House hunting students urged be wary of ‘accommodation scams’

USI president says group concerned that many rental properties listed online are fake

John-Mark McCafferty of housing charity Threshold, Union of Students in Ireland  president Síona Cahill and Martin Clancy of Daft.ie at the launch of the Scamwatch  initiative for people seeking rented accommodation. Photograph:  Gareth Chaney/Collins.

John-Mark McCafferty of housing charity Threshold, Union of Students in Ireland president Síona Cahill and Martin Clancy of Daft.ie at the launch of the Scamwatch initiative for people seeking rented accommodation. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins.

 

Irish and international students are being advised to take extra care when searching for accommodation in the coming weeks to avoid being scammed and losing their money to rogue landlords, housing groups have warned.

A new awareness campaign, entitled ‘Scamwatch’, is encouraging students to follow a number of short guidelines when seeking accommodation to avoid falling victim to a rental scam.

These include always viewing the property before you agree to rent, not paying in cash, always requesting a receipt and taking extra care when the rental rate seems like a bargain.

Síona Cahill, Union of Students of Ireland (USI) president, warned that incoming first year students and international students were at particular risk of being scammed in their attempts to find a home.

She said many foreign students who read about the Irish housing crisis agree to leases online before moving to Ireland for fear of not finding a place when they arrive.

“They’re being asked to forward deposits without ever having seen the property so they’re really just working on the trust of the landlord that when they do arrive in Ireland that the property is real,” she said. “We would have a real concern that there’s quite a number of properties on the market that are fake listings.”

Outside country

John-Mark McCafferty, of the Threshold national housing charity, advised students to be cautious landlords who claim to be outside the country and cannot show you the property but still request a deposit.

Some scammers may already live at the property, show a number of people around, request a deposit and then disappear with the money, he said.

In other cases the transaction may appear normal until the renter finds the keys don’t work and the landlord has disappeared. Renters should always check that the property actually exists, is available to rent and feel comfortable that the landlord or agent is authorised to rent the space.

Chairperson of the Irish Property Owners Association (IPOA) Stephen Faughnan agreed that students must remain vigilant to avoid the “irresponsible and criminal behaviour of a few conmen” which it says is at risk of “sending thousands of IPOA landlord members into disrepute”.

Mr Faughnan urged tenants to ensure their landlord is a member of the IPOA by requesting their membership card.

Ms Cahill also criticised the high prices of some of the recently opened, privately owned purpose building student accommodation.

“Accommodation is now a barrier to third level education. We’re seeing people making decisions of where they go to college or even if they can go to college based on whether they can afford the accommodation and it’s just not good enough,” she said.

Checklist

Scamwatch is calling on students to check the following list before transferring money for a lease on an apartment:

- Never agree to rent a property without having viewed it properly 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 any other Electronic Fund Transfer service to a person claiming to be a landlord or agent without verifying their position

- Be careful if the rent seems like a bargain and do more research by checking out rental rates in the area

- Use Google maps or check the Register of Landlords on the Residential Tenancies Board website to verify that the property exists

- Ensure the keys work and that you have proper contact details for the landlord or agent