A London property owner who was locked out of a house that she was trying to sell by a gang of eight Romanian squatters is now warning everyone of a bogus landlord. Gretel Malcolm, who had to cut off both the gas and electric in the property, won a battle to evict the eight after they unwittingly signed a fake lease offered by a conman pretending to be the owner. Gretel and her sister Minna used to check the property every day while it was on the market. But after returning from a four day break, they returned and were shocked to find the locks on the property had been changed and the eight strangers had moved in.
The squatters, all of them adults, said that they had paid a man £3,000 for three months rent after they had been approached in Tesco; the bogus landlord gave them a single page “short-term lease” for them to sign. At first Mrs Malcolm thought she had no other option but to go through the courts to have them evicted. This can take months and cost in excess of £2,000, if not covered on a landlord insurance policy, as many others every year know only too well. Luckily the police, who were patrolling nearby, helped settle the dispute and forced the eight squatters to leave.
Mrs Malcolm said: “I’m pleased it’s all over but it’s terrible this person is going around ripping people off. I can’t believe you can leave the house for a little while and someone else has moved in. People need to be aware that they must be careful if they own any property.”
This is not the first time residents in the same area as Mrs Malcolm, have been victims of bogus landlords. Recently a family of four came back from a holiday to find another group of Romanians had moved into their home. They were evicted but only after they had trashed the rooms and another family were forced to barricade themselves in one of the bedrooms when squatters refused to budge.
The bogus landlord scam has increased due to the emergence of free property websites and students are often the victims. This scam is often targeted at students who respond to an advert for a place to rent, the bogus landlord asks for proof that the student can afford the rent. And the student will give a month’s deposit plus another month’s rent in advance.