5 Tips to Help You Avoid Rental Scams
By Kelly Henderson (follow Kelly on Twitter @kellythekiwi)
Unfortunately there are a number of people out there who take advantage of desperate flat/room hunters… especially those who are new to London. The scammers will normally try to get you to hand over a large amount of money (normally the deposit and first month’s rent) before disappearing and leaving you with a property that may not even exist.
If you are feeling nervous or worried that you might fall victim to a scam – fear not! There is some excellent advice online and I have chosen my top 5 tips to help you avoid rental scams.
#1 Never pay in cash
Scammers will want to be paid in a way that cannot be traced – cash. Be very careful if a landlord insists that is how he/she wants to be paid. Also, be wary of those who ask for the money to be transferred via Western Union or another money transfer service. Sometimes a scammer will ask for a large amount of money (like the deposit and first month’s rent) to be transferred to your friend/relative’s bank account so they can see that you can afford the property. They will then ask for proof of receipt and use this information to withdraw the money themselves.
Make sure you get a receipt every time you pay out money. In the unfortunate event that you become the victim of a rental scam, the evidence you have will help you win the case.
#2 Always view the property
One of the biggest rental scams is landlords taking money from prospective tenants without them even seeing the property. This is especially one to watch out for if you are looking for a place to rent before you have moved to London. There are a load of excuses as to why you might not be able to see the property including:
- The landlord lives overseas and doesn’t have anyone available to show you the property. They will often suggest that you pay the deposit and then the landlord will send you the keys.
- The property is undergoing refurbishment or maintenance work. They may even go to the trouble of giving you the address of a property that really is being refurbished. This will make their lies seem genuine.
- The current tenants won’t allow viewings as they work from home, work shifts (so sleep during the day), or have people staying.
If you are looking from outside of London then one way to avoid this rental scam is to get your new employer/university or a friend to check the property out first and make sure that it actually exists!
#3 Be realistic – is the price too good to be true?
If the price seems too good to be true then it probably is. Scammers will offer a really cheap price in order to get as many people interested as possible. Have a look at similar properties in the same area and see how much they are currently being rented out for – if the price is more than 10-15% cheaper then there is a chance that the property doesn’t exist.
Another ‘money saving’ idea that scammers may suggest is that you can pay more extra rent per month instead of paying a deposit. At the end of the tenancy, they will give you this money back if there is no damage or breakages. This is a very tempting offer as the amount needed for a deposit can be huge! Unfortunately, this is a rental scam and it is unlikely that you will receive this money back. The only way to keep your deposit safe is if your landlord places it into a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme (TDP).
If you would like some more advice about deposits and dealing with landlords then take a look at our post here.
#4 Take photos of everything when you move in
Some landlords will try everything they can to keep your deposit and make a bit of extra cash at the end of your tenancy. Make sure to do your own inventory check and document/take photos of any damage to things like appliances, carpets, and furniture.
Keeping evidence is also important during your tenancy if major disrepair occurs – this is things like sewage leaking, the boiler breaking or if the walls start crumbling. Take photos or videos of everything, write detailed notes and keep a copy of all of the communication between you and the landlord. If the problem does not get solved and you need to go to court, you will win if you have evidence you did nothing wrong.
#5 Do your research and choose a trustworthy landlord
A quick Google search will provide you with a lot of information and reviews; you could also try and speak to previous or current tenants. Make sure you meet the landlord in person and that you have plenty of contact details for him/her. Scammers will often only have a mobile number and use a free email account like Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail.
Letting agencies offer much more protection than private landlords as they are aware of scams and would have already checked the property is real and who the actual owner is. Make sure that the letting agency has a physical address and is a member of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). You can check that they are genuine by searching on the ARLA website.
Some scammers will break into empty properties and try and rent them out as their own. When the real owners turn up, the tenants are evicted as they have no rights to the property. If you are worried that this might be the case you can have a look on the Land Registry website (this does cost a small fee).
I hope I haven’t put you off renting a property in London. Remember, not all landlords are scammers and you may find a really cool place to live. Have a read of our post for some great tips for renting a room in London.