What crimes should landlords look out for?

If you’re a landlord, have you ever considered the crimes that could be occurring in your property?

We’ve broken down the scams that landlords are susceptible to, from insurance fraud to identity theft. But there are also crimes you and your property could be caught up in that you need to keep an eye out for.

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Cannabis farms

Sadly, drugs are big business in the UK with the Institute of Economic Affairs finding that the illegal market in cannabis is worth around £2.6billion per year.

Now, while the word ‘farm’ might conjure up scenes of fields in the countryside, cannabis farms are usually set up indoors in domestic settings. It is illegal to possess, distribute, sell or grow in the UK, so keeping it indoors hides the crime and it’s easier to grow more cannabis and, more quickly, inside with total control over the perfect conditions.

Many cannabis farmers will rent properties for the sole purpose of growing cannabis – and this can have a disastrous impact on your property:

  • Smell. Cannabis has a strong and distinctive smell which can take a long time to air out of a property. If you rent your property furnished, or you have carpets, you may need to replace the soft furnishings and the carpets to shift it
  • Damage. In a bid to maximise the crop, the tenant may black out the windows and put up lighting racks and ventilation fans, with little regard for the damage this might do to your property
  • Mould. Keeping the temperature up, with the windows closed could lead to some significant mould issues
  • Financial cost. Not only will you need to update the property after it’s been used as a cannabis farm, you may struggle to claim for damages on your insurance. You may struggle to find tenants, as there is always the worry that the address is known for drugs, so may attract unsavoury attention

From the outset, you should always fully reference your tenants, this provides some reassurance about who they are and if they are able to afford your property. Being thorough at the beginning of the process will put off criminals who are reliant on your complacency. If you mention early on that you like to do quarterly checks on the property, a potential cannabis farmer is going to be put off, as they know you’ll suss things out pretty quickly.

What crimes should landlords look for

If you suspect that your tenant is running a cannabis farm, report it to the police immediately. But what might raise your suspicions?:

  • Lack of access. If your tenant is refusing you access to the property, that could be a flag that something is happening there they don’t want you to see. While tenants are entitled to quiet enjoyment of the property, if you need access to organise a repair or to update your Gas Safety certificate, it’s a little odd if your tenant refuses
  • The neighbours. The neighbours might also flag a few other things that could raise your suspicions – from seeing equipment being carried in, like lighting and fans; permanent blacking out of windows; to odd comings and goings
  • Smell. As stated above, the smell is pretty pungent and you might be able to smell it from outside the property. The neighbours might also let you know about this
  • Sound. In a bid to maintain the perfect growing conditions, ventilation and extraction fans are likely to be running all day and night and you might be able to hear the constant whirring outside

Human trafficking

There is no precise data about the extent of human trafficking in the UK, but in February 2020, the Home Office estimated that there were around 13,000 victims of modern slavery inthe UK. This is just an estimate – there could be a lot more. Victims can be men, women and children.

Many of these victims will be living in private rented properties due to illegal subletting. Criminal gangs rent out the property in order to house their victims.

So how can you spot if your property is being used for human trafficking?

  • Documentation. Do the occupants have possession of their own documents? You’ll need IDs and visas to carry out a thorough Right to Rent check and if the documents are in the possession of someone else, that could be a red flag
  • Communication. Are you able to communicate with the occupants or do they always allow other people to speak for them?
  • Freedom of movement. Do they appear to be able to come and go as they please?
  • Behaviour. Are the occupants withdrawn, or frightened?
  • Overcrowding. Are there more people in the property than you have authorised?
  • Complaints. Have the neighbours complained about noise?
  • Payment. Is someone other than the person occupying the property paying the rent? Is it being paid by one person ‘on behalf’ of others in the property? Is that person named on the tenancy agreement?

Again, the best way to protect yourself is by doing a thorough reference check before your tenants move in, but you can also:

  • Maintain a good relationship. If you have an open relationship with your tenants, if you regularly check in to make sure that everything is ok and there are no repairs needed, you will be aware if there seem to be new people in your property
  • Check in with the community. Maintaining that good relationship with the neighbours is also a good idea, as they can let you know if they notice anything odd around your property
  • Be aware of odd requests. It’s likely that the rent will always be paid on time and in full, as a criminal doesn’t want to draw any attention. But if your are offered the full price for a year’s rental upfront – this is a red flag, as very few people would be able to afford to do this
  • Check payments. Check if who you are receiving the rent from is the same as the name on your tenancy agreement

If you have any suspicions, you should never attempt to tackle it yourself. Report your worries via the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. You may be worried that you’re wrong and it’s not worth reporting, but a false alarm is better than no alarm.

What crimes should landlords look for

Prostitution  

Prostituiton in the UK is not illegal, but soliciting in a public place, pimping and kerb crawling and brothels are. Human trafficking is often linked to prostitution as people are forced into the sex trade. Brothels operate in secret and take advantage of short-term lets and holiday lets to offer ‘pop-up brothels’, so they can quickly move on.

But long term rentals are still a prime target and while this can be an issue in the short term, it can affect your ability to get a new tenant in the long term, as the premises is associated with prostitution and the new tenant won’t want unwanted callers knocking on the door.

  • Comings and goings. Again, your neighbours will be your eyes and ears, especially if you’re not local to the property, and can alert you if there is a lot of people coming and going at all hours of the day and night
  • Cash payments. Do your tenants want to pay in cash? Sex workers are usually paid in cash and may want to avoid using banks
  • Sparse furnishings. If you drop by for an inspection and notice that there’s very little furniture or anything that makes the place more homely, that may be because it’s a place of business, rather than a home

Again, you should never confront the tenants yourself and if you are worried about the people in your property – perhaps you’re concerned they have been forced into the sex trade – you should call the police and let them know.

As with domestic abuse, landlords can be the first defence when it comes to spotting crimes – so keep your eyes peeled, stay safe and report any worries you might have to the proper authorities.

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