London Olympics – Fraud Warnings for Landlords

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

15:40 PM, 7th January 2012
About 7 years ago

London Olympics – Fraud Warnings for Landlords

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London Olympics – Fraud Warnings for Landlords

You can’t be involved in housing and not be aware of the upcoming rent-fest that is going to be the 2012 Olympics, and not just for London landlords either as Weymouth on the South Coast is hosting the Yachting events.

There are now a plethora of websites set up specifically to help landlords make a killing during the month the event is on and many established agents offering a variety of deals.

Newspapers and property journals for the past year have been running articles on what it will mean in terms of a golden egg for London’s property owners, with a cautionary note to be read. All the articles I have seen so far concentrate on the income factors, I don’t remember reading one about the possible fall-outs of the games on the London housing scene.

The other day I was listening to Andrew Lloyd-Webber being interviewed on Radio 4 about the vast successes of Musicals these days. Apparently he owns several theatres himself and trade has never been so good. The mainstay of the musicals business being couples visiting London on package trips, staying in hotels and combining a bit of sight-seeing with the show.

He said something which surprised me, that several big hit shows will be shutting down for the month that the Olympics are on because already the hotels are fully booked by incoming sports tourists. He wasn’t overly concerned with this, the shows bring in millions a week as it is and I’m sure the casts would appreciate a holiday, but it set me thinking. If the need for accommodation for the Olympics is that high what are the other knock on effects of it going to be?

I mentioned this to me missus Frazzy who is a travel consultant getting her corporate bankers around the world and she said the same thing, her clients- mainly Brazilians (the country, not the hair trim)- having to avoid London altogether for that month. It is going to seriously hit her self-employed, commission based income.

The Gold Medalists

I read in a Guardian article in the summer that letting agents, ‘Accommodate London’, have already started making a killing, renting out 3 and 4 bed properties for £3,000-£4,000 a week. One property in Hackney’s Victoria Park, a mile from the stadium is already booked for £5,000 a week. Admittedly Vicky Park is dead trendy and desirable at the best of times, but bloody hell.

Difficult figures to argue with and to be honest, if I had a place I would do it too. Twenty grand for a month????? Thank you very much. You could take the family on holiday for 4 weeks and still come back with a profit.

But what about the bottom end of this? The effect of this once in a lifetime bubble on tenants and homelessness units?

Those of us in the frontline housing-problem business with the experience and the nous to see it coming are predicting a very difficult time ahead.

And the Bronze goes to….

Firstly, tenants whose contracts run out at a convenient time are going to find it very difficult to find new homes when landlords with their sights on the Olympic market are holding back for the quick term big bucks.

When they can’t find somewhere else to rent where are they going to go? To our office, that’s where, and those of 30+ other London council homelessness units. Those with kids we will have to temporarily re-house, that’s if we can find anywhere for them ourselves. Singletons and childless couples will be looking to sofa surf with friends until the Olympic audiences trot off back to their home countries and the properties come back on the market.

I don’t know any council, including mine, who have had the organisational foresight to gear themselves up for this. Although God only knows what we would do about it anyway.

At the moment estimates are that there are around 6 -8 tenants chasing every property in London but for that month there will be considerably less properties on the market. The only safe tenants will be the ones who are in the middle of their contracts when the event is on, or those tenants whose landlords want to hang onto their reliable and regular payers and aren’t bothered about the fuss.

And those who fail the drugs tests…..

What will the more unscrupulous landlords be doing at this time? Yes I know this is only a small percentage of landlords but in a city of 12 million people those small percentages are still quite a large number of individuals. Will I see an increase in allegations of harassment and illegal evictions coming my way in the weeks leading up to the games?

One very common problem I encounter already as a Tenancy Relations Officer is where a landlord decides to sell the property and issues a section 21 notice whilst actively following through with the sale, setting up dates for exchange of contracts and completion while their tenants are still in residence, simply hoping they will be gone when the time comes.

When the tenants don’t move out and the sale gets blocked the illegal evictions start. I worry that a similar thing will occur, with tenants whose contracts run out around the end of April or May and being expected to go. Where to though with other landlords holding back for the Olympic bonus? With incoming sport tourist tenants lined up and the possibility of £20,000 in the bag, the temptation will be strong for most of the worst offenders I have to deal with who would illegally evict a tenant even if you knocked 2 noughts off that figure.

The games

And what about London’s biggest growth industry? Scammers.

I predict a huge trade in this and with the scramble for high, quick income a lot of people’s natural caution is going to be sidelined. Plus a lot of the prospective short term tenants are going to be from abroad, which is going to make it even easier for the parasites.

You can bet your life that the dedicated scammers will have already worked out many ways to benefit that I haven’t even thought of, the losers being landlords and foreign tourists. Where there’s muck there’s brass as Northerners say.

The Cheats

In early 2011 a gang of share dealing fraudsters led by Adrian Davidson were prosecuted for targeting elderly people with bogus share scams for non-existent building plots.

Last summer criminal defence lawyer Elena Quinlivan pleaded guilty to 7 counts of conspiring with others to obtain money transfers in relation to Olympic properties.

Amazingly she was represented at Southwark Crown Court by celebrated and respected human rights lawyer Imran Khan who recently had great success with the Stephen Lawrence case.

I wrote about Quinlivan on a blog highlighting Olympic fraud scams last year and received some quite disturbing hate mail from her supporters, all anonymously of course.

Despite being bailed Ms Quinlivan managed to live happily in the USA while matters were being looked into. One rule for some?????

Now that is just an example of the top end stuff. My involvement is usually with the scummy bottom feeders.

Already a very popular property scam is for a person to take on a place as a tenant and then re-advertise it, pretending to be the landlord. They take rent in advance and deposits from 8 – 10 new tenants who all turn up on the same day to move in.

I currently have a guy who advertises properties in local newsagent’s windows. Gullible tenants pay him rent in advance and deposit and when they turn up to move in, there are already tenants in there. How do you track down a fictitious name using a pay as you go mobile?

I work closely with the fraud team of the energy company EDF who have massive problems with properties let out with 6 month’s rent paid up-front, automatically preying on the greedy-no questions asked landlords, which are used as Marijuana farms, growing kilos of skunk. My EDF contacts tell me that they close down around 9 of these factories a week in London.

A locksmith I met recently who also gets called to these scam properties said when the cops are called they don’t even bother to take the names of the fictitious tenants. What’s the point? They are all false. They just bag up the harvest and move onto the next case.

Welcome to scam Britain folks, and these people are all, right now, hovering around the waiting Olympic renting orgasm. DON’T get carried away by the prospects of £20,000 for the month. Research, research and research again before handing over the keys. DON’T surrender your critical faculties for a promised bun fest. That nice sincere man in the 3 piece suit might just be your downfall.



Comments

Mark Alexander

15:47 PM, 7th January 2012
About 7 years ago

Brilliant article Ben, thanks for this 🙂 Let's hope the press pick up on it.


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