What is rental fraud?
Prospective tenants are being warned about online rental scams that are becoming all too common of late.
Rental fraud happens when prospective tenants are tricked into paying a fee to rent a property when in fact the property doesn’t exist, doesn’t belong to the landlord advertising it, or in some cases has been rented out to multiple victims at once.
Those who fall victim often pay upfront fees or maybe even their deposit and 1st rent installment, leaving them financially unable to put down a deposit on a genuine property.
What the experts say
The National Landlords Association says it’s been contacted by several individuals who have fallen victim to scams, where fraudsters have used official branding and fake letters from NLA representatives to make their approaches appear authentic.
NLA chief executive Richard Lambert says: “Rental fraud is one of the uglier aspects of private renting. Tenants, no matter where they are from, should not send payment to advertisers before they are certain it is genuine... Any tenant that falls victim to such a scam should contact the relevant authorities in their own country and alert the police in the UK via www.actionfraud.police.uk.”
Tenants should also be reminded that they can check whether the landlord they are dealing with is a member of the governing body they are claiming to be with by checking with the organisation direct.
Here are a few top tips to ensure you do not fall victim to a rental scam:
- Never rent without viewing the property first;
- Do not send money up front to anyone advertising online, make sure they are genuine first;
- Beware if you are asked to wire any money via a money transfer service, criminals can use details from the receipt to withdraw money from another location;
- Only rent from landlords that belong to government approved deposit schemes;
- Contact the organisations the landlord claims to be associated with in order to verify their status. Organisations such as The Property Ombudsman, ARLA & NALS will be very upfront with this information.
- Overseas applicants needing to secure accommodation before they arrive in the UK should first seek the help of the employer or university they are coming to;
- Get paperwork and proof: ask for a copy of the tenancy agreement or safety certificates to confirm that the “landlord” has a genuine legal connection with property.
Stay safe with Redress Schemes
Unfortunately, the steps required to stay safe from fraudsters can lead to missing out on genuine properties. Recent changes in tax laws have reduced the profit margins for landlords, and many have turned to managing their properties themselves to reduce costs, and not all are members of landlord redress schemes.
Fortunately, by law all Letting Agents are required to join a housing redress scheme such as The Property Ombudsman giving peace of mind to prospective tenants that the houses the are viewing are genuine and the agent has accreditation.
Tenants always need to be aware of the standard fraud advice: don’t feel pressured into handing money over for a property and do your homework by checking references and reviews.
At the end of the day if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.