How to spot abuse in your properties

There are, unfortunately, a myriad of types of abuse that people can fall victim to – but how do you spot it?

Due to lockdown, domestic abuse went up in 2020-21, with a 6% increase in reports. 

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As a landlord, you have a touchpoint with many people and the government has recommended that landlords could be the first line of defence against domestic abuse. It might be easier to see the signs of physical abuse – though not always – but that is not the only type of abuse that could be occurring in your property. 

Unfortunately, there are many types of abuse, so we’ll look at what they are, how you can spot them and what you can do to help.

What are the different types of abuse?

The Care and Support Statutory Guidance identifies ten types of abuse (please note, the examples in this list are not exhaustive):

  • Physical Abuse. This covers everything from hitting or slapping, to force-feeding or withholding food, misuse of medication or deliberately making someone uncomfortable (for example, opening windows, turning off heating and removing blankets on a cold day)
  • Domestic violence or abuse. This is physical, sexual, mental, emotional or financial abuse suffered in the home 
  • Sexual abuse. This covers inappropriate touching, non-consensual acts, indecent exposure and rape
  • Psychological or emotional abuse. While this isn’t physical abuse, like hitting, it can manifest as enforced isolation, removing mobility or communication aids, bullying and intimidation
  • Financial or material abuse. Theft and scamming fall under this category, as does preventing someone accessing their money or moving in with them under duress without paying rent
  • Modern slavery. This includes human trafficking, domestic servitude and forced labour as well as sexual exploitation
  • Discriminatory abuse. This includes all discrimination relating to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex or sexual orientation
  • Organisational or institutional abuse. An institution or organisation would be guilty of this if they were discouraging visits, misusing medication, not providing adequate assistance for eating and drinking or not caring for physical aids or religious/cultural needs
  • Neglect or acts of omission. This includes failing to provide access to food, shelter, clothing, heating, stimulation and activity, personal or medical care, refusal of visitors or isolating the person
  • Self neglect. This could include self-harm, failure to seek medical help when needed or lack of self-care to the point where it endangers life

This is a pretty harrowing list to read and some of these won’t apply for landlords, but many of these things could be happening in your properties.

Holding hands

How to spot abuse

As a landlord you have many responsibilities, but you are not expected to step in in abuse cases

Abuse is a highly complex issue and should be dealt with by the correct authorities who can provide the right care and support. However, as a landlord, it may be that you spot something and can offer to help your tenant find that care and support.

So how do you spot abuse? Firstly, it’s worth reading through the above list so you are familiar with some of the many ways that abuse can manifest, so that you can look out for them. Other red flags include:

  • Reports from neighbours. Are you hearing complaints from the neighbours about regular noise and arguments? This kind of anti-social behaviour is not great for the neighbours’ right to peace and quiet, but it could also indicate abuse in your property
  • Damage. If your tenants are regularly reporting damage or you notice damage when you visit, this could be a sign that something isn’t right. If you notice the property is in a messy or dirty condition, this could indicate that the tenant is struggling and may be neglecting themselves. If you have an inventory, it’s easier to check on things
  • Rent arrears. If your tenant is falling behind on the rent, this could be due to a job loss, but it could also be due to financial abuse
  • Relationships. Have you noticed anything odd in the relationships in your property? Does one tenant seem to be intimidated by another? Does one tenant try to prevent you speaking to another one?
  • Documentation. If you are looking to do tenant referencing or Right to Rent checks and a tenant doesn’t seem to have access to their documents, that could indicate they are being abused or even trafficked

How can you help if you spot abuse?

As stated above, abuse is a highly complex issue and it’s not something you should take upon yourself to try and ‘fix’. Attempting to do this could escalate the situation massively.

  • Be a safe space. Let your tenant know you are a safe person to speak to, but only if they want to, do not push them for information or unnecessary details
  • Hold off. While it can be tempting to speak to the police or other authorities, if your tenant hasn’t asked you to do this on their behalf, this could just add fuel to the fire. Hard as it is, wait for your tenant to ask for your help
  • Know when to act. While we recommend waiting for your tenant to ask for help, there are instances when you must act. If you believe someone to be in immediate danger, if there are children involved or you suspect trafficking, you must contact the relevant authorities as soon as possible

This might seem like ‘not enough’, but making it known that you are a safe person for your tenant to speak to is really important and could help them escape their situation in the long run. 

Who to contact to get help and support

If you, or anyone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, remember that you are never alone. If you are a landlord whose tenant has asked for help, the below contacts will be able to help:

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline

0808 2000 247

The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline (Northern Ireland)

0808 802 1414

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline (24/7)

0800 027 1234

Live Fear Free Helpline (Wales)

0808 80 10 800

Men’s Advice Line

0808 801 0327

Abused Men in Scotland

03300 949 395

The ManKind Initiative

(Mon-Fri 10am-4pm)

01823 334244

National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Domestic Violence helpline

0800 999 5428

Victim Support

0808 16 89 111

Victim Support Northern Ireland

028 9024 3133

Victim Support Scotland

0800 160 1985

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