Fraud landlord scams tenants for over £10,000

“‘Posh’ fraudster, 32, who made up to £10,000 from fake London listings on SpareRoom.com forcing one victim to spend Christmas in a hostel is on the run after skipping court”

This story about a fraud landlord who scams his tenants caught my eye earlier today as I was looking through the latest news. It details how a 32 year old man posed as a Landlord on Spareroom.co.uk and listed 17 fake rooms to let across south London and took £725 in deposits per room. Ho eventually got away with over £10,000 from the scam. It is understood that he has now skipped court and is on the run. His sentence is six years behind bars, but the courts and police haven’t yet been able to track him down.

The crimes took place between late in 2015 and December 2016, but when I looked for further information, I uncovered several other similar scams from sites such as Gumtree and Spareroom. Other similar services also exist, where Landlords can ‘cut out the middle man’ and list properties directly for rent.

Evidently, this way of working is fraught with danger for tenants – how do you know you’re not dealing with a fraudster or a criminal who will simply take your money and never give you the keys? How can you verify they are the true owner of the property and have the correct licenses and permissions to rent out a property?

The unfortunate fall out from this kind of behaviour is of course that good landlords who self-manage and self-advertise their property will come under greater pressure. In addition taking time to follow the rules with a diligent approach to compliance, legal duties and regulations, Landlords will now have to work that much harder to win their tenants trust. They may find that they have to jump through more hoops to prove their legitimacy.

How do we stop fraud landlords who scam tenants?

Sadly, the law isn’t reaching these people, so we have to take the fight home. For tenants, the need for brushing up on the law and their responsibilities when entering the rental market are now very important. There are guides and information out there, but many of them seem to take the assumptive position that a landlord’s default setting is evil and unscrupulous rather than enterprising, commercially minded and fair (the latter of which in my experience is, more often than not, the reality) – even so, being informed is 90% of the battle.

Tenants should familiarise themselves with simple aspects of renting and tenancy law, at the bare minimum focusing on those which deal with money, rent, and occupancy rules (i.e. when to pay, who to pay, how to pay it, how do I give/receive notice to terminate, who can live here etc) or at least spend a little time reading and researching. It’s a sad fact that nearly all tenants simply don’t know what the laws are and as such are an easy mark for the Landlords that none of us want or need in the sector.

If tenants close ranks and inform themselves in a positive way, the chances that unscrupulous landlords will remain profitable will narrow, and they will be forced to play by the rules.
If only there was some way…

By far the simplest option however is if there was some kind of service where Landlords were vetted and had to prove ownership, present ID and properties were checked for compliance. An environment where governing bodies regulated the activity. Yes, it would cost money to pay somebody to protect tenants and to help landlords. But surely it would save everyone a huge amount of time, effort and headaches?

Those who are featured in the countless stories of these scams as victims, and good landlords who want to be honest and enterprising, would perhaps appreciate paying a little for that security. And further perhaps for tenants, there would be some guarantee of transparency and honesty. A clear set of agreed rules on recourse in the event of a derailment somehow. They would have the assistance of something like an Ombudsman or the security of a solid professional business that adheres to set rules and protocols – fancy that!

Ok, I know I don’t need to labour the point, I know you get it by now. Modesty should prevent me from saying so, but….

Now do you see why perhaps using a Lettings Agency is simply the best idea for everyone?