In times like these people will stop at nothing to make a fast buck from the misery of others and the property world is as attractive and available to fraudsters as any others today.

Headlines were hit last year when Landlord Donna Jeavons and her friend bought a house in good faith through a reliable professional solicitor, using a mortgage and found out 3 months later that she had bought a stolen house with £30,000 worth of internal damage. How can this be the case with modern technology?

Unfortunately since the Land registry became online this has been an ever more common occurrence, where absent landlords or property owners have had their properties stolen from under their noses and in many cases whilst completely unaware. The cases have been that common that it has resulted in the Land Registry paying out over 26 million in compensation claims to people that have literally had their properties “stolen”.

There has also been an ever increasing rise in identity theft, amongst all groups including tenants, and extra diligence is required to protect ourselves as property investors, landlords and agent.

Imagine moving a tenant into your home who drives a nice car, where’s nice suits and then only to find that he is a drug dealer and using your home as his den, or a cannabis factory or a brothel, or even worse he takes over your identity and starts to take over your life and credit rating!

These are extreme examples but have happened to “real” landlords, it’s time to take responsibility for our own protection and stop these people to taking advantage of us.

Your are most at risk of Property Theft if;

  • a property is empty or  has been bought to let
  • an owner is spending time abroad or absent
  • the owner is infirm or in a nursing or care home
  • a relationship breaks down
  • A property has no mortgage.

So what should you do?

To prevent our properties from being stolen we need to make sure that we have registered our properties, and updated with the land registry our contact details especially if we are not living in the property itself. Shockingly still  20% of property and land in the UK is NOT registered with land registry!

There have been further protection mechanisms added too (currently on a trial basis by the land registry) that you or your conveyancer can make a request using a Form RQ, to ask the registrar to enter a restriction, free of charge on your property, this is to prevent people from making false claims on your property.

How can you be sure your tenant is who he says he is?

Be wary of those that try to pay cash upfront or rush you i.e.: those that HAVE to move in tomorrow etc, there could quite well be a sinister reason for this. Here are a few tips to make sure you are protected;

  • Get proof of ID and Proof of address and check they match thoroughly: very often they will give you a false address to credit check, so ensure they have lived there with utility bills or bank statements etc to back them up. Proof if ID should be a driving license or Passport, something with a photo and a signature to match to.
  • Check on Credit Search for voter’s role registration, this will also help to ensure they have lived at the property and search any “alias properties” that come up on the search.
  • Take car registration numbers and National Insurance numbers from them (can come in very useful later if you need to go to court)
  • Always ask for a next of kin: these are great for absconding tenants, but always make sure that the next of kin is not someone that will be living in the house with them.
  • Take the landlord before the last landlord reference: the current one might just want to get rid of them and give them a good reference so take the one before that as well.
  • Take full details of employers, do not accept mobile numbers, you want a landline number, website, HR department etc. as much information as you can and confirm the company actually exist, can you find them on Google?
  • Social Media and Online: this is an awesome tool for finding anything out, so don’t dismiss it, once when doing a quick search on an applicant here, we found that our budding applicant had just been prosecuted for stealing 80k from her employer and she wanted to pay us 12 month’s rent in advance! That would have put us in jeopardy with the money laundering regulations, so a nifty escape there.

If you do fall victim, you can evict a tenant under Ground 17 of the Housing Act, for inducing you to create a tenancy by giving a false statement, and if you suffer a serious case Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud reporting centre run by the National Fraud Authority who report fraud to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) or report to the Land Registry direct.

Sally Lawson is a Leading authority on Residential Lettings and Management in th UK, Sally has ran Lettings Branches since 1990, and let over 5000 properties during that time. She has also worked as a consultant and trainer to Letting agents nationwide. Sally is actively involved with ARLA (the association of residential letting agents) as a regional representative and Media Spokesperson for the group, and runs the rapidly expanding nationwide Concentric Lettings operation and Franchised network.