Don’t fall prey to rogue agents

11:14am Thursday 15th November 2012

As more and more people turn to renting, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is warning would-be tenants to watch out for rogue letting agents.

In just over a decade, the private rented sector has grown by 1.62 million people, and 17 per cent of all households are now rental properties*.

Philip Chadwick, MARLA FNAEA lettings director at Gascoigne Halman and ARLA’s regional representative, said: “Unfortunately, there are many horror stories of rogue lettings agents, as the rental sector is unregulated. This means anyone can set up shop as an agent, or become a landlord.

“Renting a home should be a positive experience, offering flexibility and choice. Thorough research, undertaken before committing to a tenancy agreement, can help ensure peace of mind and a hassle-free move.”

According to ARLA, warning signs of bad practice can include landlords offering property for much less than market rents, or advertising properties with no deposit to pay.

Others may ask for deposits to be paid before the tenant has visited the property, supposedly in order to seal the deal.

ARLA advises that the internet and online forums can be a hotspot for unscrupulous agents as there is very little regulation about who can post adverts online.

The global nature of the internet means individuals living in or outside the UK can easily advertise for properties to rent in the UK.

Some will be legitimate, but not all.

ARLA’s key warning signs for prospective tenants to be aware of are:

* Not allowed to see the whole property.

Be wary of agents who refuse full viewing and inspection of the property. At best, there may be problems behind the closed doors; at worst they may be showing you around a property that is already being rented to another individual, who may be staying on in that room.

* Always thoroughly inspect the property, checking every room. It is also a good idea to do your research on the local area, online and in person to make sure it is suited to your needs.

* Do you know what the logo means? Keep an eye out for non-accredited third party logos or accreditation being used by agents to look as if they are monitored and adhere to a set code of conduct. This can be used to lure prospective tenants into a false sense of security.

* Always check agents are affiliated to a professional organisation like ARLA using the appropriate website to confirm. ARLA agents must adhere to a strict code of conduct, as well as offering client money protection and redress schemes, which protect you if things go wrong.

* Can’t get in contact with the agent or landlord? If you are searching online or via notice boards, be cautious of adverts with no telephone numbers or adverts that only use free email hosts. Ring the phone number on the advert to check its authenticity. Unscrupulous ‘middlemen’ may use false phone numbers or phone numbers they find online.

* Asked to transfer money?

Be cautious if you are asked to pay via money transfer agents. Some will be bone fide, but as this type of transfer is hard to track, there is a chance it may be used for dishonest transactions.

Always try and make payment in person at the letting agents office, and obtain a receipt or record. Ask for written confirmation of fees and charges that you will need to pay.

A formal tenancy agreement should always be signed before any money has changed hands. Keep all documentation and receipts for your records.

*The English Housing Survey – data used on page 9.



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