For anyone hoping to find the letting agent based in Leeds, Providence Properties, unfortunately you’ve come to the wrong place. Well, actually, you’ve come to the right place – they’re just not here any more.
You see – in 2008 the student lettings company in Leeds, Providence Properties, was featured on BBC Watchdog and accused of keeping the deposits of students. Watchdog’s then host, Nicky Campbell, confronted one of the directors of Providence Properties, Tariq Zaman, over the allegations on the programme.
BBC Watchdog’s Report
According to BBC Watchdog’s report, Providence Properties had been retaining the deposits of students in the Leeds area, despite countless CCJs against Tariq Zaman over the retention of the deposits.
The BBC report went on show how students had paid their deposits to a company called ‘Providence Lettings’ – so when they came to get their deposits back, Providence Properties was insisting it was nothing to do with them and, legally, they were not responsible.
A Bad Reputation Online?
Now, this is all well and good but what has this got to do with reputation management, and what is reputation management anyway?
Reputation management is about controlling your online reputation when someone searches for your company name, and bad publicity such as that caused by the BBC Watchdog programme, and the many blogs and web articles that sprang up in the wake of the Watchdog report, can certainly affect a company’s reputation online. Providence Properties found itself the subject of a great many websites, including blogs and forums, so whenever anyone searched for the company to find out if they were reputable, and trustworthy, on Google – they found the answer they were looking for… a big fat no.
How you deal with a bad reputation online is very important to the future of your company, and Providence Properties made some very basic mistakes. This website (as it is now, as opposed to what it used to be – their website) will go through some of those errors and explain what happened, and what they should have done.
The Initial Blog Attack
Shortly after the BBC Watchdog programme aired, Providence Properties was talked about on various blogs and forums, such as this post on MrDaz.com – where the blogger went into details about the programme. This type of post is to be expected following a TV programme such as the Watchdog episode, but how a company deals with the presence of these posts is paramount to how it handles reputation management problems – what it shouldn’t do is what it actually did, and that’s to post on the website itself, under numerous identities, making threats.
That of course, it just what happened here. Someone posted on the blog, using the same IP Address, pretending to be different people. This is a basic reputation management mistake because, on the Internet, you are NEVER anonymous and your identity can be discovered, as can other comments you’ve made under fake identities. The best tactic with websites such as this is to leave them alone, and do not post on them as every comment you make adds fresh content to the website in question, which helps its rankings within Google and helps more people see the original content – which you do not want.
They didn’t do this of course – and posting the comments merely served to spark others to reply, and the original poster to go a stage further and dig into the company more…
Some people online were suggesting the Providence Properties (which disappeared as a company shortly after the BBC Watchdog programme) was the same company as another Leeds based student lettings company, My Homez. The blogger MrDaz dug into this, while the companies were indeed separate companies registered with Companies House, so were completely separate entities, there were some similarities with their websites – another area where reputation management mistakes can be made.
If you’re trying to maintain distance between two companies, then you need to make sure that the domain names for those companies are registered to different people, preferably with different registrars, and that the websites are hosted in different IP addresses, on different servers. This, of course, was not the case with Providence Properties and My Homez. The domain name providenceproperties.co.uk (at the time, not now of course) was registered to a Mohammed Ishaq – as you can see below:
The domain for My Homez, myhomez.co.uk, was registered to the same person:
Any attempt to insist that the two businesses weren’t related was undermined by this basic error – but the mistakes kept on coming.
When, on BBC Watchdog, Providence Properties insisted that it was to Providence Lets who the students had paid their deposits, therefore was nothing to do with them, they attempted to distance themselves from the similarly named company. This meant, of course, that legally they were a different entity so could not be held responsible for the repayment of the students’ deposits. However, guess who owned the domain name for providencelets.co.uk?
That’s right… Mohamed Ishaq. The registered address for providencelets.co.uk is 72, Victoria Road, Leeds, LS6 1DL, GB.
These companies may all be different legal entities, but online there’s a definite connection, and it gets worse.
Providence Properties and My Homez were Server Neighbours
Both websites for Providence Properties and My Homez, it was discovered by the blogger, were hosted in the same IP address (which means the same physical server). They were also the only two websites hosted on this IP address. The connections went further too, as the blogger discovered that both websites had the same meta keywords and description tags, with just the company name changed:
<meta name=”description” content=”Leeds student and professional letting estate agents providing student & professional accommodation and commercial property in Leeds City Centre, Headingley, Burley, Hyde Park and the surrounding areas.”>
<meta name=”keywords” content=”providence, properties, providence properties, letting agents in leeds, estate agents in leeds, student lettings, professional lettings, commercial lettings, professional accommodation, student accommodation, commercial property, corporate property, property for sale, sales, leeds, headingley, burley, hyde park, city centre, west yorkshire, uk”>
And for My Homez…
<meta name=”description” content=”Leeds student and professional letting estate agents providing student & professional accommodation and commercial property in Leeds City Centre, Headingley, Burley, Hyde Park and the surrounding areas.” />
<meta name=”keywords” content=”MyHomez, properties, myhomez properties, my homez, letting agents in leeds, estate agents in leeds, student lettings, professional lettings, commercial lettings, professional accommodation, student accommodation, commercial property, corporate property, property for sale, sales, leeds, headingley, burley, hyde park, city centre, west yorkshire, uk” />
BBC Watchdog Runs a Follow Up Story
With such a buzz being generated online, it was only a matter of time before a follow up story was run by the BBC – and Nicky Campbell again made his way to Leeds to speak with Providence Properties.
Meanwhile, MrDaz reported how he had received a phone call from Basharat Zaman asking why he was posting about his company My Homez – MrDaz, as ever, recorded this phone call but, due to the involvement of a solicitor representing Providence Properties (or My Homez, it was never quite clear) this phone call was never made publically available.
The Student Property Shop – Another Unrelated Company
Following the closure of Providence Properties, another student lettings company in Leeds opened up in the same premises, and they too fell foul of the BBC and were featured in the below news report, and investigated by Trading Standards. The Student Property Shop, completely unrelated to Providence Properties and My Homez, was investigated for fraud – where £70,000 worth of students’ deposits were not returned.
After that report, came the social media barrage (as Facebook became the medium of choice for protesting students everywhere) and a protest was organised outside the Student Property Shop by students.
Finally, after all of this, Tariq Zaman was arrested by police, suspected of money laundering. The arrest was covered by a local Leeds newspaper.
So what was the final reputation management mistake made by Providence Properties? Well, we’d have to say allowing their domain to expire and be snapped up by someone else – that was a pretty big mistake, and has led to this permanent reminder of just how bad things can get when you make a mistake online – and then make continual mistakes in your efforts to cover them up.