Edinburgh's Airbnb con man is back and renting out ‘tiny’ two-beds

Months after ban from AirBnB he is back renting out party flats and leaving owners in the lurch.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 6:50 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 8:44 am
Robert Lee Gavin; had listings of small properties claiming to be able sleep multiple people.

A convicted fraudster is back in the Capital renting out “tiny two-bedroom flats” to dozens of guests for sky-high prices on Airbnb.

Infamous con man Robert Lee Gavin was permanently blacklisted from Airbnb after he was found to have been illegally subletting flats in Edinburgh in 2019.

Originally from Barnsley, the 40-year-old has a history of international fraud and in 2016 he was found to have taken more than £40 million from many elderly and vulnerable victims in an investment fraud prosecuted by US authorities.

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Banned from subletting on the holiday rental site the Edinburgh Evening News can reveal that Mr Gavin and his partner Matthew Gooi have continued to rent properties in the Capital using the company Portcullis and Crown to shield their identity.

Mr Gavin and Mr Gooi are currently renting a four-bedroom property at 11 Marshall’s Court for £3525 for two nights, claiming to sleep up to 28 people and listed under host identity Stan.

The cunning pair have previously rented flats at Brunswick Road, Castle Terrace and The Royal Mile raking in thousands of pounds from the sublets while refusing to pay landlords rent.

Unsuspecting owners of a two-bedroom property at Brunswick Road, who will remain nameless, fell into the couple’s trap in November 2019.

Robert Gavin (aka Robert Lee aka robert Gavin Lee)

Mr Gavin contacted the unnamed husband and wife, who work in the city, through online letting agent OpenRent posing as a member of staff for Portcullis and Crown.

They said: “He came to the flat and was very nice, chatted about his kids and working, living in Edinburgh.”

The lease agreement stated that the flat would be rented out to RBS, City Bank and some Airline guests through the Portcullis and Crown website.

They said: “We were assured by Mr Gavin that his client base was RBS, City Bank and some airlines. He gave us verbal confirmation that Airbnb was not something they were interested in.”

However, the two bedroom property that can fit “no more than four people” was rented out on Airbnb and Booking.com to parties of 12 people for hundreds of pounds per night. Shocked, the couple attempted to contact Mr Gavin who refused to answer questions about the Airbnb listing but asked for a rent break in the property which the couple refused.

The couple said: “When we spoke to him on the phone he had a very interesting tactic of talking non-stop so you couldn’t get a word in then hanging up and emailing you what you have agreed to. Like a politician would do to avoid answering questions.”

The same week Mr Gavin stopped paying rent and refused to answer any form of phone or email communication.

Having all other methods of contact blocked the couple attended the property in June 2020 and saw Mr Gavin sunbathing on the deck.

After ringing the doorbell multiple times with no response the couple decided to get a lawyer as it was clear they had “lost their flat to the con man”.

Mr Gavin and Mr Gooi finally left the property in June 2020, having stopped paying rent in February 2020.

This loss of £600 rent combined with £4000 lawyer fees has cost the couple a total of £10,000.

Distraught by the ordeal they have faced the couple said Mr Gavin and Mr Gooi “know how to work the system” and that without the help of their lawyer he would still be “sitting pretty” in their flat now.

They added: “So far there have been zero repercussions for him. His scam is working and no one can do anything to stop him. We know he’s now at 11

Marshall Court and we feel pretty bad that the only way of getting him out was to allow him to scam someone else. It’s terrible to think that the mental and financial stress he has caused us is now on someone else, as he sits pretty in their flat waiting for an excuse to stop paying rent.

“He could get a normal job, and live a normal non-crooked life, but he has chosen to do this instead.”

When asked why he was continuing to rent properties on Airbnb after the company confirmed that he has been permanently banned, Mr Gavin declined to answer claims of unpaid rent but insisted no wrongdoings.

Robert Lee Gavin said: “This is a genuine and ethical business that adds to all of the properties we tenant and provides a good service.

“The company I work for uses corporate tenancies that allow for the properties to be used for corporate accommodation and short term accommodation.

The landlords are aware of this and agree to these terms and the use of the property for such purposes.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Airbnb said: “We have zero tolerance for violations of our policies, and have taken action on the account, including suspending the listing, while we investigate the matter.”

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