Letting agents and ghost listings

We were recently contacted by a homeowner that had fallen victim to fraudulent activity by a letting agent. Here’s her story…

Last year I got a nasty shock. I discovered a letting agent advertising my flat for rent, without my permission, while I was living in it.

This both worried and angered me. If my mortgage lender discovered the flat listed for rent, they could have accused me of breaking my mortgage agreement, as renting breaches the terms of my loan. I feared a battle with the bank because of a dishonest agent.

Having my home’s identity used in this way also felt like a theft. I bought the flat 15 years ago and spent a lot of time turning it into a home of my own, only now someone else had claimed it as theirs to rent.

I knew I had to do something but wasn’t sure where to take my complaint – I knew confronting the agent wouldn’t be enough to stop them from doing it again. A friend recommended that I contacted Shelter, which I did. They were as shocked as me. I was away traveling at the time, so a member of the campaigns team offered to make a complaint on my behalf to Islington Council’s Trading Standards team.

The council contacted me and asked me and my partner to sign a statement to confirm that Down2Town had illegally listed my flat for rent, with no permission to do so. Then the council started a formal investigation into the letting agent.

The investigation recently concluded with a date in court, and Down2Town were successfully prosecuted for two offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The agent and the director were fined a total of £6,600, which is sure to make them think twice about using fraudulent listings again. I’d hope that it also acts as a deterrent, so that no one else has to challenge dishonest agents operating in this way in the future.

However, I’m not alone: Shelter passed on information about my case to BBC London who discovered that the practice of letting agents using false listings across London is widespread, dubbing it ‘ghost-listing.’

It appears that agents dishonestly list properties in order to attract tenants, boost their rankings on property portals and inflate rents. I’m disgusted that my home was used to do this. And it’s all too easy for rogue letting agents to get away with it due to a lack of regulation.

But if this experience has taught me anything, it’s that complaining about a letting agent really works. I urge you to complain if you find a letting agent breaking the law.

Shelter are currently running an investigation into agents who are doing this by failing to display their fees. Once you’ve made a complaint Shelter will do the rest, and pass it onto the relevant Trading Standards team. They’ll even report back with the result if you wish. So please take part in the investigation and help to stamp out dishonest letting agents for good.