Landlords are increasingly being targeted by criminals who steal their identities in order to sell their rental properties behind their backs.
This crime, known as ‘property hijacking’, has trebled to almost £25 million in the last four years and landlords are often targets.
So what is ‘property hijacking’ and how can you avoid becoming a victim?
Property hijacking is where someone poses as the owner of the property, usually by assuming the real owner’s name and obtaining suitable fake ID, such as a passport, then uses this to sell the property to an unsuspecting buyer.
If you’re a landlord, you’re at risk because a tenant could change their name to yours by deed poll – which is a surprisingly simple process – and apply for a passport in your name. They could then place the property on the market, show it to viewers and sell it before you even have a whiff of anything suspicious.
By the time you realise your property has been sold, your ‘tenant’ has disappeared with the cash.
To avoid this, the first thing all landlords should do is register with the Land Registry to receive email alerts if anyone applies to switch the ownership of their property to a new name, or tries to use it for a mortgage.
You can receive email alerts for up to 10 properties and the service is free. To do this, go to the Land Registry website and click on the Property Fraud link on the right-hand side of the home page.
This won’t automatically block any changes to the register, but it will alert you when something changes so that you can take action to prevent a sale or someone taking out a mortgage tied to the property.
If you think you are particularly at risk, you can go further and put a restriction on your property so that it can’t be sold or re-mortgaged unless a solicitor certifies the application was made by you.
Landlords should also vet tenants very carefully to make sure they aren’t fraudsters. Checking their ID and running a thorough referencing and credit check is a good starting point, but you should also try to speak to their present landlord and employer in person to make sure they are who they say they are.
Be wary of any tenants who are in a rush to move in and aren’t able to prove where they are living right now and don’t seem to have a good reason for moving so quickly.
Most importantly, visit the property a few days after the start of the tenancy to make sure they are actually living in there, as fraudsters rarely move into a property they are planning to sell. You could always pretend you’ve popped round to check they have everything they need or if they have any queries. Remember, you can’t let yourself in without the tenant’s permission, but if they are never home or there are no signs of life from the outside, you have reason to be suspicious. And of course, a For Sale board outside would be a good clue something is wrong!
All landlords should always make a point of checking on their tenants at regular intervals of say three to six months, mainly to look out for maintenance issues but also to verify who is actually living there – and to make sure their properties are not being sold behind their backs!
Both landlords and tenants should practice due diligence when using an agent, check they belong to an Ombudsman and are registered with organisations such as ARLA Propertymark. Upad is Propertymark Protected, which means we ensure the best professional service as well as client money protection and regulation for renters and landlords. By being Propertymark Protected, agents have opted for regulation in an unregulated sector and therefore meet higher standards than the law demands.