Rise in scams adds to problems for tenants

It can be difficult enough dealing with unscrupulous landlords. Now people in rented accommodation are being conned online

As hundreds of thousands of university students make the mad dash to find rented accommodation for the new academic year, they are warned to watch out for rental scammers and rogue landlords.

The private rental market has grown rapidly in the past decade. And with the mortgage market still restrictive it is set to increase more, leaving tenants even vulnerable to the potential pitfalls of renting. The issue of rogue landlords has become the target of a new campaign by homelessness charity Shelter.

"We want to expose as many rogue operators and con artists as possible," says Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter. "With more people set to become private tenants in the future, more people could become victim to rental scams. We must do something about it urgently."

A new scam recently came to light on the Gumtree website, exposing fake landlords asking unsuspecting potential tenants to send them money for non-existent accommodation. These scammers have become crafty, with many pretending to be a member of the National Landlords Association (NLA), using its logo and creating fake stationery. As well as having to cope with con artists, many tenants are also at risk of illegal eviction, losing their deposit unfairly, being charged way over the odds for hidden costs and living in an unsafe property.

"While the vast majority of landlords looking for flatmates or tenants are honest and bona fide, there will always be a few who are not," says Jonathan Moore, the director of Easyroommate.co.uk. "And, as online flatsharing has boomed, there has been a spate of online scams. In the past three years, we've noticed a marked increase in the number of bogus adverts and scams that our fraud monitoring team has caught."

With so many potential dilemmas, the biggest weapon if you're a tenant is knowledge – you can spot a problem if you know your rights and the legal obligations of the landlord. The golden rule is never to hand over any money until you are certain of the advertiser's authenticity and have his or her name with a UK contact address which they are required by law to provide. You can check whether a landlord really is a member of the NLA on www.goodlandlord.org.uk, or find out who owns the property by searching on the Land Registry website. Once you've found the right place and a genuine landlord, you should make sure the rest of the process goes smoothly too.

First of all, the landlord must provide you with a tenancy agreement. The majority of new rental arrangements are an assured shorthold tenancy which means the landlord must give proper notice and follow the correct procedure to evict you.

"It's important to go through the terms and conditions of a tenancy agreement with a fine-tooth comb, looking at the obligations of both landlord and tenant in terms of upkeep and maintenance of the property, respective liabilities, renewal processes and costs," says Nicholas Leeming, the commercial director of property website Zoopla.co.uk.

Included in any written agreement should be the name and address of the landlord and letting agent if there is one, details of the rent (how much it is, when it's due and whether it covers any bills or council tax), how much notice you must give if you are allowed to leave before the end of the tenancy and, crucially, details of the deposit arrangement.

Getting the deposit back is one of the biggest problems that tenants face, so examine the tenancy agreement carefully so that you know exactly what the deposit covers and the terms and conditions under which it is returned. Above all, you should ensure that your money is protected in one of three authorised schemes: Deposit Protection Service (DPS), Mydeposits.co.uk and Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). Your landlord should provide you with proof that the deposit is in one of these schemes within 14 days of paying it.

"If landlords fail to protect a deposit, they may be forced to pay the tenant three times the deposit amount as punishment and are also unable to evict the tenant under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 until it is protected," says Eddie Hooker, chief executive of Mydeposits.

When it comes to maintenance of the property, your landlord is responsible for getting external and structural repairs done including the roof, guttering, walls, windows and doors, as well as the plumbing, wiring and central heating. The property must also comply with various gas, electrical and fire safety standards and you should be provided with an energy performance certificate. It's also a good idea to have an accurate inventory in place before you move in recording the condition and contents of the property. This may prove invaluable if there are any discrepencies about damage or missing items. If the landlord or estate agent doesn't mention a document, do ask and keep a copy somewhere safe.

As well as checking that the landlord meets his or her obligations, you should ensure that you keep your end of the bargain. As a tenant, you must keep your home reasonably clean and free of damage, so if you break something, your landlord is likely to charge you for it. You are also responsible for your own belongings so it's wise to get home contents cover.

If you fall behind with rent payments, your landlord is in a strong position to evict you. Get advice as soon as possible from organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, Shelter and National Debtline. If you're moving in with friends and all sign one joint tenancy agreement, you are all equally responsible for paying the rent and keeping to the terms of your agreement. If one tenant misses the rent or causes any other problems, you could end up forking out to cover their mistakes, so think carefully about who you live with.

Case Study: Sebastian Forbes, Student

Sebastian Forbes, 20, a third-year biology student at Newcastle University, came unstuck last year when he moved into rented accommodation in Jesmond with four other university friends.

"As soon as we moved in we found an eviction notice on the floor so we called the landlord straightaway," he says. "But he said to just throw it away and not to worry." The five housemates also had to contend with a list of broken fixtures and fittings including the garage door and hot water tank, which took the landlord at least six months to get sorted. Then in November, another eviction notice came through the post. When they called the court they were told it was highly likely the property would be repossessed.

"We started looking for a new place to live. We had to take a week out from university – it was so stressful. Then 24 hours before we were due to be evicted the landlord finally sorted something out with the mortgage lender so we ended up staying," he says.

This wasn't the end of their troubles, however. In May, yet another eviction notice arrived, leaving the students having to go to court and ask for an extension to their tenancy. Today, despite finally being out of the property, Mr Forbes and his former housemates are in an ongoing dispute with their former landlord over getting their deposit back. "It was a nightmare from start to finish but at least we got to know all the tenancy rights and landlord obligations. We're now prepared for a lifetime of renting!"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Accounts Payable

    £12 - £15 per hour: Cameron Kennedy Recruitment: Excellent opportunity to join...

    Technical BA - Banking - Bristol - £400pd

    £400 per hour: Orgtel: Technical Business Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £400pd...

    Account Management Strategy Manager

    £38000 - £42000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: Required skills:Previo...

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice