Landlord Scams: Make Sure You're Not a Victim
With the rising cost of owning your own home, more of us are renting than ever before, and the boom in the rental market has unfortunately led to a rise in the number of landlord scams out there. Property Ombudsman figures from 2010 showed that over 5,000 tenants in the UK have been affected by landlord scams, both online and in person. But what sorts of scams exist and how can you make sure you're not a victim?
What are landlord scams?
Typically, landlord scams involve marketing a fake property or an unavailable property in a bid to get you, the prospective tenant, to part with your cash. You're less likely to be the victim of a scam if you live in Scotland, as landlords are required to register before they are able to rent a property to tenants in Scotland. But whether you rent through an agency or a private landlord in England or Wales, you could become the victim of a landlord scam. You're most likely to be at risk of these sorts of scams if you're renting privately.
One of the most common scams is the fake property advert. Be wary of free listings sites such as Gumtree and Craigslist. That's not to say that there aren't perfectly professional landlords marketing genuine properties on these sites – there are. But the very fact that it's free to post and nobody runs checks on these ads means that scammers target these sites, so be vigilant. If the pictures on the advert are different from the eventual property you view, it could be that the landlord is using pictures they found online and showing you around a property they actually don't own. If they don't really have a property to rent and you part with your cash, you could be left out of pocket.
Look out for multiple listing with the same pictures, poorly worded adverts (many scammers are from other countries), requests to pay a deposit before viewing the property and fake photographs – for example there have been cases where you can clearly see European plug sockets on photographs of a property marketed as being in London.
No viewings possible
Beware the seemingly friendly landlord who claims it's impossible to let you view their property before you move in. Whether they're abroad or have some other excuse, you should never agree to take a property before viewing it at least twice, and you should never part with any cash prior to viewing and signing the lease. Be especially wary of anybody who requests you make payments using money transfer (such as Western Union) – this is a common method of payment used by scammers abroad.
No deposit needed
It can be tempting to take a property where the landlord insists you don't need to pay a deposit at the start of your tenancy. They might ask you for a guarantor instead, but be wary of this. At the end of the tenancy, the guarantor could be held liable for unnecessary and expensive repairs.
Since 2007, legislation says all landlords must protect their tenants' deposits in one of three government Tenancy Deposit Schemes. This legislation was put into place to prevent landlord and tenant disputes at the end of a tenancy. For example if your landlord maintains you have caused £500 worth of damage to the property and you don't agree, they could withhold your deposit to cover the cost of these alleged repairs. Since the introduction of this legislation, tenants are more likely to get their full deposit back, as landlords must provide evidence of any repairs needed. But many private landlords in England and Wales (in London particularly) still avoid complying with the law, so they can keep hold of the tenants' deposit at the end of the tenancy. Make sure your landlord provides you with written information letting you know that your deposit has been protected, and which scheme it is being held in. By law they must do so in writing within 30 days, and you can ask them for this information if they have not provided you with it.
Another scam popular with fake landlords is to charge you a viewing fee upfront, or ask you to pay a deposit before you have signed the lease. You should never be asked to pay anything before you sign your lease and have keys to the property. Exceptions to this are if the landlord asks for a holding deposit (more common with agency rentals), which will be deducted from your security deposit, due at the start of the tenancy, or a fee for reference checks.
You should never use a money transfer service such as Western Union, and always make payment by credit card or bank transfer, so there is a record of your transaction. Credit cards are the best option, as you'll benefit from some protection from the card company. Make sure you get a receipt for any payments to the landlord, and never part with any cash until you have the landlords home address, telephone number and full name – you can check them out with a quick online search to ensure they are who they say they are. Be wary of a landlord who only provides you with a mobile number or a generic email address such as gmail or hotmail.
Don't be a victim
With a little awareness of the types of scams that are out there, and a bit of vigilance, you can avoid becoming a victim of some of the most common types of landlord scams. It's sad that these rogue landlords are profiting from trusting prospective tenants, but the more informed you are, the less likely it is that you will become a victim in future. For more help and advice on this subject matter, be sure to check out Open Property Group’s handy guide.