Some tenants have been caught out by fraudsters posing as landlords working some kind of a cash deposit scam or other frauds.
These people have been advertising properties to let on websites or the local press, meeting prospective tenants either at the property or elsewhere, and taking cash deposits to hold the rental.
There are many tales of woe and a number of long running “landlord” scams including the now famous Western Union money transfer scam. A quick search on Google will reveal all.
It’s easy to see with hindsight that it is rather foolish to hand over money to a total stranger, especially if you have not even set foot in the property, on the understanding that by paying a few hundred pounds the rental is secured for you.
Young people and students in particular, with little experience of these things, but desperate to find accommodation, are often easily taken in.
Good landlords hate this sort of thing as it reflects on everyone in the industry. As in any walk of life, there are some dodgy landlords, but by far the majority do a good job and provide an excellent service to their tenants.
There are some advantages in dealing directly with a private landlord providing you are dealing with a good one. For a start, most private landlords don’t charge a large administration fee as they don’t have the staff and other overheads that a letting agent has.
However, it’s important to make sure you are dealing with a good landlord before handing over any money.
Also, bear in mind that most landlords will ask you for some intimate personal details in order to do credit checks, so you don’t want to be handing details like name and date of birth, employer and salary, national insurance, passport or driving licence details unless you are sure you can trust the landlord.
The other point to watch is that if a landlord becomes insolvent, not only may you not get your deposit back, you could be evicted at fairly short notice if the landlord is not keeping up with mortgage payments on the property.
There are a few things you should do when looking for a rental, which you may wish to bear in mind:
1 You can visit the property before contacting the landlord to make sure you are happy with its condition from the outside, the location and surroundings, and if there are likely to be any noise or nuisance problems.
2 Try to speak to some of the neighbours or existing tenants to get a feel for the situation – ask a few questions about the landlord.
3 If you don’t have any experience of this sort of dealing, involve someone with experience. Young renters and students especially should take along a parent or experienced “business savvy” relative or friend.
4 Always meet the landlord at the property and view the entire premises, making sure that everything is in working order, clean and tidy.
5 Ask the landlord if you can speak to previous tenants to make sure they’ve had a good experience – most good landlords will happy to oblige with this.
6 It’s always a good idea to take a friend or relative along when you meet a landlord at the property for the first time. It’s dangerous to meet complete strangers alone in an isolated property and it’s good to have a witness to anything that’s said about the tenancy.
7 If the property is currently rented out, don’t hand over any money until the property becomes vacant and you can sign up the agreement in the property itself, making sure it’s available for you right away. If a previous tenant refuses to go it can take a landlord months to remove them.
8 Check the inventory thoroughly and compare it with the condition of the property before signing up. Once you have accepted the rental there are many items that you cannot demand to be improved.
9 Ask to see the Gas Check Certificate (this must be given to tenants by law when they rent) and check that the address on the certificate matches that of the landlord or agent.
10 Good landlords are often members of the one of the landlord associations, have been accredited by one of the university student bodies or a local authority. If this is the case they will be obliged to follow a strict code of conduct, so don’t be afraid to ask if this is the case. Then verify the landlord’s details with the organisation concerned.
11 Decent landlords will not mind if you ask searching questions, as they will be asking the same of you when you complete the tenancy application form and they do their credit checks and referencing etc. If the landlord does not ask for this information, take it as a warning sign.
12 When you do hand over a deposit make sure you get a receipt. All deposits must by law be protected in an approved deposit protection scheme within 30 days of it being handed over. The landlord must also give you information about the scheme within the 30 days, so make sure this is done.
13 Make your first payment by cheque or even credit card if the landlord will accept it as it gives you more protection. You may need to wait a couple of days for a cheque to clear, but good landlords, after they have done the obligatory checks on you, will often take a cheque at face value.
14 If you have any doubts about ownership, for a few pounds you can check the ownership of the rental property, and whether it’s on mortgage, at the Land Registry website – www.landregistry.gov.uk
As with all business transactions, and renting a property is certainly one of these, similar to buying a used car privately, you need to do a few simple checks to make sure that what you are getting is a bona fide deal.
A few simple precautions will make all the difference between a good experience and an absolute nightmare.
By Tom Entwistle,
If you have any questions about any of the issues here, post your question to the LandlordZONE® Forums – these are the busiest Rental Property Forums in the UK – you will have an answer in no time at all.
©LandlordZONE All Rights Reserved – never rely totally on these general guidelines which apply primarily to England and Wales. They are not definitive statements of the law. Before taking action or not, always do your own research and/or seek professional advice with the full facts of your case and all documents to hand.