A CONMAN who tricked desperate tenants into paying thousands of pounds in deposits for a house he did not own has been spared jail.

Duncan Atkin started advertising a home in Princess Street, Southend, on the Gumtree website shortly after he moved in as a lodger in January.

Basildon Crown Court heard the 39-year-old received more than £4,000 in deposits - but was caught out when five of his six victims turned up to move in on January 17.

Joe Byrd, prosecuting, said Atkin had intended to make at least £8,340 from the scheme by demanding deposits of £695 and a month’s rent of £695 in advance. Some paid all the money up front, while others made an agreement to pay later.

The victims were all people who had been evicted from other properties or were homeless and needed somewhere to live at short notice.

Atkin, now of Friars Street, Shoebury, rented the house through Air BnB. He took advantage of the fact that the real owner did not live there, showing victims around, telling them about work that needed doing and drawing up tenancy agreements.

One victim was a homeless man, another was a pregnant woman with a five-year-old son and others were planning to move from Halstead, Luton and Norwich.

Mr Byrd said: “These are all people who are vulnerable to the extent that they are being evicted from their current property.

“It’s clear given the distance some were moving that this was fairly urgent for them and they have paid significant sums of money. This has had a serious detrimental effect on them.”

Mike Warren, mitigating, said Atkin moved into the property after splitting up with his wife of four years.

He said: “He lost his mind. He lost all rational thought. As a result of that he acted in this extremely impulsive and ill-thought out way.”

Mr Warren said the painter and decorator decided to raise money in order to go on a “drink and drugs binge.” He immediately admitted what he had done when arrested.

Recorder Jeffrey Yearwood said the fraud was “extremely mean” and “serious.” He said: “These people were desperate for accommodation, not only for themselves but for young members of their family. There is no doubt they would have found it difficult to put together the deposits and the rent.

“Impulsive though it was, your actions did require a bit of thought and planning.”

Atkins was handed a four month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months. He was ordered to pay compensation in full and carry out 60 hours of unpaid work. He was also told to complete a thinking skills programme.