Shelter urge tenants to avoid scams and ‘Evict Rogue Landlords’

Following my post last week about online property scams, I’ve been reading Shelter’s latest survey which shows nearly 1 million people in Britain have been victims of private tenancy or landlord scams in the last 3 years. The survey is part of Shelter’s investigation which aims to expose bad practice by private landlords. Of more than 2000 people surveyed, 2% had suffered at the hands of rogue landlords, with 4% knowing someone else who had too.

In an ever expanding rental market it’s really important to raise awareness and help tenants protect themselves against the key issues*, which Shelter identify as:

1. Receipt rip off – scammers ask tenants to prove they can afford the deposit by wiring the money to a friend, then producing the receipt (read more about this in last week’s blog, ‘Tenants beware of property fraud on online letting sites’)

2. Alternative deposits – instead of deposits, tenants may be asked to pay additional rent which will be returned at the end of the tenancy, providing there isn’t any damage. This money is still classed as a deposit and should be protected.

3. Let and run – fake landlords break into empty properties and rent them as their own. Once the tenants hand over deposit and rent money, the ‘landlords’ disappear.

4. Duped into debt - Rogue landlords may charge large amounts for hidden costs, such as fees for a tenancy inspection, and then ‘conveniently’ forget to tell tenants about it.

5. Unprotected deposits – it’s a legal requirement but some landlords will still avoid putting tenants’ deposits in a tenancy deposit scheme, leaving the tenant vulnerable.

*For more on the key issues, visit Shelter’s website.

It’s amazing that, despite being in its fourth year, one in four landlords and 20% of tenants have never even heard of deposit protection legislation. I had a quick chat with Shelter to find out a little bit more. In 2009, they spoke to over 3,000 tenants about problems relating to tenancy deposits; in 77% of these cases the deposit was unprotected, or they had not received documentation to show that it was protected in spite of it being a legal requirement to protect a deposit; any landlord that doesn’t do so is liable for a fine of three times the deposit value.

Shelter stressed how important it is that anyone who is about to rent finds out as much as they can about their responsibilities as a tenant, and those of the landlord. They have advice on their website and you can also find information on the CLG website, and in The DPS’s Tenant’s Guide.

The first thing tenants should do, before handing over any money, is check that their future landlord is registered with a tenancy deposit protection scheme, like The DPS. Here are some other things that tenants should do before entering into a tenancy agreement with a landlord:

›       View the property and meet the landlord

›       Call the tenancy deposit protection scheme in question to check that the landlord has active deposits

›       Ensure that there is an inventory and schedule of condition report

›       Inventory should contain photos (signed and dated, if possible)

›       Ensure that the inventory has been signed by both parties; if possible the tenant should be present at the check-in and check-out.

For more information about Shelter’s campaign, read Tackling Rogue Landlords – campaign briefing. And there’s more advice on protecting yourself against rogue landlords on the Landlord Law Blog.

Have you got a story you’d like to share? Drop us a message, or let Shelter know.