Date Published 13 February 2013
Benefit fraud, sub-letting, on-going damage, drug rings and even brothels have all been discovered hidden behind the disguise of what at first appeared to be a ‘good’ tenant. So, how would you know if something untoward was happening in your rental property?
Spot potential offenders before they even step through your front door by being thorough in your background checks and reference gathering. It’s easier to say ‘no’ to a tenant at this stage than it is to start eviction proceedings later...
`We undertake thorough referencing before any tenant is given permission to move into a property. This includes gathering previous landlord references, credit checks incorporating fraudulent indicators, employer references and a personal reference,` says proprietor of Belvoir Bury St Edmunds, Patsy Day.
`We also check identity and obtain proof of current address – this has to be recent evidence dated in the last three months. Due to their transient nature, we do not accept mobile phone bills as evidence – instead we prefer utility bills, insurance documentation or anything from the tax office.
`In addition to this, we talk to our prospective tenants; we ask lots of conversational questions about them and their reasons for moving. We also meet them at viewings and spend time with them during the application process. Our motive is to strike a good relationship with them from the very beginning of the tenancy – and this approach also allows us to build up a picture of the person/people we are dealing with.`
Proprietor of Belvoir Southend-on-Sea Wayne Mearns agrees that vetting a potential tenant rigorously is vital and says that private landlords are sometimes targeted because they don’t always perform background checks to the standard that a good letting agent would.
`Tenants with untoward motives for securing a rental property will often target private landlords who find the tenant themselves – therefore it is extremely important to vet all potential tenants in order to minimise the risk,` says Wayne. `A reference from a previous landlord and a potential visit to the tenant’s current property could pay dividends.
`It’s important to remember that the majority of the time these types of people will target private landlords because it’s easier for them to secure a property, plus the landlord is less likely to do the regular inspections that an agent would.`
Once the tenant has moved into the property, it is vital that you carry out inspections to assess that the tenancy is running smoothly and the property is being utilised within the rules of the tenancy agreement.
`Inspections throughout the tenancy are essential,` says proprietor of Belvoir Glasgow North Sharon Walker. `Without them it would be almost impossible to know what’s going on at a property – and, if something untoward was happening, key indicators are likely to be noticed during the inspection.
`Inspections are also useful in terms of assessing the condition of the property. Some tenants don’t even contact us about repairs – and it is during the inspections that the need for these is revealed.
`Smoking can be an issue too and, if a tenant has been smoking in the property, it is usually very obvious at the inspection.`
Patsy Day explains further...
`At Belvoir Bury St Edmunds we visit the property after approximately one month,` she says. `This visit is very much two-way: to ensure the tenant has moved in OK and that there are no immediate problems, plus it’s an opportunity for us to collect the inventory (if it has not been sent back) and show them how things work (heating system etc) if necessary. While this is not a formal inspection we do walk through the property with the tenant to make sure all is in order.
`After this initial visit we carry out three-monthly inspections, booked at a date and time to suit the tenant. The frequency and reasons for the inspections is communicated to the tenant at the start of the tenancy and is also documented in their tenancy agreement.`
Regular inspections can also help establish a good relationship between you and the tenant and help you build trust in one another.
`Another benefit of inspections is that they help us to get to know tenants and build a relationship with them,` says Sharon. `If you didn’t see a tenant from the moment they moved in to the time they handed back the keys, there would be no way of building up an accurate picture of that person. It is always useful to form a relationship and, one built on good communication, makes it easier for them to come into the office if there are any problems because they know you rather than you just being a voice at the end of the phone.`
If a tenant won’t commit to an inspection, there may be a reason why!
`If the tenant would/could not commit to a date and time, after several attempts, we would assertively but politely suggest that we use the key to enter the property to undertake the inspection in their absence,` says Patsy. `If this request was not granted our suspicions would be raised and we would seek to understand the reluctance.
`An external visit to the property (i.e. walk by) would be undertaken in order to establish if the garden was being taken care of and/or if the house looked occupied. We would look for blacked-out windows and other signs of ‘odd’ activity.
`If deemed necessary (i.e. we were highly suspicious) we would speak to the neighbours to see if they had met the tenants yet – I’m sure if there were strange goings on information would be revealed by the neighbours without the need for us to ask specific questions.
`In addition to our regular inspections our contractors attend the property to conduct tests and services as required by law, i.e gas and electrical safety inspections etc. We work with reliable contractors who would alert us to any ‘odd’ activity. These appointments are a valid reason for us to insist on gaining access.`
Aware and alert
`Don’t ever leave a tenancy to run itself,` continues Patsy. `Regular communication will always bring to light changes or concerns within a tenancy and proactive management enables you to deal with problems as they arise.
`Always be alert and aware and don’t be naïve. Be aware of what’s going on in the market by reading lettings articles, and keep yourself informed of new tricks or trends (i.e. benefit fraud or sub-letting etc).
`I am thankful to say that the number of troublesome tenancies I’ve encountered at Belvoir Bury St Edmunds have been very few. However, I feel confident that because of the way we conduct our business we would know if something serious or illegal was going on in a property that we managed.`