Figures released in 2010 by the Property Ombudsman suggest that more than 5,000 tenants have been affected by rental scams (I’m sure I read that somewhere- either way, it sounds like a compelling reason to read this article). The majority of these attacks involve online adverts, where creepy individuals communicate via emails as they are often based overseas. However, these attacks are not only limited to online activities, but also by real motherfudgers in the flesh.
Here’s a list of commonly known scams that tenants have fallen victim to:
1] Let and run
This is when a con-artist masquerades as a landlord by breaking into an empty property, and then attempts to rent it out as their own. The con-artist will then get the tenant to hand over cash, covering the deposit and initial rent payment, at which point he/she will disappear into the sunset.
2] No need for a deposit
In this delightful scenario, the landlord won’t ask for a deposit, he/she will instead request the details of a Tenant Guarantor. Then, when the Tenancy Agreement comes to an end, the guarantor will be held reliable for very expensive, and generally unnecessary repairs.
3] Unprotected deposits
Since 2007, landlords have been required to protect the deposits their tenants hand over into one of the three Government approved Tenancy Deposit Schemes.
The legislation was put into place because there were often disputes between landlords and their tenants about whether the deposit should be returned.
However, according to Shelter’s findings, many landlords are still avoiding complying with their legal requirements, and then keep hold of the deposit at the end of the tenancy for no good reason.
4] Unjustified charges
Some landlords and agents will charge tenants with unjustifiable fees. It’s important to remember that charges which are not in the Tenancy Agreement contract and which have never been agreed to cannot be enforced- prior agreement is required.
It’s also common for Tenancy agreements to include clauses for charges which are void and illegal under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts legislation. If you’re unsure about a charge you are being forced to pay, please seek legal advice.
Another common scenario is when letting agents charge a Tenancy Renewal Fee, when it was never agreed to.
5] Renting with the intent of renting to others
This is exactly as it sounds. A con-artist rents a property so they can show it to other prospective tenants. They’ll collect first month’s rent and the security deposits and any fees or charges they can squeeze out of their victims before running out of town.
6] Renting on behalf of the owner
This scam is similar to the previous one but there’s one major difference: the con artist claims to be helping someone else rent the property. They use the excuse that the landlord is sick, overseas, or just too busy to do it themselves. Once the con-artist collects first month’s rent, a deposit and fees they skip town.
7] The overseas Landlord
These scams typically takes place on the internet and the scammer doesn’t need to be present and may never have been to the property.
The so-called “landlord” will advertise properties they don’t own on UK based websites and claim they’re an overseas landlord.
They get the tenant to transfer money into their foreign account and make a runner, never to be heard from again. These con-artists are near enough impossible to track down.
8] Nigerian Rental Scams
These Nigerian scams are classic and have been around for years. I think almost everyone with a email account would have received spam email from a “Nigerian Ambassador” at some point.
There are so many variations of this scam, I would just avoid any deals that involve an overseas Nigerian landlord trying to rent their property.
Preventing Rental Scams
Here are a few ways that may help tenants avoid falling victim of rental scams:
- Ask the landlord for photo ID e.g. Driving License, Passport
- Ask for details of previous tenants for referencing
- Ensure the landlord is meeting all legal regulations. Genuine landlords will meet all legal requirements, in particular the Gas Safety Certificate and Tenancy Deposit Scheme
- Ask the local neighbours about the landlord/neighbourhood- this is perfectly normal for prospective tenants
- Take note of how familiar the landlord is with the property e.g. does he/she know where the water, gas and water meters are.
- Always double check the terms and conditions in the Tenancy Agreement and any agreement you may have with letting agents. If there is anything you are unclear about, it’s always best to get it checked by a trained professional.
- Avoid paying any upfront fees without viewing the property and meeting the landlord at the actual property
Go to my Tenants Guide To Finding A Good Landlord for a more detailed safety precautions.
Have you been a victim? Do you have any other suggestions?
I’m just curious if anyone reading this has fallen victim to a rental scam? If so, what happened? Also, is anyone aware of any other rental scams commonly used to trap tenants? And finally, does anyone have any further tips on how to avoid rental scams?