Last month, Oxford City Council revealed that it has witnessed a rise in illegal subletting. It allowed tenants a two-month amnesty period to give the keys of their rental properties back.
Illegal subletting is now a criminal offence and is punishable by imprisonment and a fine.
But how common is this practise?
Around 3.3m people in the UK are living as unauthorised tenants, affecting one in ten rental properties.
Research has found that around half of letting agents have discovered extra residents living in a property.
Michael Portman, Managing Director of LetRisks, explains: “Although the problem is more prevalent in the social housing sector, it is a risk for private landlords. When there is multiple occupancy in a property, wear and tear and damage is dramatically accelerated; a big problem for landlords and agents.”
What to look out for
Portman says: “Very often, the obvious damages to the property are: iron burns on carpets; cigarette burns; heat damage to polished wooden furniture; scuffs, marks and dents to walls; stiletto heel imprints on wooden floors and vinyl.
“There can also be considerably more mould and condensation with more occupants. Landlords can also face expensive repairs for damage and redecoration costs, to bring the property up to the standard it was at check-in.”
“Illegal subletting falls under tenant fraud and it’s undoubtedly a growing problem,” reports Portman. “Renting a property makes landlords vulnerable to fraud.”
So what can you do? Portman states: “It is vital that landlords and agents carry out thorough pre-letting checks. The purpose of referencing a tenant is threefold: to check the person is who they say they are; that they can afford the rent; and that they have honoured past commitments.
“Information collected on the tenancy application can be used to trace them, should they abscond or leave owing money. In addition, should the applicant make false statements, this document provides evidence for eviction.”
Portman explains what you should do: “It is important not to take everything at face value. Don’t believe anything that you are told or what you read on the application. It is vital that prospective tenants provide employment references and if there is any doubt, the applicants should be asked to provide further proof, for example, copies of payslips or sight of bank statements.
“Extra precautions, such as asking for three months’ bank statements can help catch out potential fraudulent tenants. Also take the time to compare addresses shown on the application with those shown on the ID documents.
“Ask for previous utility and telephone, including mobile phone, bills and statements, and check if the name and address and other information matches up with the information on the application form.”
It may not be clear at first that your tenants are subletting, but here are things that you can do to check:
- Visit the property regularly and make note of anything unusual. It is advised to go every three to six months.
- Look for signs of other people living in the property, such as excessive rubbish or extra toothbrushes.
- Conduct thorough checks between tenancies.