Victim of Tenancy Fraud
There is a serious housing shortage across the country which has led to a substantial increase in private rent levels. As a result, it is becoming increasingly common for a number of frauds to be perpetrated against those who are seeking housing by social landlord tenants and others. We hope the advice below will help you stay safe and give you the tools to avoid being scammed.
Remember, fraud is a criminal offence and if you think you think that you have been defrauded, then you must report the matter to the Police. If you have been conned by a social landlord tenant please contact us. We can then make sure the housing association or council are made aware and take appropriate action.
The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013
It is a criminal offence under the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2013 to sublet a social property whether for profit or not.
The penalty for doing so ranges from a fine or up to two years in prison or both. We have increasingly seen the Criminal Courts send offenders to prison for this offence.
Estate Agents must check that the person who wishes to rent a property as a landlord has the authority to do so and simply asking ‘are you allowed to rent this’ is not sufficient in our view.
The Accommodation Agencies Act 1953 Section 1 (1) (c) states that: A person shall be guilty of an offence if that person issues any advertisement, list or other document describing any house or dwelling as being let without the authority of the owner of the house or his agent.
The onus is on the letting agent to ensure that the purported owner of the dwelling is in fact the true owner. If this offence is committed, then the local authority are the prosecuting are the prosecuting body and the estate agent can receive a substantial fine.
In situations like this, there are two contracts: one between the social landlord and the social tenant and between the social tenant and the people he or she illegally sublets the property to.
There is no contractual link between the social landlord and the private tenant and the social landlord does not have to let the private people remain living in the property once they have obtained possession from the social tenant.
Deposit Holding Scheme
If you have unwittingly entered into an agreement to rent a property from a social tenant and paid a deposit, then that deposit must be protected by the landlord putting it into a deposit holding scheme.
Even if your social tenant landlord has not given you a tenancy agreement, that doesn’t mean you have any less rights in terms of your contractual relationship with them.
If they haven’t given you an agreement, then you’ll be regarded as an assured shorthold tenant which means you have the legal right remain in the property for at least six months so long as you continue to pay the rent and do not cause any problems such as causing anti-social behaviour. That doesn’t mean, though, that your landlord can just force you to move out unless they have a possession order from the Court.
Do remember, however, that if the housing association or council take possession action against your landlord, then the Bailiff will evict anyone who lives in the property and that might occur before six months has expired.
You would then have a right of action against your landlord for compensation and you would need to take legal advice from a solicitor, Law Centre or CAB to establish your rights.
It is a criminal offence to evict somebody from residential accommodation without a court order or to harass them into leaving. Bear in mind this does not apply to ‘squatters’ who have broken into a property.
Unfortunately, our very hard working police officers are not always up to date on the relevant legislation and sometimes think that it’s a civil not a criminal matter. Remember that if you or your possessions are being threatened, then you must dial 999 if you are in danger. If you do need to talk to the Police, then tell them it is a criminal offence pursuant to the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
To harass someone into leaving includes threats of violence, cutting off utilities, changing the locks, removing possessions, attending the property with groups of relatives or friends, smashing windows and such like.
Many of our members have reported awful stories of a social tenant illegally evicting their sub-tenants when the fraud has come to the attention of the social landlord. If you are in this position, then you must tell the police that you are being unlawfully evicted or harassed into leaving and seek legal advice to either move back into the property, obtain your possessions and seek compensation.
Some Councils have a Tenancy Relations Officer or Homelessness Prevention Officer who can also assist you with advice regarding unlawful eviction. If the Council in your area doesn’t have such a service then call Shelter, their helpline is open every day of the year from 8am to 8pm week days and 9am to 5pm weekends. Shelter is a charity that campaigns and gives advice and assistance regarding housing.
Also, check your credit card providers, car and home insurance policies, vehicle breakdown cover and work related benefits; sometimes these will give free legal assistance even if it’s not related to the service they provide, eg, the AA might advise on tenancy issues, not just vehicle related problems.
Follow these top tips to help you avoid being the victim of fraud:
Google the name of the landlord to see what you can find. If you can find absolutely nothing, then they might be using a fake name to try and hide something. Also search the internet with any mobile number they have given you, this sometimes gives surprising results.
Never, ever, pay rent or a deposit in cash. Ever! If the landlord says they want that, then you need to walk away. Insist on a tenancy agreement upon paying a deposit (by cheque or bank transfer). You should have sight of it before you even pass over any money.
If it’s a flat, try and talk to the neighbours to see if they know if it’s a social housing property or not. If it’s on an estate, find out who the landlord is from looking at the signage around. Of course the person wishing to let it might have purchased the property, but it’s always best to be sure, so call the social landlord and ask them.
Create an account with the Land Registry https://landregistry-deeds.co.uk/ The Land Registry is the government owned body that holds the details of all the property owners in the country. You will have to pay to see the details, but it’s cheap compared to losing thousands of pounds in a deposit and rent in advance.