With thousands of students seeking accommodation it is all too easy to fall victim to a scam.
National housing charity Threshold, along with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Daft.ie, has launched an awareness campaign to help people in their quest to secure suitable rented accommodation.
Entitled ‘Scamwatch’, the initiative offers a checklist for would-be tenants to help them to avoid falling victim to a rental scam. As part of the campaign, Threshold will also liaise with student unions throughout the country to provide assistance for students who encounter problems in their rented accommodation during the academic year.
Scamwatch advises would-be renters to:
- Be aware of offers that appear to be too good to be true – if rent seems like a bargain, do more research by checking rental rates for similar properties in the area, using Google maps to verify that the property exists, and checking the Register of Landlords on the Residential Tenancies Board website.
- Never agree to rent a property without having properly viewed it and making sure you are happy with the terms and conditions of the letting.
- Avoid paying in cash; and always get a proper receipt.
- Never transfer funds via Western Union, Moneybookers or other Electronic Fund Transfer services to someone claiming to be an agent or landlord of a prospective property without verifying their bona fides.
- Ensure the keys work and they have proper contact details for the landlord/agent.
Commenting, chief executive of Threshold, John-Mark McCafferty said: “While rental scams occur throughout the year, we are asking people looking for rented accommodation to exercise particular caution at this time of year, when there is a spike due to a new generation of third-level students looking for somewhere to live. We strongly advise people to be cautious of a landlord who claims to be out of the country and can’t show you the property and requests a deposit. Would-be renters should also be mindful that in some instances a scammer could be living at the property and showing a number of people around, getting a deposit from several people and then disappears with the money. In other instances, the transaction appears normal until the renter finds that the keys don’t work and the ‘landlord’ has disappeared. People need to establish that the house exists, that it is available for rent, the identity of the landlord /agent and that the person advertising the property is authorised to rent it out.
“Our advice to students is to start looking for accommodation as soon as possible, but not to feel pressured to take the first place they see. The Scamwatch checklist is a resource for students, and indeed anyone looking to rent in the private rented sector, to advise them on what to look out for in securing suitable accommodation and the steps to take to protect themselves from scams. Anyone can fall victim to a scam and we ask anyone who finds themselves in this situation to report it to Threshold, as well as to An Garda Siochána. While Threshold cannot help to recover the lost money, alerting us will help to prevent other people from falling victim.”
Threshold is also calling on the Government to provide greater legislative protection to licensee renters, which includes those in digs and those in sub-let accommodation.
Mr McCafferty said: “Students, in particular, are vulnerable when it comes to their legal rights. Normal landlord / tenant laws, under which disputes can be referred to the Residential Tenancies Board, do not apply to many students, including those who live in owner-occupied or sub-let accommodation. Rent Pressure Zone legislation, which caps rent increases at four per cent per year, does not apply to purpose-built student accommodation. Threshold continues to lobby for legislative reform to regulate these situations and to protect these renters.
“We are also calling on the Government to urgently introduce the Deposit Protection Scheme, approved in December 2015, whereby deposits would be held securely by an independent body – this would offer immediate protection to all tenants. We are also calling for a ceiling of one month’s rent to be placed on all deposits. This would act as an additional security measure against landlords who demand deposits equivalent to several months’ rent.”
President of USI, Síona Cahill said: “Availability and affordability of suitable accommodation is a huge issue for students and many are finding themselves priced out of higher education because of the rental crisis. It is shocking that there are such few tenancy rights afforded to renters in so many types of accommodation typically populated by students, and many find themselves at risk of falling victim to scams. It is an issue that USI has been working hard to address and we are delighted to have the expertise of an organisation like Threshold to guide students through the rental process where difficulties arise. We would urge any student looking for accommodation to check out Threshold’s Scamwatch tips before they commit to a property.”
Property website Daft.ie is also lending its support to the Scamwatch awareness campaign. It already issues guidance to its users on how to spot and avoid rental scams and will share Threshold’s checklist on its website.
Martin Clancy of Daft.ie said: “Daft.ie is a valuable resource for anyone looking to secure rental accommodation in Ireland. We have advice for our users on how to spot a scam and internet fraud and we encourage anyone who comes across a suspicious listing to report it to us. We are delighted to support Threshold in this campaign and we will also carry its advice for students on Daft.ie.”
The Scamwatch checklist can be downloaded here.