Unfortunately, like anything where money is involved, there are those out to take it. From suspect marketing to phantom houses, here’s the top five renting scams, and how to avoid them.
1: Bait and switch
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Usually carried out by larger agencies with quite a few properties, they will advertise a great property in a good area at a good rate. It’s perfect! Unfortunately, when you phone, it’s just gone. However, they have some similar ones they are ‘sure you’d love’.
In reality, the property has not been available for a while (or not at all, at that price). But now they have you on the phone the agent can offer you a worse property, or a similar one at a higher cost
It’s not actually cost you anything but some time, so it’s more irritating than anything else. However, if the first action of the agency is to lie to you, why would you trust them…
2: Finder Fees
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An extension of bait and switch, the company appears to have some good properties available. However, before you can view them you need to pay a fee to register. This may be listed as a registration fee, referencing fee or similar. If you don’t find a property, you will often find you can’t get the fee back.
If you can, just refuse to pay any fees up front, saying that you will pay them when the lease agreement is signed. If you have to, make sure you get a singed agreement saying the fees will be refunded if they fail to find a property you get an agreement on is a set period of time.
Other than that, just walk away.
3: Illegal Subletting
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Subletting is where a existing tenant lets a property. It’s not illegal in itself, but many property owners don’t like it, and place a term in the contract that doesn’t allow it.
The problem is, if you have sublet, you have no direct contact with the person who actually owns the building. If the tenant decides to stop paying rent, it’s you that’s evicted – even if you have been paying them. You also have much less power if there is a maintenance problem or other issue.
You will often find this where a tenant has a property at a rate well below market value, and realises they can make a profit by letting it out themselves. You also get people renting out a spare room (or even a couch). As they are breaking the terms of their lease, both of you can get evicted and you may lose any cash paid in advance.
Ensure that the owner is happy with the sublet in writing, and that you get the same rights and responsibilities. A better alternative is for the existing tenant to end their lease, and for you to start a new one on the same terms.
If you are subletting a room, ideally get permission of the landlord – they may want to add you to the lease or increase rent slightly. If not, don’t pay much in advance, as you will struggle to get it back if things go wrong.
4: Fake landlord
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I couldn’t find an ‘official’ name for this one, but its pretty simple. A person posing as a landlord will rent out a property. They’ll collect deposits and rents and even get you to sign a contract. However, when you go to move in, you can’t collect the keys, or you find someone else living there.
The ‘landlord’ never had right to rent the property. They are either a tenant themselves, or have just broken in. It’s likely they have rented the same property to multiple tenants to boost thier income. As you have no agreement with the real owner, you have no right at all to stay and will find yourself booted out pretty quickly. You will probably find it impossible to track down the person you gave money to.
Look out for these warning signs:
- It’s significantly cheaper than similar properties
- You can only contact the landlord by mobile phone or email (no landlines or addresses)
- They generally advertise online only, and there are no ‘To Let’ signs on the building
- They want to get a fast or immediate agreement, with an excuse like moving overseas, and are willing to skip things like background and credit checks
- You cant access the inside at all, or the locks looks like they have been damaged recently
- They want payment by an untraceable, unstoppable method like cash or Western Union
While, on their own these may be OK, if you see more than one be wary.
If you suspect a fake landlord try:
- Ask for some form of ID like a driving licence or similar – but could you spot a fake? Try to get a photo of the landlord and their car number plate.
- Search for the address and see if it is to let with another agency, ask if it is available now and how much for. If it’s not on the market, or is for a significantly different amount, run away.
- Check the lease document matches the name the landlord gave you and the property address. It should have the landlords full name and address – check the address exists (Google street view is useful).
- Check the land registry to get the owners name. This will cost you about £3, but could save you a whole lot more – see www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry.
- Delay. Most scams will be found quickly as the fake landlord has to grab the money and get away before multiple tenants try to move in or the owners show up.
5: Fake house
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First appearing in holiday lettings, this is now appearing targeting people letting from another city or country, or even where a hot rental market makes the best homes go fast.
A great property at a low price will be listed, with lots of quality photos. The landlord will have a reason for the low price – a death in the family or an urgent move abroad – so he has to let it now. You may even get a discount for agreeing to rent today.
The contract may be emailed, but you will be asked to transfer money to an overseas account, or by Western Union – again a method that is hard to trace and cannot be reversed.
Never send any kind of money, not even a relatively small ‘holding deposit’ for a property you have not seen in person.
As a backup, search for the address or use a Google image search to find identical images – you will generally find the site they have been stolen from, and can contact the owners or their agents.
Know any other rental scams?
The best way to avoid all sorts of scams is being aware that you generally will never find a huge bargain. If it looks too good to be true, it almost always is.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but be aware the best scammers will have plausible answers prepared.
See also Protecting your deposit – a guide for tenants. If you know any other rental scams tell us in the comments!
Images: 1:Creative Commons – Tim Green 2:Uncredited 3:Creative Commons – Les Hull, via Geograph