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How to Spot and Deal with Rental Scams
4 min

How to Spot and Deal with Rental Scams

Housing Tips
May 17, 2022
/
4 min

graphic text image of scam alert
SCAM ALERT! Rental Scams 101

Did your letting agent give out misleading information or manipulated features of the property? Or are you being charged extra fees which you shouldn’t have been? Or are you being asked to pay a higher deposit or rent than the other tenants?

If yes then certainly this is not at all a great situation to be a part of, so we’ve thoughtfully put down some helpful advice on types of harassment that you could face and how to effectively overcome them.

Have you been on an accommodation site and found a listing that sounds perfect, maybe even more than perfect to be true? Well, behind that posting, there’s likely a scammer waiting for you to be a victim of your own excitement. Studies say that cases of fraud are growing in residential rental markets since the outbreak of COVID-19 crisis. According to a recent analysis, real estate fraud detection company rental scams have increased by 9% day-over-day since the pandemic.

In 2015, the number of reports of rental scam in the UK rose by approximately a third on the previous year, with Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, recording 2,940 incidents.

In the first nine months of 2016, some 1,891 people said they had been the victim of rental scam. The Telegraph also reports that 3,200 house hunters contacted the police regarding rental scam in 2015, up by 44% on the previous year.

The Local Government Association, however, believes this is only the tip of the iceberg – claiming that just 5% of victims choose to come forward and report the issue. With many choosing not to do so because of embarrassment or fear they won’t be believed.    

It’s estimated that fake landlords are generating around £775 million each year from rental scam, with victims losing out around £2,400 on average.

Are you being harassed by your letting agent?

Harassment by the letting agent might temper the brand image and is also treated as an absolute unprofessional action; therefore, it is highly unlikely to happen but who knows when you might come across one. So here are the common types of harassment that you need to look out for. 

Rental scams: Tricking you with a property which physically does not exist or has already been rented out by someone else or has been rented out to many other individuals at the same time.

  • Entering your home without prior notice.
  • Visiting your home while you are not there.
  • Restricting or cutting off your access to electricity, gas or water.
  • Refusing to repair essential items of the house. 
  • Becoming physically or verbally abusive. 
  • Increasing the rent without any prior notice. 
  • Fraudulent calls, emails, and text messages. 
  • Fraudulent COVID-19 offers medical assistance that require up-front payments such as cash, check, or wire transfer payments. 
  • Offers for vaccinations, oils, pills, potions, lotions, or lozenges that claim to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.  

How to deal with this?

RELY ONLY ON APPROVED SOURCES FOR COVID-19 INFORMATION

False information about the pandemic is unrestrained. The rapidly changing scenes in the rental industry means that people are naturally grasping for information about the pandemic. As COVID-19 cases have surged all over the globe, so has misinformation along with rental scams. 

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR LETTING AGENT 

Communication is the key to solve most of the problems. Before going into legal procedures, take someone along while talking to your letting agent, discuss why you are not happy in the first place and ask them to assist with the problem. 

If they are not open for face to face meet ups, try contacting them on call or email them directly. You could even discuss your problem with the landlord directly. You could ask the details of your landlord from your letting agent as well. 

NOTE: Before discussing anything, always make a point to jot down all the things that you need to discuss with the letting agent so that you do not miss any of the points. If you need any legal help and advice before speaking to your letting agent- Contact the nearest Citizens Advice. 

If talking to the letting agent does not work

WRITE A WRITTEN COMPLAINT TO YOUR LETTING AGENT 

If talking to the letting agent is not working out, the next step is to write a letter stating your problems and concerns to the letting agency. Check out the complaint procedure regarding what are the steps and how long will it take to get a reply back. You could usually find the procedure on the letting agency’s website, but you are unable to find one asking them directly. 

In case if they do not have any complaint procedure directly write to the manager stating your problems and your rights and ask them to fix the problem. 

- Keep the letter clear and include evidence like 

- Details about what you and your letting agent agreed upon. 

- A copy of all emails and letters that you sent to the letting agent. 

- What exactly are you complaining about and what are the necessary moves that you want    them to take. 

- Receipt of all the bills that you had to pay because of the issue. 

- Add photographs of the damaged property. 

- Time and date when the problem started.

TAKE HELP OF INDEPENDENT BODIES

If you do not get any response from your letting agent within 8 weeks of the date of the written complaint, you can take the help of the independent complaint bodies. The independent body will play a part of the mediator and help you to solve the problem between the letting agent and yourself. This is also known as the Redress Scheme. 

Please note that your letting agent should be a member of either of the one bodies:

1. Property Redress Scheme 

2. The Property Ombudsman 

Also before filing a complaint ask your letting agent as to which body they belong to. Fill an online complaint form on the complaints bodies website and describe your problems and explain to them what all steps you have taken to solve it. 

Also attach a copy of all the email and letters you sent to the letting agent. If the independent body feels that the letting agent hasn’t played their part well, they tell them to make the necessary changes and sometimes even ask the agents to pay compensation fees. 

COMPLAIN TO THE LOCAL COUNCIL

If you have already tried both the procedure and still haven’t received any solution you could directly complain to your local council. The local council will only intervene if your problem includes: 

- Illegal/ Forceful eviction 

- Harassment 

- If the repairs caused any safety or health risk 

- Dishonest trade behavior 

Write a letter stating your problems and the steps you have taken to solve it also attach a copy of all the emails and letters you sent to the letting agent. 

GO TO THE COURT

If all of the above procedures do not work, you still have the last option available, which is to go directly to the court and file a case. However, make sure that your case fits the court’s requirements as filling a lawsuit might cost you a lot of money.

COURT’S REQUIREMENT

- If you are illegally/ forcefully evicted 

- If you are facing discrimination 

- If you are constantly harassed by your letting agent 

- If your agent refuses to return your deposit. 

During the outbreak of the crisis, there is an increased risk of fraud and scams. It is vital for you to protect yourself by updating, reading the new rental policies, and avoiding any up-front cash payments. If you think you have fallen victim to a scam immediately contact the authorities. Fact check before sharing any information.

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