You may have read stories in the news about rental properties being used for illegal activities, such as cultivating drugs or prostitution. Although this is very rare, it is a serious issue for landlords who may end up with huge repair bills or long void periods when the property cannot be let.
Make sure you include a term in your tenancy agreement prohibiting the tenants from using the property for illegal or immoral purposes. This is a fairly standard term in tenancy agreements but it can show your innocence if your property has been used for illegal purposes.
Indication of illegal activity
Unless you inspect the property regularly, you may not notice any signs of illegal activity. The Police Service of Northern Ireland advises landlords to look out for the following signs at properties:
- An increase in the number of people calling at the house
- Tenants wishing to pay the full year's rent in advance
- Strong unpleasant or chemical odours
- Smell of air fresheners
- Chemistry equipment
- Infrequent occupation
- Additional fortifications e.g. doors
- Electrical wiring having been tampered with
- Powerful lights on all day / night
- Windows blacked out
- A jump / fall in electricity bills
- Domestic 'tumble dryer' tubing
You need to balance your rights to inspect and visit the property with the tenant's right to peaceful enjoyment of the property. You can only enter the property with the prior consent of the tenant. Continually calling to a property without giving advance notice could be seen as harassment by the local council. If you make yourself known to people who live in neighbouring properties, they can report any suspicions or problems directly to you.
The Police Service offers the following advice to landlords when taking on new tenants:
- Seek photo identification and check that it is genuine
- Contact references
- Obtain contact telephone numbers
- Make sure that the people who have signed the tenancy agreement are actually living in the property
- Seek payment through a standing order as opposed to cash
If you decide to follow the advice given by the Police Service it's important to remember that you should apply these checks to all tenants. Choosing to apply them only to tenants of a certain race, gender, ethnicity, religion or people with a disability is discriminatory and you could be guilty of an offence.
Anti social behaviour
Incidents of anti-social behaviour should be reported to the police. If tenants contact you because they have been attacked, you should keep a record of this and advise your tenants to speak to the police.
If the tenants are suffering from ongoing anti-social behaviour you may wish to think about installing additional security measures. Negotiate with the tenants if they wish to leave the property, it may be advantageous for you to have someone else in the property, particularly if the property is sustaining damage in the attacks. You cannot force the tenants out if they wish to stay.
If your tenants are guilty of anti social behaviour you may be able to begin eviction proceedings against them if their actions consitute a breach of the tenancy agreement. Talk to a solicitor or landlords' advisory body if you need advice.
Reporting incidents to the police
If you suspect that your property is being used to carry out a criminal act, contact the police immediately. Explain your suspicions and ask the police what will happen next. You may wish to ask neighbours who share your concerns to speak with the police.