The dodgy landlord scammers

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

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.

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