As with any city, London has its share of criminals and con-artists who use a variety of scams to trick people out of money. With the rental market booming, this is a great place for scammers to work and they usually prey on people who are desperate or not from the UK, so they don’t know the regular process of renting a home. Any room in London is in high demand, so you are often told to act fast and hand over your money to secure the deal.
If you’re looking to rent a flat or house in London for the first time, here are some common scams to be aware of. Always remember that if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
No viewings allowed
Everybody has the right to view a property or a bedroom before deciding to sign a contract or pay a holding deposit. There are many excuses that fake landlords might try – the property is being refurbished, the tenant works from home, they are having asbestos removed so nobody can go into the building at the moment. If you get dealt any excuse as to why you can’t view the property, walk away. This is more than likely a fake property which isn’t actually up for rent and you’ll be handing over your security deposit to a scammer – with no place to live at the end of it.
If you are trying to rent from outside of London, then we highly recommend you come and view properties before agreeing to rent them. You could stay in a hotel for the first week while you view potential properties, or choose a homestay for the first week or two as a find your feet option. This way you will get to meet landlords face to face and have the chance to see properties in person – which can look drastically different from photographs!
Dodgy payment methods
If a landlord asks you to pay your security deposit or rent by any other method than credit or debit card, then be very wary. A landlord may not be able to take a card payment but agencies can, so there is no excuse. Never ever pay cash because you can’t prove you have paid, and warning bells should also ring if they request payment via PayPal or a money transfer service such as Western Union.
Be very careful about people sub-letting their apartments, because if you don’t sign a contract then you have no rights. Con artists can rent a property themselves, then try and rent it to somebody else to charge extra fees and higher rents. In many cases it’s not this sinister, it’s just the average person trying to afford London rent, but still – sub-letting is never a good idea and is usually a breach of contract.
The overseas landlord
You might find the perfect property listing online which looks great, but you can’t meet the landlord because they live overseas. They are trying to rent out their UK property but can’t go through a proper agent because for whatever reason, they can’t return to London at the moment to verify their property. The overseas landlord may require you to transfer some money before picking up the keys or having them posted to you – never ever trust this process!
Unfortunately it’s not just fake landlords you have to watch out for – there are fake letting agencies out there too. Some criminals are very sophisticated and these agencies can appear to have all of the right paperwork so it can be hard to spot a scammer. These agencies can rent out flats or houses on Airbnb, invite people to view it and in a week they have scammed four would-be tenants out of thousands of pounds.
Rental fraud is on the rise, so always be vigilant when looking for somewhere to live.