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Report slams agents, landlords and portals for rising criminal activity in PRS

'Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector' shines a light on the largely invisible world of harassment, violence and scams faced by poorer tenants.

Nigel Lewis

prs landlords

A new report into illegal evictions claims that increasing numbers of criminal letting agents and landlords are involved in the ballooning ‘shadow’ PRS and that unregulated portals such as OpenRent and Airbnb are also part of the problem.

“The shadow PRS includes letting agents who may act in concert with landlords, or defraud both landlords and tenants,” it says.

“It is also evident that letting agents can also be involved…often involving some level of fraud with regard to deposit holding or rent collection.”

Called Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector the report is jointly published by the University of York and Cambridge House Research and funded by Trust for London.

It includes a dozen suggestions to help stamp out the ‘shadow’ PRS where low-paid and often vulnerable tenants are exploited by criminal landlords and letting agents in increasing numbers, its authors Ben Reeve-Lewis, Roz Spencer, Julie Rugg and Eusebio Barata claim.

Rugg (left) says the word ‘rogue’ is no longer an accurate way to describe the criminals involved who are sophisticated, invisible and ruthless operators.

The report also heavily criticises the rent-to-rent sector for helping facilitate this criminal activity and calls for agents and property owners to be made jointly culpable for illegal activity at properties they control.

Rent-to-rent scams

This includes cannabis farms, prostitution, and scam rent-to-rent schemes to name a few.

“Our current regulatory framework is failing to deal with the kind of landlords and letting agents who have no intention of complying with the law,” says Rugg.

“Too often these are criminals who have no intention of operating within the legal framework, and for whom this is a business model.”

Reeve-Lewis adds: “It’s not a few rotten apples as it perhaps used to be; it’s systematic organised criminal activity.”

To tackle this, the report suggests that online lettings platforms are forced to check what properties are being uploaded to their listings through a system of property MOTs and Unique Property Reference Numbers; that the police are given a duty to stop illegal evictions; local authority enforcement is better funded and that multiple agencies are made to work together locally; and that Section 21 evictions are banned.

Please note: this report originally referred to OpenBrix in the opening paragraph when it should have said OpenRent.

September 3, 2020

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