Real Estate

EXCLUSIVE: Landlord fighting back in sublet arrears case

A landlord has taken action after being bamboozled into letting to a tenant who didn’t pay the rent and sublet her property.

Julia Reeves is an American landlord currently living in New York who previously lived in London, Islington, between 2006 and 2021.

She initially rented out the London property without a problem. But when one set of tenants moved out in June 2023, she and her husband were approached via email by an independent estate agent called Wigmore Lettings via an employee called Isaac Loewe, who introduced her to a potential tenant called Fred Nvari, who was said to have impeccable credit, as well as a wife and 10-year-old daughter.

This was seemingly too good to be true however, as one month into the tenancy Reeves only received half the rent, while Loewe and his assistant at Wigmore Lettings were apparently unavailable for contact by phone or email for an entire month.

Reeves contacted the tenant, Nvari, who said he had suffered some personal problems which was why he couldn’t pay, so she offered to break the lease if he could find somewhere else to stay.

It was only when she started to serve a Section 8 eviction that Leowe responded to her emails, saying he would serve the notice himself.

It later emerged that the locks had been changed, leaving her unable to recover it unless the courts grant her an eviction notice.

Reeves responded by hiring a private investigator to look into the case, as well as hiring a solicitor at Landlord Action, an eviction and housing law firm.

It has since emerged that Reeves’ property was sublet by Nvari to a family via a middle man called Jamil Mousa, who installed a husband and wife with children – who were likely unaware that the property was in arrears.

Reeves said: “As an overseas landlord I think they looked to take advantage of me.

“They would send me long emails trying to bamboozle me with archaic British language, treating me like an American who wouldn’t know what was going on.”

Reeves expressed frustration that she didn’t use a better-known letting agent, in light of the problems she faced.

Wigmore Lettings operates under the trading name So Soon Holdings, while the Wigmore website was taken down after Reeves started taking action.

After being approached by Reeves, Camden Council considered going after Wigmore for not registering with the Client Money Protection scheme, but a source said the move was halted because the business was no longer trading.

The Client Money Protection scheme helps landlords recover lost rent – so landlords should make sure agents are signed up.

The private investigator looked into Fred Nvari and Shaheed Chamzer, a director of So Soon Holdings – and successfully linked the pair to another property in North West London.

Reeves’ possession hearing is set to go ahead on 17 January at The County Court at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch Court.

She said she is owed £36,400 in rent arrears.

The original tenant responds

Fred Nvari was asked for his account of what happened, and he said that after renting the property he was faced with financial issues “near immediately”, saying the agent chased him for rent.

He said: “I offered the landlord ages ago to sign the property back to her and she has ignored my offer.

“This would have allowed her to get the property back and still claim the arrears from me, which I have not disputed need to be paid.”

He added: “Maybe the fact a landlord refuses to take possession back of their property and contacts a news agency instead to shame their tenants should be a story, rather than shaming a tenant publicly for coming into financial difficulty during a cost of living crisis.”

Nvari did email an offer to sign a deed of surrender on the property in December. However Reeves was advised by her solicitor at Landlord Action that she should only accept this on the condition that the tenant clears all arrears beforehand, the property is vacant, and the keys are returned. In emails seen by PropertyWire, the solicitor told Reeves that if she surrendered the tenancy with the subtenant in situ she would inadvertently take on the subtenant as her own.

She was therefore advised to continue using the legal route.

Nvari claimed he had taken no money from the subtenants, saying they are paying money to the landlord or landlords’ managing agent – though this goes against the testimony of Jamil Mousa (see below).

Nvari added that he won’t contest the Section 8 eviction, saying “it was my goal to have these sub tenants in situ to mitigate arrears accruing anyway”.

On the link with the letting agent, Nvari added: “I have no personal relationship with any persons associated to Wigmore Lettings or So Soon”.

The ‘middle man’

PropertyWire approached Jamil Mousa, the man who arranged a family to sublet Reeves’ property. He said the tenants paid Nvari in cash, with him earning commission.

According to Mousa he has worked with Fred Nvari before on multiple properties without an issue. He referred to Navari as Pherhad throughout, which is Fred’s middle name.

He added that the tenants currently in the property weren’t unaware of the full situation, while he described himself as a middle man.

When they received letters from Landlord Action through the door however, the tenants wanted their money back, and Mousa said he has been representing their interests.

Mousa said: “I say [to Nvari] bring the money back for the customer [tenant]. The customer is not going to leave the house until he gets his money.

“I said to the customer at the end of March once you leave the house you are finished. Give me the key; I will give it to the lady [landlord’s representative].”

He added that the tenants would likely leave tomorrow if the deposit was repaid.

Mousa said he won’t work with Nvari again after this “headache” of an experience, saying he’d like “all the b******t” to be done”.

Landlord Action

Paul Shamplina is known for appearing on Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords, while he is founder of Landlord Action, which carries out 2,500 instructions per year for landlords and letting agents, mainly about arrears.

Shamplina said tenants paying the first month’s rent and then stopping is a “classic for a serial fraudster”. Meanwhile with Reeves’ case he said the fact the tenant and agent were connected to the same address suggests this may be happening elsewhere.

While the case will go to court this week he said they’ll be lucky to get the property back by April.

He noted that she was in an especially vulnerable position, saying “overseas landlords are more naïve and vulnerable to scams”. However, while she made mistakes at the outset, he remarked that she’s been “tenacious” in the way she’s pursued the agent and tenant.

Subletting, which is prohibited unless a landlord gives permission, is a common occurrence in the UK’s biggest cities.

Shamplina said: “Subletting is absolutely rife in London, as house prices are so high that it’s common to rent out separate rooms.

“There’s a big problem with licensing. There’s actually a division that’s spearheaded in Westminster that’s dedicated alone to pinpointing subletting.

“With Airbnb you had tenants that were getting in and subletting without consent. It’s a civil matter most of the time rather than criminal.”

A big issue is the length of time it takes to recover properties in these cases, and the difficulty in recovering rent. This was especially the case during the height of the covid-19 pandemic, when it was illegal to evict tenants.

Secondary victims in these cases are tenants currently living in these properties, as Shamplina added that they commonly pay money in good faith before finding out they need to vacate.

How to stay safe as a landlord

So how can other landlords avoid going through the problems Reeves has faced?

Paul Shamplina

Shamplina said: “This case is the classic mistake of not having full references or rent guarantee insurance.

“Don’t be rushed, especially if you get approached by a third party.

“Letting out and managing a property is harder than it’s ever been before because of compliance and regulation.

“Finding the right tenant is an art – people go to accredited letting agents because historically they find better tenants.

“They do full referencing, there’s affordability checks. A tenant should be paying no more than 30% of their income toward their rent.

“You need to have a gut feeling when you see a tenant, look them up on social media, make sure the letting agent is part of a trade body like Propertymark, NALS, RICS, or a redress scheme.”

Shamplina also recommended rent guarantee insurance, while he urged landlords to consider using Title Guardian, a proptech firm where he works as an adviser, which can detect subletting.

Where possible, landlords should meet tenants face-to-face and carry out regular inspections.

Shamplina noted that if you are an overseas landlord you need an agent with an extremely hands-on comprehensive service to avoid getting into trouble, as you can’t fulfill this in-person work.

Subletting has become such a problem in major cities because there’s a lack of enforcement from local councils, as Shamplina accused councils of giving environmental health and trading standards a higher priority than housing.

He said: “If I was a scammer I’d rent from clueless unsuspecting landlords, get their properties, sublet them out and coin loads of money.”

PropertyWire approached Shaheed Chamzer, director of So Soon Holdings, also known as Wigmore Lettings, as well as its employee Isaac Loewe.

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