How do I know if my buy to let landlord is reputable?

Q. I am about to rent a property that I found online. I’m worried about handing over my deposit to a fraudster so how can I check that the landlord is trustworthy?

A. First of all, be very careful of renting a property that is advertised online by an individual ie not through a recognised lettings agency. There are increasing numbers of fraudsters advertising for tenants, claiming to be landlords. They ask for a deposit in advance, saying they will put this into the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. They may also ask for a month’s rent in advance. The tenant then receives a fake email, supposedly from the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, confirming that they have received the deposit. But this is untrue and usually the applicant finds that there is no property and that their deposit and rent have been stolen. So no money and no home.

How can applicants looking for a rental property avoid fraudsters?

Our advice is to not apply directly to view a rental property you have seen online unless it is being marketed by an established letting agent, ideally, one that is a member of ARLA Propertymark, a Government recognised, professional association which requires subscription to be a member. You can check on their website, www.arla.co.uk , to verify that the lettings agent is a member of the scheme. This is by far the most reliable way to protect yourself.

Also, try and use an agent who is local to the property or use one recommended from someone you know.

What should happen when you hand over your deposit to the letting agent?

There are strict government regulations which outline how a landlord or letting agent should handle a tenant’s deposit.

By law, the landlord or letting agent must register all tenancy deposits with a recognised, government approved Tenancy Deposit Scheme within 30 days of receiving the deposit. They must give the tenant ‘prescribed information’ which includes the contact details of both landlord and tenant, the rental property’s address, the deposit amount and the information leaflet supplied by the scheme. Tenants will need to check the information supplied and sign to confirm the information is correct.

If the landlord or agent doesn’t do this, the tenant can take them to court. The court can order the landlord or agent to protect the deposit or repay it to the tenant and also pay compensation to the tenant of between one and three times the amount of the deposit. A landlord who has failed to protect the deposit cannot serve a Section 21 notice to end the tenancy and regain possession of the property. They can only do this after they repay the deposit or after any associated court case.

If they don’t supply ‘prescribed information’ within 30 days, the tenant can apply to the court for compensation of between one and three times the deposit amount.
You can find more information about the regulations concerning tenancy deposits at www.tenancydepositscheme.com. You can also check whether your deposit has been registered.

The landlord or agent will hold the deposit throughout the tenancy. The tenant should receive a Tenancy Deposit Protection Certificate which should have an individual code number on it. The tenant should also receive from their agent, a Gas Safety certificate (if applicable), an Energy Performance Certificate and a ‘How to Rent’ guide.

What fees should a tenant expect to pay?

All agents are required to show their fees clearly in branch and online so it is worth checking if the agent you are dealing with is compliant. If not, it could be an indication that they are not a credible agent.

The situation regarding tenant fees is changing from June 1st 2019. New UK government regulations state that, from this date, letting agents will not be permitted to charge a tenant any fees relating to new tenancy agreements. There will also be stricter rules on holding deposits and the security deposit amount will be capped to 5 weeks’ rent.

Guidelines for tenants viewing a rental property

Always view the property in person (or ask a trusted friend or colleague) before handing over any money.

Make sure you have seen or checked that all the required certificates or registrations are in place, before transferring fees.

Remember that paying via a bank transfer offers no legal protection if you later find you are a victim of fraud.

If the landlord/agent tries to rush you into a decision or their practices seem at odds with what you expect, then don’t be afraid to query or even walk away if need be.

For more information about renting a property in London and how to prepare, go to https://www.benhams.com/tenants/renting-guide/

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About the Author

Vidhur studied Management Sciences at Manchester University, focusing on accountancy, before going on to qualify as a chartered accountant. He began his career working in investment banking but after several years decided to join Benham and Reeves in 2003. Since then he has expanded the finance department, introducing a broader range of services to encompass all financial aspects of property investment, from collecting rent through to completing tax returns (or ATED returns for overseas companies). Read more about Vidhur Mehra here - Read full profile

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