As house prices soar, more of us than ever are turning to renting – in fact, two thirds of under 35s are in the rental market and are now referred to as 'Generation Rent'.
With such huge demand, so called 'rogue landlords' are getting away with more than ever, with an increasing number of renters feeling 'ripped off'.
When you rent a property, you enter into a legally binding contract with the landlord – so it's more important than ever that you understand what you're agreeing to and who you're agreeing it with.
Here at Peopletracer, our people searching tools allow you to verify someone's details, such as their name, address, financial background and the business they own.
The following guide provides advise on what you need to check and why, before you sign on the dotted line.
Why should you be wary of landlords?
There are a number of things that tenants should be wary about when dealing with landlords.
Rental fraud occurs when prospective tenants are tricked into paying an upfront fee for a property that doesn't exist or that has already been let. This results in the victim losing the money and not being able to move into the property.
There are some precautions that you can take to reduce the risk that you will be a target for rental fraud:
Make sure that you are certain that the advertiser is genuine before sending any money.
If you are trying to rent a property from overseas, get a friend or relative to verify that the property exists and is available to rent. Make sure that someone you trust visits the property with an agent or landlord before you sign or pay money.
Ask for copies of documents such as the tenancy agreement or HMO licence before you pay.
You can find more information at Action Fraud.
Image by Alan Cleaver
Some scammers will ask a prospective tenant to wire money via Western Union, to show that they can afford the rent. The 'landlord' will ask that they wire the money to a friend or relative and then ask for proof of receipt. The 'landlord' can then use the transfer details to withdraw the funds.
You should never agree to wire money for a deposit. Most landlords should accept a cheque.
Some rogue landlords will suggest that instead of paying a deposit, you can pay them a little more rent each month. You will then get the 'extra' money back at the end of the tenancy if the property is in the same condition. However, at the end of the tenancy the landlord is under no obligation to return the money and will pocket the cash.
Even if it's tempting, don't fall for this trick. A properly protected deposit is the only legal way to guarantee that you're treated fairly at the end of the tenancy.
Another common scam is for the landlord to try to avoid putting the deposit into a tenancy deposit scheme. This then allows the landlord to claim that the money was an administrative fee rather than a deposit, and puts the tenant in a difficult position if there's a dispute.
Always ask your prospective landlord which authorised deposit scheme they'll be using.
Letting Someone Else's
Some con-artists will break into an empty property and let it as their own. They'll then charge would-be-renters upfront costs before swiftly disappearing. When the real owners of the property return the duped tenants will be evicted.
Make sure you get a name and address for the landlord and check that they own the property, before handing over any money.
Some rogue landlords will come up with all sorts of hidden costs, which they conveniently 'forgot' to tell you about. They'll then charge tenants extortionate fees, lumbering them with an outstanding debt at the end of the tenancy – although they are not legally obliged to pay it.
Make sure you always ask the landlord to provide upfront, in writing, all of the costs that you will be expected to pay over the duration of the tenancy.
Find more advice about private renting at Shelter.
Using Peopletracer's tools to background check your landlord
On top of the precautionary measures already mentioned, Peopletracer's tools allow you to verify a potential landlord's details at the click of a button.
By law, you have the right to know who your landlord is. If you don't have their details, write to the person you pay rent to and they're legally obliged to provide you with the information in 21 days.
You can begin a search with just a person's name, but if you can provide details of their address it will help to narrow down your search results.
What details should you be checking?
Property Ownership – If you know the landlord is residing or has resided at the property you intend to rent, verify he or she is the owner of the property in question. Perform a people search with the landlords details and then use the search button located in the property tab.
Name and address – if you want to verify someone's name and address, an people search can provide you with a wealth of information. The search will provide you with a full address, name of the present occupants, as well as other information such as how long they've lived there, previous occupants, purchase price, tenure and the owner of the property.
You should also perform an address search on the property you intend to rent, to verify that your would-be landlord is the owner of the property in question.
- Death Certificates – if you find a registered death for the name and address that you were provided with, it could indicate that the person you are dealing with has stolen the identity of someone who is deceased.
Our online death search contains every registered mortality in England and Wales from 1976-2006. Details provided are the name of the deceased, date of birth and month and year of registration and registration district.
Financial History – our tools allow you to check that the person you're dealing with is financially stable. Simply perform a People Search and then select the financial tab to view insolvency information. You'll be able to see if the person has UK CCJs, Bankruptcies, DROs or IVAs.
Business Search – by using our Business Search you can check that the person you are dealing with is a director of the business name they provided and that the business exists.
Click on the 'Businesses' tab at the top of the page when you are logged in and then enter a business name, company registration number or location.
Our business results come from Companies House, Thomson and the Telephone Directory, with Company House giving you the option of searching company appointments for five credits.
You can also use our Director Search to verify whether someone is a director of the business they named.
Checking out your neighbourhood
Before you agree your contract, it's also important to check out the local area that you'll be moving to, to ensure that it meets your needs.
You can use Peopletracer's address search to find out more about the neighbourhood. The address finder results include Google Maps and a pin to highlight where the property is located. You can also use street view within our address finder tool to familiarise yourself with the local area.
To use street view, drag and drop the icon of the orange man onto the location pin that your address search returns.
Consider factors such as whether you're too close to a main road for young children and if you're close enough to local amenities such as shops and restaurants.
You can also try searching for nearby properties to find out who your neighbours will be and how much the surrounding houses are worth.
Other steps to take when renting a property
Aside from checking the background of the person you're renting from, there are a few other things that you should check before you rent a property.
Find out if the landlord is a member of the National Landlords Association
NLA accreditation is an easy way to verify that the person you're dealing with is a professional landlord. Before someone can become accredited they have to complete a foundation course and sign up to the organisation's code of practise and scheme rules. All NLA members will have a membership number and identity card.
You can find out more here
Ask the right questions
Important questions to ask are:
How much is the rent, when is it due and what's included?
Is there anything extra that you'll expect me to pay for?
How long is the contract and what will happen when it finishes?
How should I contact you about repairs and maintenance and how quickly will you respond?
Is there a deposit and which government recognised scheme will you use to protect it?
Will there be an inventory? (Although not a legal requirement, an inventory is useful to avoid later disputes)
Can you show me the energy performance certificate?
Can you show me the gas safety certificate?
By thoroughly checking the background of your potential landlord and neighbourhood using Peopletracer's tools and following the rest of the tips in this guide, you can dramatically reduce the chances that you'll become a victim of scams and fraud.