You may have read recent news stories about council tenant Toby Harman, who was fined £100,000 after being convicted of illegally subletting a council property over the course of many years. Following the story breaking, evidence has emerged that this may not be a one-off, but in fact, endemic in council properties around the country.
However, this is not just the case for council properties. Private landlords are regularly the target of such scams, and the practice is much more widespread throughout the private sector.
Rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing has led to a buoyant but illegal subletting market which makes victims of both landlords and subtenants.
Here, we break down what you need to know to protect yourself, whether it be over one property, or an entire portfolio.
How Does It Work?
There are many different situations in which subletting scams occur. But on the whole, they involve the abuse of a tenancy to profit from it, by unauthorised subletting to a third party.
Most commonly, a person takes out a tenancy in the normal fashion, but never actually moves in. That person then re-lets the property to one or more subtenants, in order to make a profit.
Subletting scams and unauthorised sublets are rife in the UK’s private rented sector. It is believed as many as 1 in 10 rental homes are the subject of unauthorised subletting.
How Does It happen?
Often, scammers present themselves to the owner or agent as respectable tenants who propose to live in the property long-term. They may even be able to pass all the necessary checks by using fabricated references.
Once a tenancy agreement is attained, they either move in to the property themselves for a short time (to avoid arousing any suspicion), or don’t move in but wait a short period before subletting.
The tenant will then usually draw up tenancy agreements for individual rooms, and let them out separately, as if they were the real landlord. In other cases, tenants have let rooms on a nightly/weekend basis using websites, such as AirBnB.
One of the most notorious cases was that of Rose Chimuka, the serial illegal subletting scammer. Ms Chimuka took leases on family homes across London. Once in the property, she would change the locks and then divide the properties into bedsits, subletting them to dozens of tenants. She would collect the rent and keep the profits!
Ms Chimuka used fake documents and references to convince unsuspecting landlords she was a suitable tenant. Each time she was found out, she would disappear and start again elsewhere.
Signs To Look Out For
• A single person viewing a property much larger than they need, based on who is on the tenancy agreement
• Offering a lengthy period of up-front rent
• Neighbours complaining about the number of people entering and exiting the property
• Neighbours complaining of excessive noise
• Tenants making it difficult for owners to visit or inspect the property
Tenants will be hiding evidence of subtenants during property inspections. You should be vigilant for signs of excessive clothing and shoes, trash, bedding, sleeping bags, pillows, suitcases, rucksacks, toothbrushes.
You should remember that in many cases, those who fall victim to subletting scams have not failed to carry out appropriate referencing. Scammers are fully aware of how things work, and are adept at ‘working the system’.
We offer a simple and easy service, which can verify if your let property is being used as is dictated within the terms of the tenancy agreement. We will speak to you about any suspicions you may have, and tailor a plan to assist you in satisfying yourself of any suspicions, or uncovering any wrongdoing, so that appropriate action can be taken. We offer a UK wide coverage, and have many years of experience in such matters.
We offer a free, no obligation, consultation, which you can request by using this contact page:
By telephone on 01633 309340
Or by email email@example.com
You can also read out general advice on tenant referencing here: