While most people who become landlords are willing to give up some time and energy to ensure that their tenants have a safe and stable place to live, there are some people who get into the business because they want to make a quick buck. Unfortunately, it’s the tenants who lose out when this happens, because rogue landlords will often rent out low quality housing that is unpleasant or even dangerous to live in.
To try and combat this, the government are considering giving people across the UK access to a national database that stores the details of criminal landlords. This database already exists and is currently available to local authorities, however ministers are now looking into opening this up to potential tenants.
This could be a good way to start to address the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. Although renters already have several rights helping to avoid wrongful eviction, this doesn’t help with finding good quality housing for a reasonable price. At the moment, landlords are able to request references and credit checks from prospective tenants, digging into their history to ensure that they’re likely to pay on time. However, renters have no similar way of investigating their landlord to ensure that they have behaved appropriately in the past.
However, it’s important that the list is controlled so that people with a grudge against their landlord can’t abuse the system by filing wrongful reports. At the moment, the list only keeps a record of ‘serious and prolific criminal landlords’ – there are just ten names on the list right now – but as part of the review, ministers will also consider opening it up to include landlords who have committed smaller offenses.
In the meantime, here are a few things to look out for yourself if you want to avoid renting from somebody untrustworthy:
• Always visit the property in person. Photos alone are not enough to give you a good understanding of what the property is like. You should expect to meet the landlord or a reputable estate agent at the property, and if they try to avoid this then it’s a clear sign that something is wrong.
• See if you can meet the current tenant. This won’t always be possible, but if the property is currently being let to somebody else, then going for a viewing at a time when they’re at home can be a great way to get honest answers to your questions.
• Ask your landlord how they will protect your deposit. It’s a legal requirement for them to use an approved deposit protection scheme, and they should be able to give you proof of this.
• You should be very suspicious if your landlord doesn’t do the relevant checks (i.e. asking for your ID, proof of earnings and references) before renting to you. While you might be pleased to get out of doing paperwork, these are legal requirements and a landlord who doesn’t want to complete the documentation usually has something to hide.
We’re definitely keen to see how this develops – and alongside other recent developments for tenants, such as the scrapping of fees for reference checks, it will be good to see renting become fairer for everyone.