Recent news reports of unscrupulous people taking over someone's home and renting it out to either one or more tenants means that if you are a homeowner, a landlord or a tenant, you need to take precautions to avoid being scammed!
If you are a prospective tenant hunting for a property, then it's vital to follow our top 15 ways to spot a fake landlord BEFORE you hand over any money!
To avoid having to ask these questions altogether, only rent from an ARLA or NALS registered letting agent that is also ideally a member of The Property Ombudsman Scheme. They are responsible for agents that have joined their organisations to abide by strict codes of conduct and this means that they are more likely to ensure a property is let legally, including ensuring the landlord owns the property and has, if required, the lender's permission to rent it.
Avoid a Fake Landlord BEFORE you view a property:-
1. Check where the advert is from. If it's from sites where landlord's can advertise for free, or for less than 50, find out how the website vets the properties and landlords. If they do NO vetting be very cautious!
2. Ask for the landlord's full name and address and ideally a land line phone number. Be suspicious if they don't give these details and only give an email address/mobile.
3. Ask if the landlord is a member of any accreditation schemes eg NLA, RLA and/or a local authority scheme, check they are members.
4. Confirm your appointment with them ideally on the land line number.
5. For a small fee (around 4) check on-line at Land Registry that the landlord does own the property. Download the Title Register details which says who owns the property.
How to SPOT a Fake Landlord when viewing a property:-
6. Ask the landlord if you can see the Energy Performance Certificate. This is a document that tells you how much your utility bills will be (very important!) and is a legal requirement for most rental properties (except properties that aren't let on a 'self contained basis', such as licensed HMOs and renting a room).
7. When looking around the home ask what's happened to the previous tenants and if you can have a reference from them.
8. Ask to see the existing gas and any electrical safety certificates. If the previous tenants have just moved out, then the certificates should still be in date, or if they are just out of date, confirm with the gas/electricity company that they did the work for your landlord.
9. Ask the landlord how much deposit they take, how it will be paid (eg cash/cheque/BACs) and which Tenancy Deposit Scheme it will be held in. It should be held in one of three schemes: My Deposits (custodial and safest scheme); Tenancy Dispute Service or My Deposits.
(These are insurance schemes, so if your landlord/agent goes bust, runs off with the money as long as you have evidence it was paid to them you can get your money back.)
Check on-line that they are a member of the scheme they say they are!
10. Ask for a copy of the contract that you will need to sign on move in day, so you can get it checked beforehand.
If the landlord can't supply all or any of the paperwork mentioned above - DO NOT RENT FROM THEM!
Avoid a Fake Landlord on Check in Day:-
1. Never hand over any cash or wire the money until you have received the keys.
2. Unless you are letting through a high street letting agent that is a member of NALS or ARLA (and the Property Ombudsman), don't hand over your deposit unless you have actually gained access to the property.
3. Make sure the landlord has done a full inventory. This is a document that lists all the things that are in the property and describes the quality of the decor. For example it might say 'stain on the living room carpet, near the fireplace' and ideally this statement would be backed up by a photograph. If there is no inventory, be very wary of renting the property without doing one yourself and taking lots of photos. If you don't when it comes to asking for your deposit back, there might be a dispute as the landlord might take money off for a new carpet in the living room because of a stain that was there before you moved in!
4. If there is no contract to sign and this contract has no mention of a tenancy deposit scheme where your deposit will be protected, do not sign! Check it with a specialist lettings legal company first.
5. Check that the gas and electrical safety certificates are real and up to date.
However much you 'fall in love' with a property, or however desperate you are to rent one, don't cut the corners described above. If you do try to rent too quickly, you might miss that the place is freezing cold, despite having all the radiators on, a fake landlord might put you under pressure to secure the property via a deposit.