Rental scams unfortunately are a thing. They can and sadly do happen more often than we’d like and as demand for rental homes increases sadly so do the scams. So, let’s look at these rental scams and how to avoid them.
Rental demand and rental scams
It’s easy to understand why some renters in need of a place to live might turn to social media platforms in a bid to find a rental property. Especially when there doesn’t seem much available elsewhere.
It has recently been reported that in the past year alone, London has experienced the most significant rental growth in the UK. The report indicates that the average rent in the city increased by 11.8%, reaching £2,425 per month. Which is £255 more than in November 2022!
While rental growth has slowed a bit in other parts of the UK. London, and the Midlands, are reported as the areas with the fastest growth.
According to a BBC Radio 4 report on You and Yours, there were 4,746 reports of rental fraud across the UK in 2021. Costing victims an eye-watering total of more than £7.5M.
How to spot rental scams
Be alert to false listings. This is where someone uses pictures from a real property listing pretending it is there to rent.
The scammer could be someone who has gained access to the property. Disgruntled tenants about to move out or individuals who set up unsupervised viewings sometimes create these situations. Sometimes, individuals use holiday rentals for a short period to create a fake listing.
Then, they promote fake adverts. Or these people respond to people who are opening putting a ‘shout out’ on social media that they are looking for a place to rent.
They aim to trick you into paying a holding deposit in advance of a viewing property.
The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agency Team (NTSELAT) advises would-be tenants to thoroughly research any letting advert, agency, landlord, and property before handing over any of their money.
This includes checking if the agent is a member of a redress or client money protection scheme. Which varies across the devolved nations of the UK.
They also recommend using review sites and the internet to verify the legitimacy of the property and the agent.
Looking for a Propertymark protected agent is a one-stop shop for verification. As all Propertymark Protected Letting Agents must meet a high set of criteria above what the current law demands.
Ensure you see the Propertymark logo, which all member agents must display.
Look for the signs that you might be dealing with a rental scam.
The rental scams listing contains errors
Since May 2022, all agents have had to provide material information on all property listings.
Therefore, a property listed for rent should (by law) tell you the following:
- Council tax and domestic rates
- Check the rental amount (in numbers), including when and how to pay it
- Verify if you need to pay a holding deposit. How much and it must reflect the nature of occupancy (i.e. per room or per person)
- Tenancy deposit – how much and it must reflect the nature of occupancy (i.e. per room or person)
- Accurately describe the type of property
- List how many and type of rooms
- Utilities in use
- If there is parking and the type of parking
- Other information specific to the property (for example, building safety; any restrictions, flood risk etc.)
Listings should be presented professionally and clearly. So be alert to listings with typos, spelling mistakes, excessive punctuation, missing pictures, and key (material) information.
Also, consider it a potential red flag if a property appears multiple times or seems vague.
If your alarm bells have rung, check online to see if similar pictures are on other websites. In the You and Yours podcast on BBC Radio 4 about Rental Scams the NTSELAT suggests running a ‘reverse image search’ online.
How to run a reverse image search
Use a reverse image search to identify photographs that someone has used before. To do this you simply right-click with your mouse on the image and select ‘Search image with Google’ or ‘Search the web for image’.
On your phone, you can do this by clicking on the 3 dots and selecting the I for information about the image. This way you can find out if the images and the advertisement itself already exist elsewhere. If you notice the same images in a listing for a flat in Manchester and another in London on various websites, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
The rental price seems too good to be true
Scammers often use attractive prices to lure potential victims. So, if a rental price is significantly lower than other listings in the same area, be cautious.
Doing your research on local housing market data is important. It can help you get a clear picture of the rental prices in your area.
Be cautious if the rental property appears on unknown websites
While not all listings on unknown websites, forums or social media are scams. These platforms are an obvious place for fraudsters.
You might have come across a message yourself before from someone you know: “Does anyone know of any places to rent as I’m struggling to find something?” Scammers are often quick to reply to these kinds of messages, so be very wary.
Established property portals and letting agents’ websites are more than likely trustworthy.
It’s advisable to use a regulated and qualified letting agent that adheres to a code of standards, such as Propertymark. As mentioned before, look for the logo that all Propertymark member agents display.
Not being able to view the rental property
Always insist on a physical or virtual viewing before committing. If a landlord or agent makes excuses as to why they can’t show you the property in advance. Don’t hand over your money or sign anything.
Checking out the property yourself means you can verify its condition. You can ask questions and get a feel for the local area.
However, even if you arrange a viewing and bring someone along for safety, you should still proceed with caution. As mentioned before, scammers might have access to the property.
There’s no rental screening process
Landlords and agents must conduct tenant screenings during their official tenancy onboarding process..
If they don’t request a rental credit check or other rental checks, ask why. If they don’t see a ‘need,’ stay alert to the possibility of a rental scam.
Stay cautious if someone pressures you to pay quickly
Committing to a place to rent is not something to take lightly. However, it can be pressured when demand is high. That said you should never be pressured or rush into paying a deposit.
Scammers often use urgency to trick victims into paying without proper verification. They might use sentences like; “if you drop me the deposit, I’ll drop the keys off for you.”
Not meeting in person
A genuine landlord or agent should be willing to meet with you. If they avoid personal meetings, they might be hiding something. If an in-person meeting isn’t possible, a virtual meeting should be offered.
No lease agreement
Always insist on a formal lease agreement.
When you rent a home in the UK, having a written lease agreement is really important. This is a document that lists all the important details about renting the property. Like how much rent you need to pay, when to pay it, and how long you can stay. It helps make everything clear for both you (the tenant) and the landlord, so everyone knows what’s expected.
For example, as a tenant, it guarantees your right to live there for a certain time. For the landlord, it means they can ask you to leave if you don’t follow the agreement. The lease also explains who should do what. Like fixing things in the house or if you’re allowed to let someone else live there. If there’s ever a disagreement, having this agreement in writing is useful because it shows exactly what was agreed.
No tenancy deposit scheme
In the UK, landlords must be part of a registered tenancy deposit scheme.
Be sure to verify their registration to ensure legitimacy. They must tell you which scheme they use before you pay anything.
What to do if you are a victim of rental scams
If you’ve become a victim of a rental scam and you’ve lost money because of this, you should report it to the police and/or Action Fraud.
Provide as much detail as possible, including any communication and documentation you’ve got with the scammer.
Notify the listing platform
If you were scammed via a listing, then notify the website or other platform where you initially saw the listing. So they also can take appropriate action.
Final words on rental scams
Rental scams can be avoided with vigilance and awareness. Always trust your instincts and conduct thorough checks before committing to any form of rental agreement. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stay safe and informed in your rental search and always use a reputable letting agent.
Last Updated: December 20th, 2023