How landlords can watch out for criminal tenants

By: Mike White of Martin & Co Lettings

SF_01_.jpgReading an article the other day, reminded me that we haven’t seen any reports in our region for a while of any cannabis factories being busted. Last year and the year before, there seemed to be a whole slew of them in Norwich. It’s probably the case of the local police having done such a good job in cracking down on the gangs that the “Money” behind them decided to move away from the flame. However, the likelihood is that they’ll be back once the spotlight moves onto something else and so it’s worth just noting what to look out for to make sure as a landlord, you don’t fall victim to this crime in the way of someone using your property for criminal activity.

For an unsuspecting landlord, you could see your house totally wrecked – these gangs apparently literally turn a house into a factory for the sole purpose of growing as much cannabis in the shortest time possible before getting caught. The damage can and often does run into thousands of pounds and usually puts your property out of commission for months and months, leading to an ongoing loss of rent. Fortunately, we’ve never encountered the problem.

So how can you avoid it – first think if your property to let could be an ideal choice for criminal activity such as growing cannabis. You would think a detached house set in its own grounds, perhaps in the middle of nowhere, set back from the road and sitting behind a tall hedge would be an ideal choice. In fact, the ones I’ve heard about in Norwich have been normal houses in normal streets. Except for Flats, I doubt there is any property that wouldn’t be considered suitable. Perhaps a more relevant question is: is there a certain type of landlord that these people look out for, or is it just bad luck?

I think it’s the landlords who don’t thoroughly check their prospective tenants that get caught out. From what I have heard, these gangsters are very plausible and use smooth talking gang members to front the initial transaction. For example, the front person could pretend to be a professional being expatriated to this country by their company and their employer is willing to pay the whole of the rent and deposit for the tenancy in advance. If this information is accepted at face value and the cash in advance is gratefully accepted without any background checks being made then they’re in. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see the front person again, they’ll never actually move into the property and most of the comings and goings will be during the hours of darkness.

Unless you regularly inspect the property, the first you’ll know about it is when you get the knock on the door from the police. They’ll have been tipped off by the neighbours who’ll have noticed the odd hours the “tenants” have been keeping or how the windows are always blacked out or the police helicopter will have picked it up when the infra-red sensor would have shown the abnormal levels of heat being generated from within the house.

So make sure you check and double check even if the entire tenancy is being paid for in advance. Using the above example, what would we at Martin & Co have done faced with the same approach? As a matter of course, we would have established the person’s identity (and if coming from overseas, ensured they held an appropriate entry visa/work permit.)

We would have seen proof of address, we would have ensured the valid existence of their employer and then we would have employed the services of a professional referencing agency to thoroughly reference both the applicant and the employer. Unfortunately, nothing is absolutely foolproof but we generally find this is enough to deter the bad people and the good people understand why we’re doing it and appreciate the thoroughness.

*Mike’s at Martin & Co on 01603 766860 or at 13 St Giles Street Norwich.

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