repeatedly and very pointedly kept referring to the occupants as ‘Licensees’, presumably in accordance with instructions from the boss to on no account EVER make the mistake of calling them ‘Tenants’ in the presence of anyone from the local authority.
So every time he emphasised “Licensees”, I jumped in and said “Tenants” and this enjoyable game went on for an hour, a bit like Snap, where the aim is to not be caught out by the other person.
Then there’s the old “Call a deposit something else” ploy, that we see so often, prompted by the idea that if you don’t call it a deposit, you won’t have to protect it. And I once encountered a landlord who tried to claim rent arrears by insisting that the £660 per month showing up in their bank account, paid by the tenant at the contracted rate, on the contracted day, wasn’t rent but was in fact merely paying back money he had lent the tenant for tuition fees.
The judge at the hearing made no comment but had the words:-
“Do you think I was born yesterday?” written all over his face.
I like to think the Magistrate in the recent prosecution of Lifestyle Club Ltd adopted the same expression when fining the director Gian Paulo Aliatis £42,000. You can read it here but the scam is, that Lifestyle Club doesn’t house people as tenants, their contract makes that abundantly clear, as do property guardian contracts when they keep insisting:-
“The contract does not in anyway constitute a tenancy, no way guvnor, don’t even think about it. Even if you think it is, its not, you’re wrong”
But with LSC, the renter doesn’t pay a deposit, instead, they pay a “Joining Fee” and the contract referred to rent as a
“Monthly membership contribution”.
Nice try but it didn’t impress Highbury Magistrates.
Still open for business
At the time of writing their website is still up. Check the list of dubious fees here.
The “About us” section of the company says this:-
“LSC is a leading housing community who provide affordable, flexible and convenient living arrangements in London. We go further than conventional accommodation arrangements, for which you have to decide on just one room in one flat – we offer our Members the chance to live and move between all of our properties! The club manages a range of different houseshares in Zones 1, 2 and 3 in London, at great locations with transport links. Our community is made of young, sociable and like-minded people looking to enjoy London at its fullest. If you are such a person, then our club is the ideal place for you!”
I love the phrase:-
“We go further than conventional accommodation arrangements,”
… you certainly do…..about £42,000 further in the court’s opinion.
And this is just where things ended up. Local authorities and the press alike have been onto this scam for some time, the Guardian having copped onto it in May 2018.
In March 2019 Camden council successfully prosecuted Lifestyle Club LSC Ltd for £22,299 for the same daft membership nonsense, this time the director being one Tiina Lehtla.
The same company?
Strictly speaking no, two different directors but both, at some point operating identical scams, with almost identical names, out of the same address in White Lion St Islington, so as the Geordie voiceover on Big Brother says, “You decide”.
Watch this space would be my advice
Are Mr. Aliatis and Ms. Lehtla going to fade back into obscurity? Suddenly see the light and trade fairly?
My faith in human nature isn’t what it was. My guess is they will lie low for a while and start again but fortunately, with such wonderfully unusual names you can find them all over Google, including the other companies they run.
It has to be said that these are just a couple who got caught. There are loads more out there who I can’t name because they haven’t been done………………yet!
Fake holiday let scams are popular at the moment, as are foreign-based property portals recruiting nationals in home countries to rent rooms in overcrowded, unlicensed, rent 2 rent scam properties in scuzzy neighbourhoods that the tenants thought was actually Kensington.
One is even offering free English lessons to prospective tenants and help with finding a job. Who is currently being investigated in more than one London borough.
So watch this space as I am sure I will back again with more scams for you in the future.