Shelter commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey of 2,234 GB Adults – 2% of whom said they have fallen victim to a scam involving a private tenancy or landlord. This equates to around one million people in Great Britain.
Despite Government claims that current laws do protect tenants, an exclusive YouGov poll for the charity uncovers a very different picture with many people admitting to having been victims of underhand practices when privately renting.
Worryingly, 4% of those surveyed know someone else who this has happened to. That equates to over two million people who have been scammed in the last three years, illustrating that this is a very real problem for a large number of people living in the private rented sector who are being exploited by a minority of rogue operators.
The survey is part of a national investigation launched by Shelter this week which aims to raise awareness that rogue landlords and con artists are out there and that their actions have a huge impact on people’s lives.
The charity wants prospective tenants to be aware of the most common rent scams they have uncovered during their investigation. Popular scams include:
1. Let and Run: Where con artists break into empty properties and then rent them out as their own and unsuspecting tenants hand over large sums of money as a deposit and rent, at which point the con artists disappear.
2. Duped into debt: Where extortionate amounts of money are taken for hidden costs without the tenant knowing e.g. fees for a tenancy inspection which they then ‘conveniently’ forget to inform tenants of, immediately putting people in arrears.
3. Receipt Rip Off: A con artist will ask for money to be wired as a sign of good faith that a tenant is committed to letting a property. The landlord will ask that funds are wired to the tenant’s friend or relative to demonstrate that they can afford the property. They ask for proof of receipt and then withdraw the funds using the transfer details.
4. No need for a Deposit: Rather than asking for a deposit, the landlord will request tenants to provide guarantors. At the end of their tenancy these guarantors can become liable for unnecessary and extremely costly ‘repairs’.
5. Unprotected Deposits: Although a legal requirement, some rogue landlords still avoid putting tenant’s deposits in a tenancy deposit scheme, withholding it at the end for unfair reasons.
Other results from the survey show that a fifth (20%) of tenants still have not heard about the Tenancy Deposit protection Scheme introduced by Government in April 2007. Yet as the charity’s investigation shows withheld deposits are a major issue for tenants, with one in four of landlords admitting they weren’t aware of the schemes either.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It is absolutely shocking to think that so many people have fallen victim to these kind of scams but even more astonishing is the fact that these rogue landlords are seemingly able to get away with it scot free.
“With over a million people victims to date clearly there could be scammers in every city up and down the country. They knowingly let people hand over their hard earned cash in good faith, with the sole intent of stealing it.
“It is simply not acceptable that people who just trying to secure the basic human need of a roof over their head should end up ripped off.”
The private rented sector has increased more rapidly than any other tenure, with three million households now privately renting and predictions that one in five people will be living in the sector by 2020.
Mr Robb continued: “With more and more people set to become private tenants in the future we believe this is a widespread problem that will create thousands more victims unless we urgently do something about it.
“Not only is it vital that people who are renting watch out for these kinds of tricks, but the Government must also clamp down hard on rogue operators who are exploiting the system and taking advantage of people who are simply need a home.”