August 8, 2020

After £122,000 fraud, Baroness Gardner demands protection of leaseholders’ money held by managing agents

Simon van Houten, 31, set up bogus company to defraud £122,000 from leaseholder accounts. The money has been reimbursed.

Baroness Gardner wants leaseholder funds held by managing agents to be protected

Following the conviction of fraudster Simon van Houten, 31, the Rendall and Rittner managing agent who “can expect a custodial sentence” for stealing £122,000 next Thursday, Baroness Gardner of Parkes is calling for leaseholder funds to be protected.

Next Monday in the House of Lords, she is to ask the Government to introduce a transparent scheme, similar to the deposit protection scheme in short-term tenancies, to protect monies paid by leaseholders and held by managing agents.

The Van Houten case clearly illustrates the vulnerability of leaseholder funds held under no regulatory supervision by managing agents. Although none of the money was recovered, Rendall and Rittner “immediately reimbursed the small number of clients involved”.

Van Houten, who pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey last month, used a bogus company, London Decorating Services, to invoice Rendall and Rittner for repair and maintenance work that  was never carried out.

He operated the scam in non-retirement leasehold developments in east London for more than two years, until November 30 2010, before suspicions were raised – initially by a leaseholder  – about the massive bills.

Van Houten passed himself off as a Member of the Institute for Residential Property Management and helped other employees at the firm prepare for the examinations.

Susan Stuckey, a leaseholder at the Mill Quay Estate, in east London, and a former director of one of its residents’ management companies, expressed reservations about the conduct of Van Houten before his arrest. Van Houten pleaded guilty to fraud on the day that his trial was to start at the Old Bailey last month, and was told to expect a custodial sentence next week.

Stuckey received the following in a letter on August 10 2010 from director Matt Rittner:

“Simon is a competent Property Manager and is MIRPM qualified. Internally, Simon trains my staff in the months leading up to the IRPM examinations. I am unsure why you seem to have a negative view of Simon.”

In fact, Stuckey’s suspicions proved well founded.

A spokesman for Rendall and Rittner said: “Mr Van Houten abused the trust of both clients and colleagues. Rendall and Rittner Limited immediately reimbursed the small number of clients involved and we are delighted that the police have successfully prosecuted the case we presented to them in 2010 and that justice has now been done.”

Baroness Parkes prompted the Lords debate on leasehold reform last April, following representations by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and Campaign against retirement leasehold exploitation.