Five tips to avoid ‘slum landlords’

Slum Landlords

Despite mainstream perception, the majority of rental properties are let by landlords who wish to provide safe and pleasant accommodation to their tenants, in exchange for receiving a fair rent. Unfortunately, like in any industry, there are rogues that don’t follow this convention and instead treat their tenants (and property) poorly. Here are five tips for tenants to try to sniff out and avoid these so-called ‘slum landlords’.

Check the basics are in place

All rental properties should have an Energy Performance Certificate, Gas Safety Certificate (if there is gas at the property) and an Electrical Installation Condition Report. These three documents ensure the property is suitable in regards to energy efficiency and safe in regards to the gas and electrical installations. If a landlord doesn’t have or know about these, they are illegally letting the property and clearly don’t understand even the most basic of their responsibilities.

Check the property’s condition

Don’t just rent a property based on photos or an online advert – be sure to see it in the flesh! Feel free to check fixtures and fittings at viewings; I’m used to prospective tenants checking the shower pressure to ensure it’s adequate before they move-in. Whilst sometimes there will be works scheduled to be done to the property between a viewing and your move-in, be wary if there are structural or troublesome-looking damp problems, as these can be harder to resolve and there’s no guarantee it will be done to your satisfaction (or in the case of a real slum landlord, done at all!).

Check where your money goes

Letting agents must have Client Money Protection, whereas dealing with a landlord directly does without this safeguard. Most transactions will be done via online banking nowadays, so at least there’s a trail of what has been paid. Cash in hand payments should be avoided for this reason and may also point towards a landlord with something to hide (you should at least insist on a receipt).

You may wish to do a Land Registry search on the property you intend to rent (it only costs £3) to ensure the named owner of the property matches the person you’re about to hand your money over to.

Meanwhile you’ll most likely pay a security deposit (typically five week’s rent), for which it has been mandatory since 2007 for the landlord to register it into a government-approved scheme. Ask them which one they use – any that respond they “don’t bother with that” should be avoided.

Check what the service will be like

Online reviews are easy to find for letting agents and should give you a good idea of the level of service you’ll receive. Whilst this is more difficult when renting from landlords, a quick ‘Google search’ of their name should throw up anything particularly nefarious.

Consider the property as it is now – if it’s been left to get run down then that is quite possibly how it will be managed after you’ve moved in too. You might also like to ask the current tenants how they’ve found things at the property and with the landlord.

If the landlord isn’t worried, you should be

Landlords are likely to be as anxious of renting to a bad tenant as you are of renting from a bad landlord. Any who seem too relaxed and eager to simply get you to sign on the dotted line may not be as friendly as they first appear.

Legitimate landlords will typically want proof of your earnings via bank statements and ID (to conform with the ‘Right to Rent’; another legal requirement on their part). If a landlord isn’t concerned about this it might also point towards an overly-relaxed attitude when it comes to their basic legal requirements and resolving ad-hoc maintenance issues.

So, whilst most tenants simply consider the property when they are searching for their new home, it is equally as important to consider who you’ll be renting it from. Consider whether you are confident that you can trust and communicate with your landlord or letting agent openly. Hopefully the tips above will go some way to ensuring you don’t get trapped in a property that looks ok on the surface but is run by someone who turns out to be a ‘slum landlord’.

About the Author

Clive Janes
Clive Janes is the author of the Chichester Property News and owner of CRJ Lettings.