Real Estate

EXCLUSIVE: Trio of landlord sublet victims come forward

Multiple London landlords have come forward saying they have been scammed by the same letting agent working in tandem with a tenant.

It previously emerged that a landlord was approached by the agent Wigmore Lettings, before renting to the tenant, Fred Pherhad Nvari, who stopped paying and engineered an illegal sublet. This happened to Julia Reeves and her husband, who are overseas landlords based in New York. They were approached by Wigmore – also known as So Soon Holdings – through representative, Isaac Loewe. You can read about their case here.

Since then, PropertyWire has spoken to three separate landlords with similar stories. They each had Fred Nvari as their tenant, were approached by Wigmore via email, and corresponded with ‘lettings director’ Isaac Loewe. In all cases the tenant stopped paying and an illegal sublet was established. UK sublets are prohibited unless the landlord gives permission.

Some of the sub-tenants seemed unaware that they weren’t renting from the landlord, as they paid Nvari through an intermediary. Properties are being sublet to teenagers, as well as families with children.

On multiple occasions the landlords received an offer over the asking price to outbid other applicants.

The three landlords

One landlord is based in Argentina, making him vulnerable as someone that can’t vet agents and tenants in person, like the Reeve’s in New York. He asked not to be named, so we’ll use the pseudonym Mateo.

The other two are based in the UK, one being a film director called Chris Loizou, and the other an experienced landlord that works in the property sector herself. She also asked for her identity to be protected, so we’ll call her Clare.

The two UK landlords were made aware of one another after Wigmore blundered by accidentally sending the details of Loizou’s rental agreement to Clare. She then contacted him and they were shocked to find they both had Fred Nvari listed as their tenant.

They then started to work together against the letting agent, as they found two business addresses listed on the Wigmore Lettings website, which has since been taken down. Clare visited one address and Loizou the other, but neither of them found a Wigmore office.

Both Clare and Loizou later entered their properties to find that their furniture had been removed.

The landlords all said the application process was convincing in making Fred Nvari seem like a reliable tenant, with a report coming from Merseyside-based referencing agency LetHQ.

One report from the reference agency said Nvari had an annual income of £194,000 and an excellent credit rating. However after being approached, a LetHQ spokesperson said “some elements of this report appear to be falsified compared to the original copy”, adding that its content should be treated as “completely null and void”. Its document properties show that it was modified by someone called James Keane five days after the report was originally issued.

Based on their conversations with the sub-tenants, one of the landlords indicated that they are being acquired using the social media site, Facebook.

Three of the four cases documented to date have already gone to court. On each occasion the defense didn’t show up, but the challenge has been recouping the rent from Nvari after the costs are awarded.

Another issue is appointing a bailiff to reclaim properties within a reasonable timeframe, as it can take five months for a county court-appointed bailiff. As a result, most landlords are forced to pay extra to elevate the case to the high court, where bailiffs are appointed faster.

The affected landlords are now in contact with one another, as they look to band together in challenging Fred Nvari and Wigmore Lettings.

London-based film director

Chris Loizou is a film director and screenwriter who was approached by Wigmore Lettings in May to rent his property in Kings Cross. He said he is over £50,000 in the hole due to this experience.

The details are all too familiar. He was told that a man with a family was ready to rent his property, who was Fred Nvari. Loizou had two in-person meetings, with Isaac Loewe of Wigmore and then Nvari.

Loizou was paid half of one months’ rent from a company called Global Group One Limited, after which the property started falling into arrears.

However he was slow to respond, as he left on a business trip to Los Angeles in the US soon after signing with Nvari.

On his return Loewe offered to undertake a Section 8 eviction, but Loizou started using his own lawyer.

Loizou scrutinised the Wigmore website and found a listed rental property in Mayfair, which he said is owned by his wife’s friend. He approached her and found it wasn’t available for rent.

He contacted Nvari, who told him he had money problems and would cover the rent, utilities and council tax after returning from Italy. Surprisingly he also gave Loizou the green light to check out his property.

Loizou said: “I said [to Nvari] I was going to have a look and he said ‘you’re welcome to come around any time you want and gain access’.”

When he entered the property he found that his furniture was gone, while it had been refurnished with beds, complete with quilts and blankets.

Loizou then received an email from Wigmore, saying he didn’t have the right to enter the property, but that was only after he’d been inside.

The locks were later changed, though the landlord returned a number of times to find different tenants living at the property.

Some had young children, one was ex-military, while others appeared to be young students, originating from places like Morocco, Spain and Syria. They seemed to be unaware of the full gravity of the situation regarding the sublet, and appeared to be paying Nvari in cash through an intermediary.

Loizou expressed concern for the current tenants, whom he said are vulnerable teenagers. He added that they don’t trust the British police, making them more at risk if there is an issue.

The landlord went to the police himself – after one of the sub-tenants said they were told over the phone by a woman that their property could be broken into if they stopped paying the rent.

Loizou said: “I spoke to a sergeant and he said the law’s an ass and there’s nothing they can do unless there’s a threat of violence.

“Who knows what they are prepared to do? That’s why I want the police involved.”

The landlord took his case to the county court, which was heard in September – Nvari didn’t show up. Loizou then escalated the case to the high court, with judge apparently wishing him best of luck in recovering his lost money.

London developer

Clare has 25 years’ experience renting homes and works as a property developer, demonstrating that even savvy landlords can fall for the scam.

Like Loizou, she said she is down around £50,000, taking into account court and solicitor costs, as well as lost rent.

Clare posted her Maida Vale property out and was approached by a number of agents, including Wigmore Lettings via Isaac Loewe.

She rented out properties on previous occasions in much the same way, where multiple agents competed via email, and so never suspected any foul play.

Clare was attracted by promises of high rent, as she lamented being “greedy” by falling for what was a “tempting offer”. The offer was £100 over the asking price per month for a three-year tenancy, which would include a 5% rental increase per year.

She rented to Nvari in May 2023 and received the first month’s rent as expected.

Clare said: “The references were perfect, Loewe was extremely professional, as was his website, and I too fell into his web.

“It has caused a great deal of stress and anxiety as well as the financial loss.”

The first red flag happened when her builder arranged to fix the shower, and was alarmed to find 10 people described as ‘Middle Eastern’ residing in the home rather than Nvari, while 12 beds were crammed into the property.

She confronted Nvari, who claimed they were relatives and he paid another month’s rent within a day.

She also approached Loewe, who promised to issue a Section 8 eviction notice.

Clare was also alerted to the issue when the letting agents sent her the wrong tenancy agreement, with fellow landlord Chris Loizou’s details on it. Nvari was the tenant in both the cases, as she said “when I called Chris we had a heart attack”.

In her communications with Wigmore Lettings Clare noted that whenever she phoned she was never forwarded to Isaac Loewe directly, as you would expect when calling an office phone. Typically she was told by a woman that he was in a meeting, and he would eventually get back to her by phone or email.

Later the landlord was contacted by managing agents two floors above her property about a potential leak, so she briefly gained access to inspect the issue.

Clare put her key through the lock on a Saturday to find that none of her furniture was there, and had been replaced by a sofa, dining chairs and beds.

During her inspections of the property she noticed there were a number of prescription bags from the Harley Street Clinic in Marylebone, making it possible the sub-tenants were medical tourists.

She considered changing the locks to regain her property but was advised against it by her lawyer, who warned her it could give her a criminal record and put her on a register of bad landlords.

She said: “I couldn’t believe it – I was in my flat!

“I was told by my lawyer ‘if by Sunday they are not in there you have a stronger case if they come after you’.”

However when she drove past next day she found that the lights were on.

She approached the police, HMRC and Westminster City Council for help, but was disappointed in each case.

Later, she reported that the sub-tenants in the property had been replaced by a family of four, with two children.

She issued a Section 8 eviction notice herself, but paid an additional £1,200 to push the case up to the high court, in order to make it faster to get bailiffs to remove the tenants.

At the time of writing Clare still hasn’t recovered her property, as she added sarcastically: “It’s a great system this country! You pay your taxes every year for this. It’s really nauseating.”

Argentinian landlord

Another landlord that approached PropertyWire is based in Argentina, whom we will refer to as Mateo.

Mateo previously used his South Kensington property as a weekend holiday home, but he started renting it out when the pandemic hit in 2021.

He initially rented the home without any issues, but when his first set of tenants moved out, he was approached by Isaac Loewe in August 2023 after listing the property online. He was contacted through his brother’s email address, and said he had no idea how Wigmore found it.

Loewe told the landlord he is searching for a suitable property for a tenant with a 10-year-old daughter, meaning Fred Nvari – and on paper Mateo received the best offer from them.

Nvari signed the tenancy agreement in mid-September and to date Mateo has received two monthly payments, after which the property started falling into arrears – meaning his is a newer case than the others.

Mateo’s mother joined the tenant in a walkthrough of the property prior to his signing, and she commented at the time that the tenant seemed somewhat disinterested in the details of the home – but initially thought nothing of it.

During the process Mateo complained that Isaac Loewe was evasive and was only contactable intermittently, which is similar to the accounts from the other landlords.

And like the others cases, Isaac Loewe offered to undertake a Section 8 eviction himself when the rent stopped being received.

After growing suspicious, the landlord asked Wigmore if they were a registered estate agency, and they said yes through ‘So Soon Holdings’, the agency’s trading name.

Mateo only realised the full gravity of the situation after reading the PropertyWire article about Julia Reeves’ case, noting the many similarities.

He said: “I was astonished when I read this article from your newspaper.

“We are going through the exact same scam as Mrs. Reeves.”

He is now in the process of issuing a Section 8 eviction.

Unlike some of the other landlords, Mateo has properties in Argentina, the USA, Italy and the UK – so he is in a good position to compare how the systems operate in each country.

He added: “This would not be happening in the US. Over there if you are in rental arrears you are kicked out after two months by bailiffs or the police.

“If you want to kick out someone from Argentina the legal process means it might take two to three years, in Italy it might take one to two years, in the UK it takes six to eight months, in the US two months.

“If the process was more easygoing more investors would buy properties in England to be rented.

“As it stands I need to pay a solicitor, I need to pay a lawyer, and I need to wait. That’s money that I won’t be getting back.”

Landlord Action – “just another year”

Paul Shamplina is founder of Landlord Action, which carries out 2,500 instructions per year for landlords and letting agents, mainly about arrears.

He is also known for appearing on Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords.

Paul Shamplina

Shamplina said: “Year on year I see scamming rogue rent-to-rent operators preying on landlords that are self-managing or overseas, generally going on various different online portals where landlords are renting it out on a do-it-yourself basis

“Clear tell-tale signs are offering more than the market rent and looking to rent as soon as possible, with further enticements of three to six months’ rent payable in advance.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is.”

Shamplina echoed the views of the interviewed landlords by saying that the enforcement industry is in dire need of more resources, as the slow nature of the courts and lack of public bailiffs are a big problem in the UK.

Clearly recovering properties in these situations is difficult and expensive – so the best course of action is to acquire the right tenant, or tenants, in the first place.

Shamplina added: “Before you part with your keys to your properties ask simple questions such as ‘are you a member of a redress scheme?’ ‘do you below to a trade body lettings association?’ ‘Do you have client money protection insurance in place?’

“Always look up the financial creditworthiness of a company that are offering to rent out a property. Ask to see their terms of business, and do your methodical due diligence with regard to their website, consistencies, and their trading address.

“And lastly look up on websites such as allagents.co.uk for review sites by landlords and tenants and ask for testimonials from other landlords. But make sure that they are genuine landlords.

“This is a business and unfortunately landlords can be easy prey for fraudsters.”

Fred Nvari and Isaac Loewe have been approached for comment by PropertyWire.

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