The National Renters Alliance has recently noticed an uptick in the incidence of the fake property rent deposit scam and is warning students and foreign nationals to be vigilant when looking for properties.
The scam which in the past gained notoriety from its association with the listings website Gumtree, works by offering to let properties in prime areas at below market rates and asking for a deposit. Extreme examples often ask prospective tenants to pay for 6 months or 1 years’ rent in advance to secure the property prior to visiting it. Payment of large sums of money in advance targets foreign nationals who are frequently required to pay 6 month’s rent in advance by established letting agents in London and student towns such as Cambridge and Oxford.
In the scam, prospective tenants are convinced to part with either credit card details, cheques or cash before seeing the property which does not exist. Further ,since the fraudsters leave no legitimate correspondence address it is almost impossible for victims to pursue fraudsters in court. Other variations include instances where fraudsters do access the property and show around prospective tenants. The property already be rented or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time.
The National Renters Alliance recommends several measures which tenants can take to help protect themselves from falling victim to this scam.
- Never pay money upfront before visiting a property. Always be suspicious if anybody refuses to let you visit the property before paying a deposit.
- Ask to see identification such as a driving license and/or passport from the prospective landlord or letting agent. If you are dealing with a company ask for a correspondence address.
- Prospective tenants can also check whether the landlord is a member of the National Landlords Association (NLA) using the NLA accreditation website www.landlords.org.uk
- If you are still a student, you can often uses your student union or accommodation office to check whether a landlord is on an approved housing list.
- If dealing with a letting agent check whether the agent is accredited by organization. Examples of such bodies include the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS),
- Use commonsense. If the property looks too good to be true, too cheap for the location then it possibly is.
- Before paying a deposit ask the landlord or agent which government-backed deposit scheme is being used. Currently there are three: mydeposit, The Dispute Service (TDS), The Deposit Protection Service (TDPS).
- If the property is shared ask the current occupants how they found the property and how they pay their rent. If the landlord or agent collects only cash or regularly changes bank accounts this should warrant further vigilance.
- If possible use a credit card to pay for a deposit after the letting agreement has been signed. Be wary if you are asked to transfer money via money transfer agents such as Western Union or Money Gram. Only use these services to send money to people you already know and trust.
- Always check the legitimacy of an advert. This is especially true for a non-property website such as Gumtree, Avoid adverts with no photographs or ones with photographs used on multiple adverts.
The founder of the Hunters Estate agency and Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton Kevin Hollinrake has backed a campaign by the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) to reduce Capital Gains Tax paid by landlords when selling their rented home to sitting tenants.
The proposal involves an amendment to the Finance Bill currently before Parliament. Currently Clause 72 of the Bill seeks to reduce Capital Gains Tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent except for the sale of residential property where the rate will remain unchanged.
According to the RLA, Hollinrake is tabling an amendment to the Bill which will extend the tax cut to private landlords selling a rental property to a sitting tenant. “Given the recent attack on the Private Rented Sector by Chancellor George Osborne…more and more landlords will want to exit the market as renting [sic] becomes financially unsustainable for them” the RLA said.
The RLA further purports that 77 per cent of private landlords would consider selling their property to tenants if the tax liability were reduced.
Hollinrake claims that the amendment will support the government’s wider home ownership agenda while at the same time offering landlords a route out of the sector minimizing their financial hit. According to the RLA, the amendment includes safeguards to prevent such a tax change being abused.
Britain’s biggest landlord Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith Wilson have been caught up in the rout of the British Housing sector following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last Thursday.
The Wilsons who aggressively built a property portfolio since the early nineties, have been trying to sell their £250 million property portfolio of around 900 houses to a collection of foreign buyers and wealthy individuals. However, the Daily Telegraph claimed that Mr Wilson is seeing the cancellation of many sales following Thursday’s Brexit vote.
The Wilsons are perhaps models for Britain’s buy-to-let frenzy and are no strangers to controversy. In 2009, Judith Wilson saw a court case thrown out by a judge for demanding £3,000 for a new bathroom suite from a tenant who had damaged a cistern lid which the tenant offered to replace. In a written judgment, Judge Christopher Cagney branded the claim “exaggerated”, and said he “had doubts” that work to replace the bathroom suite would ever be carried out. Mr Wilson was also found guilty in 2014 of assaulting an estate agent when a boiler in one of his properties failed to work despite a court plea that he was “too fat to hit anyone”. Earlier in January of that year Wilson sent eviction notices to every tenant that received housing benefit saying he had lost around £800,000 because of them.
Undeterred by the market turmoil caused by the Brexit vote, Mr Wilson claims that buy-to-let investors will become richer as Britain leaves the European Union because tighter immigration policies proposed by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are “likely to improve the quality of tenants.”
According to Mr Wilson: “Ten years ago I housed a lot of single mums and battered wives who were a good category of tenant. They were pretty good at paying the money and looking after the houses. But then in about 2005 the eastern Europeans started coming and they made really good tenants. I haven’t advertised a property for five years because they always ask – can my friend move in?”
Despite the Wilson’s optimism, the housing sector was one of the worst affected industries following Britain’s decision to reject EU membership with shares in housing giants Taylor Wimpey, Redrow and Bovis Homes Group each down around 30% since the vote.
Landlords in the UK may soon find it easier to track renters’s private social media content using software developed by a UK startup. The company, Score Assured, uses a program to scan prospective tenants’ social media profiles and private posts to record information such as relationship and family status. Also recorded are key words such as “no money,” “poor” and “staying in” which the company claims may indicate how reliable a tenant may be in maintaining rent payments.
The company’s co-founder, Steve Thornhill, has rejected claims that the program breaches privacy laws saying that the software is more innocent than it appears. “It’s about giving the tenant more opportunity to get the property they want,” he says. “A lot of people now, millennials, for example, don’t have credit scores — so how they can get a property when the answer from the traditional credit score is going to be no?”
Supporters of the program claim that a tenant must consent to a landlord running the program on their social media profiles before it can be used. Thornhill claims that such consent means that the program, Tenant Assured, is no different from a traditional credit check.
Others say that often tenants have no other option than to accept the download of their social media information to secure a property and hence tenants will be forced to accept an invasion of their privacy. Also consumer protection laws regulate credit checks because of their potentially large impact on consumers. Regulators also have recognized that although such checks may technically be “opt in,” they’re effectively not optional for those who don’t have the luxury of only choosing landlords, jobs or loans that don’t require them, or who work in industries or live in areas where such checks are standard practice.
Cherie Blair has spoken at an event organized by Landlord and letting agent groups seeking to overturn Chancellor George Osborne’s planned changes to mortgage interest relief for landlords. The Chancellor’s proposals, introduced in the 2015 Budget and Autumn statements, are intended to eliminate tax exemptions which the Treasury claims are not enjoyed by investors in other asset classes such as shares. Under the proposals, landlords operating as sole traders will be less able to deduct mortgage interest payments when calculating their tax liabilities.
Mrs Blair spoke at the event as council to a legal challenge brought against the Treasury proposals following the failure of a formal Parliamentary petition. The motion started by the Residential Landlord’s Association fell more than thirty-one thousand signatures short of the required hundred thousand to merit debate in Parliament. The failure to exert pressure on the Government using petitions led to a crowdfunding campaign by landlords to finance a legal challenge to overturn the Chancellor’s measures.
Acting as legal council to the complainants through Omnia Strategy, the law firm she founded and chaired, Mrs Blair claims that the Chancellor’s proposed changes warrant a judicial review since they discriminate against landlords according to the European Convention on Human rights. This gives one the right to hold one’s property in a way without unfair taxation. Mrs Blair also purports that the tax changes go against European Union competition laws by favoring large institutions over small individual investors.
Also speaking at the event was the Conservative Life Peer and former member of Parliament Lord Howard Flight who had written a letter to the Government “Why the Government is wrong to attack Buy-to-Let.”
The conference, titled the “Tenant Tax Summit” was held on 9th June at the ILEC Conference Center in Earl’s Court. Sponsorship was provided by various property investors and landlord’s organizations including Platinum Property Partners, Velvoir, the Humber Landlord’s Association and the Residential Landlord’s Association among others.
Two landlords at the center of a legal challenge to Chancellor George Osborne’s tax changes announced in last year’s budget have confirmed that two government departments had provided an “acknowledgement of service”.
The legal challenge to the Treasury’s tax changes was launched by two landlords, Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper, who used a crowdfunding platform to raise sufficient capital to employ Omnia Strategy, a legal firm founded and chaired by Cherie Blair, to seek a judicial review of the Chancellor’s measures.
The legal battle over the Chancellor’s proposed changes to Mortgage Interest Relief follows the failure of a Petition launched by the Residential Landlord’s Association to attract sufficient support to warrant debate in Parliament.
Omnia Strategy, the legal firm founded and chaired by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Blair, has written a formal complaint to HMRC proposing a judicial review of Chancellor George Osborne’s restrictions of deductions of finance costs related to residential property.
The new tax changes, set to be implemented in the autumn of 2017 would limit the ability of landlords operating as sole traders to offset mortgage interest payments from their tax liabilities.
The decision to seek a legal challenge to the Chancellor’s tax changes comes as a formal petition set up by the Residential Landlord’s Association failed to reach the required number of 100,000 signatures to be considered for debate in Parliament.
The legal challenge to the Chancellor’s proposed tax measures was brought by Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper who raised £50,000 in crowd-funding from landlords’ associations to initiate a legal challenge to George Osborne’s tax changes.
Mr Bolton owns around 20 residential and commercial properties is also the founder and owner of Platinum Property Partners, a buy-to-let specialist with a portfolio worth a total of £200million. Mr Cooper is a part-time landlord who is using buy-to-let as part of his pension.
The letter to HMRC lists Miss Blair as one of two legal advisers for the claimants and bases the challenge on several purported breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. The letter claims that the Chancellor’s measures infringe on one’s right to hold one’s property in a way without unfair taxation and may also go against European Union competition laws by favoring large institutions over small individual investors.
In it’s official response to the petition, the Government has claimed that the tax changes remove tax advantages enjoyed by property investors which are not available to those investing in other asset classes.
A move by a landlord’s organization, the Residential Landlord’s Association to overturn Chancellor George Osborne’s changes to landlord tax exemptions suffered a serious blow as its Parliament petition failed to attract sufficient support.
The petition, “Reverse the planned tax relief restriction on ‘individual landlords’” expired today without reaching the required number of 100,000 signatures necessary to be considered for debate in Parliament closing with only 60,894 signatures.
Begun six months ago, the motion sought to challenge Chancellor George Osborne’s reduction of Mortgage Interest Relief announced in his 2015 Summer Budget and Autumn Statement. However, enough support was obtained to warrant an official statement on the topic whereby the Government rejected claims that the proposed tax changes were unfair. In it’s response the Government added that the tax amendments were partly intended to reduce the tax advantages offered to property investors which were not shared by investors in other assets such as shares. The Government also claimed that only 18 percent of landlords are expected to be affected by the changes which are to be introduced gradually over four years beginning in 2017.
The petition’s sponsors, the Residential Landlord’s Association claimed that the tax changes were unfair and likely to result in higher rents for tenants as landlords seek to offset higher costs by increasing rents.
It is understood that some landlord groups are now seeking a judicial review of the Chancellor’s tax changes.
Two property developers, Steve Bolton, Chairman of Platinum Property Partners, and Chris Cooper are have raised £50,000 through a Twitter crowdfunding campaign to challenge Chancellor George Osborne’s planned tax changes for landlords. Under the Chancellor’s proposals, landlords operating as sole traders would no longer to be able to claim Mortgage Interest Relief when calculating their taxes.
Bolton and Cooper began fundraising towards the end of a Parliamentary Petition launched by the Residential Landlords Association titled: “Reverse the planned tax relief restriction on ‘individual landlords’ which argued that the Chancellor’s plans were unfair to private landlords and may result in higher tenant rents.
The Residential Landlord’s Association petition attracted 60,894 signatures, well short of the required 100,000 necessary for the motion to be considered for debate in Parliament which may leave Court action the only option to challenge the proposed tax changes. The motion did however receive enough support to merit an official response from the Government reiterating the Treasury’s support for implementation of the Chancellor’s measures. In its response the Government claimed that the tax changes were fair and merely removed tax exemptions for property investors which are not enjoyed by those in other asset classes.
Speaking about the Chancellor’s plans, Bolton stated “It’s not clear why the government has chosen to just launch an attack on buy-to-let owner-operators with mortgages. It’s a tax from Alice in Wonderland – truly absurd and divorced from real life. Not only is this tax grab unfair, undemocratic and underhanded, but we believe that it could also be unlawful.”
It is believed that the pair have sought legal advice matter from Omnia Strategy, a legal firm founded and chaired by Cherie Blair.
A landlord’s group has begun a parliament petition to challenge Chancellor George Osbourne’s plans to reduce Mortgate Interest Relief. According to the Chancellor’s proposals,, announced in his 2015 Summer Budget and reiterated in the Autumn statement that year, landlords operating as sole traders would no longer be able to deduct mortgage interest payments to reduce their tax liabilities.
The petition launched by the Residential Landlord’s Association claims that the proposed tax changes will increase costs for landlords and tenants as landlords seek to offset higher tax liabilities by increasing rents. The Association also claims that a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies released in response to the budget indicates that individual landlords are taxed more heavily than other homeowners even before the Chancellor’s proposed changes come into effect in 2017.
The petition titled: “Reverse the planned tax relief restriction on ‘individual’ landlords” also claims that landlords operating as sole traders incur costs i.e. mortgage interest in the course of operating their business. The Residential Landlord’s Association, RLA, claims that Osborne’s measures will unfairly target such landlords since they would be unable to offset costs in the same manner as sole traders operating in other sectors. The RLA claims that the tax changes will not affect large institutional landlords and companies which buy their properties in cash. Other campaigners however claim that buy-to-let is offered significant tax advantages compared with investors in other assets such as shares.
In order to warrant consideration for debate in Parliament, a formal government petition requires a hundred thousand signatures and ten thousand for the government to respond officially. The petition deadline is 27th January 2016.