A buy-to-let landlord from Telford has been given a suspended sentence after he charged his tenants for credit checks that he failed to carry out.
Mr Darren Stevens charged his seven of his tenants £1,000, telling them he needed to check their credit history before letting a property to them.
However, Shrewsbury Crown Court heard that Mr Stevens never performed the checks and instead took the money for himself. In court, he admitted seven counts of fraud.
Prosecuting, Mr Nigel Booth said that Stevens, ‘met with these prospective tenants and said that it was obligatory for them to pay £150 so that he could carry out a credit check for them. This is in itself not necessarily an irregular thing by definition. But he never carried out any of these checks.’
‘What he would say to them is that he was unable to offer them the tenancy because of irregularities that had come up on the credit check and that he had offered to some else instead. All of them were unhappy about it, some were suspicious about it. We say the defendant never had any intention of carrying out the checks and was acting fraudulently.’
‘To make matters worse, in between his first and second police interviews the defendant carried out some of the credit checks and falsified the dates to try and show it had been done earlier. It was investigated and the defendant had admitted what he had done in that regard. He told police he had been left out of pocket because of previous bad tenants and wanted to get some money back to pay the mortgage. He was unemployed and struggling, but he knew that the victims would be out of pocket too.’
Sentencing Stevens to six months behind bars, Judge Jim Tindal decided to suspend the sentence for six months.
Checking your tenants
If you are a buy-to-let investor, you must not follow the mistakes made by Mr Stevens and conduct proper reference and credit checks on your would-be tenants. A thorough referencing process will go a long way in highlighting potential problems.
You should ask your possible tenant to provide bank statements, a reference from their employer or previous landlord and make sure they have a guarantor.
Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action observed that, ‘most landlords will never have to evict a tenant. This said, he went on to note, ‘as landlords, you have to become streetwise. If you don’t have time to manage your property, you must use a regulated letting agent.’
Of course, there are no guarantees that your tenants’ circumstances or personal life will not change. It is imperative then that you take out the correct landlord insurance policy in order to cover yourself.
 Paul Shamplina, ‘How to avoid bad tenants and make your property pay’ seminar, Landlord Investment Show, 21st June 2016