As virtual home viewings rise, the national trading standards body for letting and estate agents have issued warnings against scam landlords. How can you stay safe?

A few years ago, we shared some information relating to this article, where tenants found a property on Gumtree, only for the landlord to pull out two days before move-in. The property was then up for rent again shortly after. This ‘landlord’ managed to scam other families out of their hard-earned deposit money AND appeared not to even own the property he was advertising to let.

The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team (NTSELAT) have issued a warning this year against scam landlords and letting agents. As virtual viewings have been on the rise as a result of the pandemic, it has become easier than ever for criminals to falsely advertise properties for let and scam people out of their money.

As a result the NTSELAT provides the following guidance for prospective renters when it comes to finding a landlord, agent, or property.

1. Research the Letting Agent

If the property you’re looking at is through a letting agent, a few diligent web searches should tell you everything you need to know in terms of their legitimacy. It’s likely they will have reviews available on various websites but certainly on Google.

The integrity and legitimacy of the Letting Agent is really important, and this is one of the reasons why we choose to be regulated in an industry where it is not compulsory. Our membership of ARLA Propertymark means we’re bound by a number of professional standards and working practices – look for the ARLA logo if you’re researching an agent.

2. Research the Landlord if you can

It’s not always easy to research the landlord, but if you’re dealing directly with them, you can look them up online and see what information you can find. If they’re a scammer, you may well find they have been named and shamed before. If you get to visit the property, you might have the chance to meet the current tenants, so be prepared to ask them a few questions, too.

3. Research the Property

There are a few ways you can do some research on the property before agreeing to view as a prospective tenant.

If you know the address or street name, you can do a casual walk by to get a feel for it, and see if you notice anything untoward. For example if the landlord has said there is a couple living there, and in actuality there’s a family of four, it’s likely something is not quite right.

You can also look at property websites Rightmove and Zoopla to find last sold information, or to see if it is currently on the market; whilst not a red flag in itself, the property information should indicate if it’s being sold with tenants in situ or not.

To Summarise…

Ultimately, we suggest checking out all aspects of the potential tenancy before committing to anything or handing over any money.

Your deposit needs to go into a government approved tenancy deposit schemes such as the Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits, and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.

Any holding deposit (often required to hold the property before the agreement is signed) doesn’t have to be protected unless it then becomes part of the full deposit once you become a tenant.

If you or somebody you know becomes a victim of Rental Fraud, you can report it to Action Fraud. More information can be found on their website here

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