A leading lettings agent has warned tenants against using social media to find rental properties.
David Alexander - head of DJ Alexander, now part of the Lomond Group - believes that recent media reports of property scams and sex for rent landlords are terrifying reminders of the risks involved in renting property advertised online from an unknown and unregulated source.
Last year the BBC ran an investigation into reports that many students had been defrauded out of thousands of pounds by scammers who had rented Airbnb properties and passed them off as rentals before disappearing with substantial deposits.
Meanwhile, in recent days The Times ran an investigation into current online adverts which revealed six landlords offering rentals in exchange for sex with their tenants. While the adverts can be ambiguous some of the landlords confirmed precisely what the conditions of rental were when an undercover journalist enquired further.
Alexander - who runs the largest lettings agency in Scotland - says that while sex-for-rent arrangements in England are illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, Scottish law is more ambiguous as sex-for-rent is not necessarily considered prostitution as money does not change hands.
Victims do not have recourse under Scottish tenancy laws, with most perpetrators not considered landlords — legislation does not require people who let a room in their only or main dwelling to join the landlord register.
However, The Times article went on to highlight that this involved registered landlords stating: “Out of 32 Scottish councils, 29 confirmed that no landlords had been removed from their registers for trying to strike sex-for-rent deals in the past 10 years.”
David Alexander says: “While these may be extreme examples, they are a disgrace to our industry and highlight the real risks that many people face in dealing with properties featured through online classified advertisements. Some of these landlords may be unregistered which also raises concerns for tenant safety, for tenure, and for security.”
“These scandals need to be stopped immediately to ensure that tenants do not fall prey to unscrupulous and illegal scammers. Clearly, we must ensure that all involved in the sector protect tenants as much as possible and the legal and regulatory authorities must take action to ensure these despicable activities are eradicated.
“These circumstances arise when demand is high and people become desperate to rent, often at short notice, but they should not be swayed by their circumstances into making a rash decision in haste which they later regret in leisure.”
He adds that tenants are safest when they use agents and landlords who are regulated, controlled, and monitored by the relevant authorities. Tenant safety and security must be at the forefront of all who work in the private rented sector.
“The increased professionalisation of the sector must be paramount to maintain credibility and safety for tenants. A tenant must feel safe with a landlord or agent and also have recourse to legal and regulatory comeback in the event of any failings in the system. Online classifieds may seem like a way of getting a bargain but clearly, in some cases, the risks are unacceptable, and tenants should be wary of anything that seems too good to be true.”