Horror tenants destroy home and sell landlady's garden

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Vicky Moller

Vicky Moller, a 67-year-old businesswoman from Cardiff, suffered at the hands of horror tenants. The family failed to pay a single month's rent, caused serious damage to the property, and sold off a bit of the garden.

And she's far from alone in facing professional rogue tenants.

Horror

Moller was renting out a Carmarthen property, an idyllic farmhouse with six-bedrooms and an adjoining cottage.

She found the tenants with an internet search. She has a number of properties, and favours informal approaches like this, word of mouth, or local advertisers. She says: "When I first met the tenants they were very keen to move in, if a little pushy. They were really energetic, and as couple in their 40s they were in the prime of their life. They hinted at trouble with a previous landlord but it's hard to tell what somebody is like until they're under your roof."

Once they moved in, the problems started immediately. Moller explains: "They paid the deposit, but then defaulted on the rent. They tried to claim the deposit was the rent, but when I reminded them of the tenancy agreement they claimed to have misunderstood it. Within three months, after endless refusals to pay the rent, I asked them to leave. When they left, it was such a relief, but I was yet to see what they had done to my property."

The damage was extensive. The wood stove was ripped out, the fire surround taken, and shelves destroyed. The family had even left dog faeces on the floor.

Perhaps most shockingly, they had tried to sell off some of her land. "They told the neighbouring farmer they owned the piece of my land behind the house and allowed him to fence off a strip of it for his use."

Landlords at risk

After the family left, she discovered that this was not the first time they had done this, and they had left a trail of debt. "It was a hellish time," she added. "I had little experience of being a landlord and I can't believe how naive I was, taking the tenants on, knowing so little about them."

Moller is far from alone. A number of factors are combining to put new landlords at risk from unscrupulous tenants.

The first is the fact that economic difficulties have pushed many people into renting out their properties for the first time, and their lack of experience is leaving them vulnerable.

The second is that tenants are having money problems of their own and increasing numbers are struggling to pay the rent. In the first quarter of 2013 severe rent arrears rose by 4,000 to 94,000.

Among these genuine and honest people are a shocking number who are ready to take advantage of new landlords. Research by 192.com found that one in ten people have been conned by a lodger. Alarmingly one in five had actually tried to hide their identity from a landlord, 12% have lied about where they live and 10% will lie to make money.

Paul Shamplina, Founder of Landlord Action warns: "Over the last 14 years, our experience of professional bad tenants has been plentiful. Professional bad tenants will seek out someone new to the market who is self-managing a property and who, out of desperation to avoid a void period, will accept a tenant with minimum referencing. Some professional bad tenants will even entice a landlord to let to them by offering two to three months upfront rent instead of providing thorough referencing. They then will refuse to make any further payments."

Protect yourself

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association has the following advice when taking on a lodger:
  • It is important to be satisfied that appropriate tenant checks have been carried out before granting a tenancy. Landlords or letting agents should meet the potential tenant to check they are who they say they are before entering into a contract.
  • Landlords should carry out background checks on potential tenants to include referencing, credit reports and identity checks.
  • Landlords should take a deposit from their tenants and protect it in a government-endorsed tenancy deposit protection scheme such as my deposits.
  • Landlords should also carry out a full inventory and schedule of condition in case the tenant defaults on rental payments or causes damage to the property during the tenancy.
Dominic Blackburn, Product Director of 192.com, which has just launched a Background Report service, says: "Background Reports can tell where someone has previously lived, who with, and if they've had trouble with debt – all vital information for your background check."