Safer Renting recommendations to tackle the Shadow Private Rented sector.
As one of the few organisations operating solely in the criminal end of the rental business, we are well placed to see the abuses and scams perpetrated on renters and have compiled a list of recommendations that if adopted would have a very real effect on the ability of criminals to play the system.
This article forms part of a series promoting these recommendations.
ONLINE LETTINGS PORTALS TO BE MADE TO CARRY ALERTS.
When dealing with referrals of tenants in difficulty, Safer Renting’s case workers often find that those who are being subject to fraud and exploitation, procured their accommodation from online sources, such as Gumtree, Spareroom and Facebook Marketplace.
These companies benefit from people using their services but do little of real practical use to highlight abuses of their platforms..
Gumtree and Spareroom carry blog articles on landlord and tenant issues but they are buried deeper in the websites, where prospective tenants have to go looking.
Of course its true that not everyone who rents property out using these online portals is a criminal or rogue operator but its also true that most criminals and rogue operators advertise on these very portals.
The reasons are obvious. Anonymity of perpetrators for people who have been defrauded or conned into renting dangerous, unlicensed accommodation to be able to trace the people exploiting them and the concomitant inability of those renters to obtain any form of legal redress.
Our recommendation is that each, individual advert detailing a property for rent, should carry a clickable warning tag that open a page, letting prospective tenants know what sort of checks to run before handing any money over, for instance:-
A prominent link to Trading Standards complaints portal for any concerns about unfair trading practices including offences under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and Tenant Fees Act 2019.
A list of banned fees under the Tenant Fees Act
A link to the government How to Rent Booklet’
A link to the Land Registry, urging prospective tenants to confirm who actually owns the property they are thinking of renting.
Information about the requirements of deposit protection regulations.
A link to the GLA rogue landlord checker database
A link to the agent rating website “All agents”
A Link to the tenant rating webservice Marks out of Tenancy.
A link to the local authority licensing website to confirm whether it needs a licence and if it has one.
This list is not exhaustive but it is essentially the kinds of things that for the want of knowing before taking on a rental, people become exploited by the worst types of landlord and agent.
Forewarned is to be fore-armed, as they say and prevention is most definitely better than cure..
I can see the possible objections raised from a marketing perspective, that the hosts of these services don’t want to scare anyone and want to ensure that their services appear reliable and that anyone using them will be safe and I’m sure most users are perfectly safe and happy but this doesn’t take away the fact that these portals are also abused by rogue and criminal landlords and agents to dupe the unwary.
There are precedents for this in most walks of life.
Whenever I log onto my online banking website, the first thing that I see, obliterating my account information is a large dialogue box warning me to beware of fraudulent activity.
When travelling on bus, tube or even just sitting in the cinema, adverts abound, warning us to watch out for thieves and pickpockets. This doesn’t deter anyone from going to the cinema, it just keeps them aware and reduces theft.
The fact is, criminals do use online portals to advertise properties for rent and where it may be legally true that such portals don’t owe a duty of care to their users, we argue they owe a moral duty to do what they can, however small, to keep their users as safe as they can be.
Its not a big ask but it’s a recommendation that would do much to cut down the number of people who get exploited and empower them to know more about renting and to how to guard against being ripped off and abused.
By Ben Reeve Lewis