A CITY lettings agent has admitted withholding thousands of pounds in deposits and rent from tenants and landlords.

Zulfiqar Hussain, who traded as Charles Lawson Lettings, appeared at Oxford Crown Court yesterday and pleaded guilty to eight charges.

The 43-year-old set up the business in Cowley Road, East Oxford, in 2005 and committed the offences between December 2007 and October 2009.

He admitted seven counts of engaging in unfair commercial practice and one count of transferring criminal property.

The seven charges relate to not returning deposits to tenants or not passing on rent to landlords at addresses in East Avenue, St Thomas Street, Ridgefield Road and Hurst Street, in Oxford, and Jasmine Way in Carterton and Quakers Court in Abingdon.

Oxfordshire County Council, which brought the case to court, initially said Hussain had transferred £157,000 of this illegally obtained money out of the business.

But the figure was yesterday amended to “not less than £33,000” after accountants on both sides disagreed about the true amount.

Hussain, of Kenilworth Avenue, East Oxford, pleaded guilty on a basis his business hit difficulty in 2007 and he used the deposits and rent money to keep it afloat. Prosecutor Nigel Lickley said the county council disputed the claim and believed the money had gone missing.

The sentencing judge will be asked to decide the issue.

Oxfordshire Trading Standards officer Ian Marriott, who pursued Hussain for two years to build up the case, said his conviction would act as a warning to other Oxford letting agencies.

He said: “I do not think this is exceptional.

“There is a large amount of rented property in Oxford, particularly for students, and it is difficult for people to go on recommendations because of the high turnover of students.

“That gives an environment where something like this could carry on for quite some time.

“Letting agencies handle an awful lot of money and the cash flow is enormous.

“That gives an opportunity for somebody to exploit it if they so wish.”

He added: “We hope this conviction sends the message out that we will investigate complaints and take action.

“Depending on the sentencing of the court, that will make it clear we expect other businesses to comply to the rules.”

Hussain was bailed to be sentenced later this month.