16:38 PM, 13th February 2012, About 12 years ago
Letting agent Zulfiqar Hussain must pay his victims £250,000 or face three years in jail after stealing money from dozens of landlords and tenants who trusted him with their cash.
Hussain was sentenced to a nine month suspended prison sentence after admitting seven charges of engaging in unfair commercial practices and one of money laundering.
The judge at Oxford Crown Court also ordered him to carry out 40 hours community service.
Hussain, 44, conned his customers while running Charles Lawson Lettings in Oxford.
On top of the £250,000 proceeds of crime penalty, Hussain must also pay £8,167 compensation and £51,136 prosecution costs.
Sentencing, Recorder Peter Lodder said: “You chose to use other people’s money. That means these offences merit a custodial sentence. However, I accept in your case you did not set out to behave in a fraudulent fashion and I think it’s significant that all who have lost out through what you did will be reimbursed.”
Most of his victims were students who handed over deposits and landlords who failed to receive rents for properties let through his firm.
Hussain is expected to sell letting property in Oxford to pay for his crimes.
He is currently working as a taxi driver in the city.
Robert Courts, for Oxfordshire Trading Standards, said Hussain failed to protect deposits, let properties without permission and failed to pass on rent he collected to landlords, while illegally taking out of the business for his own use.
Defending, Ecky Tiwana said Hussain had tried to expand his business too quickly and got into financial difficulty in the recession.
Prior to running Charles Lawson Lettings, Hussain managed letting agent James C Penny in Oxford. The firm collapsed in February 2009 with debts of £400,000.
Anyone can trade as a letting agent without any licensing, training or other legal restriction. Safeguards are in place through government-backed deposit protection schemes and industry self-regulation provided by Safeguard and the Association of Residential Letting Agents.