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Fake Landlords Are The New Scourge Of Property Market As Con Artists Fleece Hopeful Tenants

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http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2554626/Make-sure-slam-door-rackets-fake-landlords.html

Fake landlords are the new scourge of property market as con artists fleece hopeful tenants

By Neil Simpson, Financial Mail On Sunday

PUBLISHED: 22:01, 8 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:22, 10 February 2014

Fake landlords are rapidly becoming the new scourge of the property market, with con artists fleecing hopeful tenants out of huge sums in a range of scams.

In some cases, victims hand over deposit money or pay rent up front then find their ‘landlord’ didn’t own the property and has disappeared. In other ploys, tenants fall prey to identity theft after handing over passports and other personal and financial details as part of a ‘reference check’.

‘Tenants may feel they need to move fast to secure the right home – but they shouldn’t overlook warning signs and should part with cash only after a landlord or agent has proved they are genuine,’ says Graham Bates, boss of estate agent Eddisons in Leeds.

Using an established lettings agency – ideally a member of a trade body such as the Association of Residential Lettings Agents, the National Approved Letting Scheme or the Property Ombudsman – is a good first step.

But it will still pay to take the following steps to avoid falling into one of the new tenancy traps.

1) Don’t rent a property you haven’t been in. It sounds crazy, but charity Shelter says plenty of would-be tenants are fobbed off by excuses about why they can’t be given access to a property in advance and are pressured into paying a ‘holding deposit’ to someone who then disappears.

Warning bells should also sound if you are shown ‘an identical’ flat in a block rather than the actual property.

2) Find out who owns the property. Shelter says too many would-be tenants hand over money to landlords when all they know is a first name and a mobile number from an online advert. A reputable landlord will want to check you are a bona fide tenant so you are entitled to do some checks on them.

Ask to see their ID and some proof of ownership or of their right to rent the home. If landlords have a mortgage, you have more rights if the lender knows the place is tenanted – a ‘consent to rent’ document will show that it does.

3) Walk away if you’re asked to transfer your deposit or rent money through a firm such as Western Union or MoneyGram. These are reputable firms that serve specific needs – but they’re not designed for the landlord/tenant relationship.

If your landlord won’t take a cheque for the deposit and have subsequent payments paid by direct debit then something is likely to be wrong.

4) Don't give away too much information. Genuine landlords will want to do credit checks, get references from past landlords and know where you work. But while they may want to see original documents they should never take them away from you. Have copies available.

5) Demand a proper tenancy agreement. Assured shorthold tenancies are the norm and give legally binding rights and responsibilities to both sides.

‘Off the shelf’ assured tenancy agreements – and inventory check documents – can be bought in stationers and online and shouldn’t be a problem. There is more information on the agreements at shelter.org.uk.

6) Check where your deposit money will be held. Landlords in England and Wales are legally obliged to use one of three official deposit protection schemes – search ‘tenancy deposit’ at gov.uk for information and details of schemes for other parts of the UK.

7) Ask if your landlord has insurance in case things go wrong during the tenancy. There’s no obligation for landlords to have extras such as boiler or central heating insurance – but if they do it suggests they’re serious about keeping the property in good shape.

You may want to consider covering your own possessions and some advisers also suggest ‘income protection’ insurance so you can stay afloat if you lose your job or are too ill to earn.

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*shrugs*

When we moved rentals 4 or 5 years ago, the most common scam we came across (on Gumtree) was 'LLs' who wanted us to pay return fairs from Scotland to discourage 'time-wasters'. Often the properties were too good to be true - cheap rent, free wi-fi, all bills paid, etc.

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4) Don't give away too much information. Genuine landlords will want to do credit checks, get references from past landlords and know where you work. But while they may want to see original documents they should never take them away from you. Have copies available.

Personally I would be reluctant to give even that information over to an unprofessional fly by night even if he is a pwoperdee zillionaire.

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