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The dodgy landlord scammers

John Fitzsimons
by Lovemoney Staff John Fitzsimons on 14 September 2010  |  Comments 13 comments

A small but dangerous number of private landlords are putting both our finances and our health at risk!

The dodgy landlord scammers

When I rented at University, my landlord was – to put it politely – a touch on the useless side. He was lazy (for example, he took forever to sort out the fire door which the previous occupants had left with a foot-shaped hole in the middle), but his incompetence was at least genuine.

Unlike some landlords, there was no malice involved.

Sadly, this is not the case for many tenants suffering from ropey landlords. According to a new report by the charity Shelter, almost one millions Brits have fallen victim to a scam involving a private tenancy or landlord over the past three years.

The attraction of renting

The private rented sector is pretty sizeable in the UK, and is only likely to get bigger.

Currently, around three million households across the nation rent from private landlords, and that is expected to increase to as many as one in five within the next ten years.

And it’s easy to see why many people like renting. There is far more flexibility involved – you aren’t tying yourself down to a 25-year (or even longer) debt on a property which you may no longer want to call home in a couple of years.

What’s more, the vast majority of private landlords are a far cry from the pantomime villain characters they are often portrayed as in the press. Sadly, the minority of rule-breakers and chancers do an awful lot of damage to the reputation of Britain's buy-to-let investors.

The 5 scams to watch out for

Shelter has put together the top five scams which are most prevalent among dodgy landlords, so if you are a renter be sure to be on your guard against these:

1) Let and run

This is a particularly scary scam. Con-artists break into an empty property, and then attempt to rent it out as their own. They’ll convince the unsuspecting tenant to hand over a stack of cash in the deposit and initial rent payments, at which point they’ll disappear.

2) Duped into debt

This ruse is where the landlord takes huge sums of money for hidden costs (fees for a tenancy inspection for example) without the tenant’s knowledge. The dodgy landlord will then ‘forget’ to inform the tenant about this cost, putting them immediately into arrears.

3) Receipt rip-off

Here, the fraudster will ask for money to be wired from the tenant as a sign of good faith that the tenant is committed to letting the property. However, this money won’t be wired to the fraudster – it will be sent to a friend of the tenant or relative. All the scammer will ask for is a receipt of the transfer.

Sadly, that’s all they’ll need to get away with your money, and they may even be able to get their hands on your entire account.

4) No need for a deposit

Here’s an awful scam that targets not just the tenants, but their loved ones as well.

Watch out for this scam if you’re a tenant!

Rather than ask for a deposit, the dodgy landlord will instead request the details of guarantors. Then, when the tenancy agreement comes to an end, the guarantors are then liable for very expensive, and generally unnecessary, ‘repairs’.

5) Unprotected deposits

Since 2007, landlords have been required to protect the deposits their tenants hand over.

Before that, there were often disputes between landlords and their tenants about whether the deposit should be returned – the landlord may claim the property was damaged, and so should keep the deposit to cover the repairs, for example, even if no repairs were actually necessary.

Now though, landlords must keep the deposit in an official protection scheme to ensure that tenants do indeed get the deposit back so long as they have kept up their end of the contract, rather than the whole thing relying on the mood of the landlord.

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.

Ignoring the rules

Sadly, it’s not just these sorts of moneymaking scams that Shelter’s study found, but also a section of landlords who wilfully ignore their responsibilities.

Related blog post

Shelter surveyed environmental health officers, and found that over 90% of officers deal with tenants who had encountered landlords who harassed or illegally evicted tenants.

A similar number of officers reported seeing cases of severe damp, mould, electrical or fire safety hazards in properties they had inspected in the past year. I find it terrifying to think that renters across the country are having their health put at risk by these rogue chancers.

The simple fact is that the local authorities have the powers to deal with these dodgy landlords, they just aren’t using them properly. By letting them get away with it, the councils are allowing these landlords to drag down the reputation of the vast majority of landlords who do a perfectly good job.

Your options

Shelter is looking to get some Government action towards tackling these dodgy landlords. If you have a story to share, head over to the Shelter website and add your voice to the Evict Rogue Landlords campaign.

Of course, that may not turn up much in the way of actual help for a while if you are currently suffering as a result of a particularly ropey landlord. One course of action may be to contact your local council, who should have someone responsible for dealing with private tenants who may be able to provide advice.

Alternatively, organisations like the Citizens Advice should be able to provide some decent, personal guidance on your situation.

And finally, you might want to find out if your landlord is a member of an industry body, such as the National Landlords Association as they would no doubt be interested to hear if one of their members has been up to the sort of antics the trade body's Code of Practice forbids.

More: Dining out is cheaper than a takeaway! | The fastest way to sell your home

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Comments (13)

  • mostdesirable
    Love rating 1
    mostdesirable said

    Hey Mr Fitzsimons, I have to object to all this unfair negative press you are giving landlords.  If you have 20+ properties let out, then yes, you'll be doing quite nicely from it. But in our case, we have just the two, I'm a student and my husband is a builder and currently has no work! We certainly don't make enough to live off on the rental income, so there is no way we are 'raking it in' as you put it! I manage the properties and I do my best to treat my tenants exactly how I would want to be treated, I respond to their problems A.S.A.P I personaly informed them about the tenancy deposit scheme, made sure their home was child safe, hazard, extra fire safe etc. I will soon become an accredited landlord. My tenants are also benefits tenants, of whom most landlords wouldn't touch with an exceptionaly long barge pole. Over the last 2 years, my tenants have all been fantastic and I partly put that down to my descision to treat them as respectable human beings. There are plenty of stories about landlords who have lost out big time purely due to the fact that tenants rights outwiegh those of landlords. There was the story about the young single mother who let her home out whilst she went to help homeless people abroad, she gave her tenant plenty of notice regarding when she would return. However, on her return her tenant was refusing to leave her house. According to the law the landlord had no rights to remove the tenant, forcing her and her son to live in a tent for several nights! I have had some bad landords myself, so I see things from both sides.

    The best advice would be to do your research into what rights landlords have compared to those of tenants, and above all, before writing articles on landlords, speak to a good few regular ones like me first so you can make a fair and realistic jugement.

    Report on 02 December 2010  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Karolina
    Love rating 1
    Karolina said

    We had our deposit protected.

    Not only did the landlord not give the deposit back, he also cheated us on the utilities bills. We had paid him upfront, he did not pay the bills and in the end the utility services charged us another time for the unpaid bills, so we had to pay them twice.

    We brought him to the Small Claims Court and won the case. The landlord was judged to pay us £4000 pounds. We never saw the money. He closed down his bank accout. The bayliffs could not find him. And we found out that he has been depossessed of his property and the police and plenty of debtor agencies are on the hunt for him.

    In such a case, what is the deposit protection scheme good for??....

    Report on 03 December 2010  |  Love thisLove  1 love

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