How to Spot & Avoid Rental Scams & Cons
Published 8 December 2012
With the squeeze in housing available in London and ever-rising rental prices, the power is definitely tipping over to the landlord side in the rental relationship. It can be an extremely stressful time when you have to find a new rental property. But make sure you don’t fall for a rental con or scam – there’s been ever increasing reports of fraudsters targeting desperate renters recently.
So how do you protect yourself from being a victim of an apartment or house rental con or scam? How do you verify that the landlord is genuine, the property belongs to him or her, and that the landlord won’t run away with your deposit and first month’s rent?
There’s no 100% way, but if you follow these steps in this guide, you will at least severely reduce the chance that you get rental conned or scammed.
1) Use a reputable rental agency
In these austerity times, it’s easy to think you can save a bit of money by going direct to landlord, for example through an ad on Gumtree. But Gumtree is rife with fraudsters and rental scams. Years ago I saw cons promising luxury properties for a fraction of the price – but you had to send a “deposit” by Western Union to your friend – this money soon disappeared once you scanned a copy of your “deposit” receipt, and the fraudster used the receipt to withdraw your money from Western Union.
Using a rental agency that has been around for a long time and has a physical high street presence will protect you. As all the deposit and first month’s money goes through the rental agency. And if the landlord turned out to be a fraudster who didn’t actually own the property – well – the rental agency bears some liability there.
2) A “fantastic” deal is always too good to be true
If you don’t know the landlord personally or within 3 degrees of your network, why on Earth would he or she want to give you a “special” deal on the rental? If you come across a good deal, you should be wary. Good deals only come to close connections – because the landlord has some piece of mind over rental payments and knows the tenant will look after the property – so is willing to charge less. But otherwise, why would a landlord give a discount? It’s like throwing away money for free.
3) Never ever pay the deposit by cash
I know lots of people do. Hell, I did it when I was a student. I wish I hadn’t taken that risk though. Landlords love it because there’s nothing like cash in hand. But if it is in cold hard cash, and the landlord conman runs away, there’s a next to nothing chance you’ll get your money back. Insist on a cheque or bank transfer – that way, there’s always an electronic trail that the police can trace to try to locate the fraudster and your money.
4) Check to see if the landlord is actually the owner of the property
I’m surprised more people don’t check this before signing a contract and handing over thousands of pounds. The easiest way to check to make sure that the property is not a con or a scam is to ask for proof of ID from the landlord. So ask to see a driving licence or credit card showing his or her official name. Then go online to the Land Registry website and request for an instant online Title Register. It only costs £3, and shows you the name of the property owner. As simple as that. £3 is a small price to pay to ensure you’re not losing thousands of pounds!