Sex workers, people traffickers and rave organisers are finding it harder to lie their way into renting a London flat as letting agents increasingly turn to social media to suss out potentially troublesome tenants before agreeing to let property.
The online profiles of Generation Rent are now vital when agents have to choose between prospective tenants in the increasingly competitive lettings market.
“We don’t care if they have an active social life but if it’s clear they are not who or what they say they are, we’re not going to let a flat to them,” says Marc von Grundherr, lettings director at Benham & Reeves Residential Lettings, whose staff regularly turn detective if they have concerns about a potential tenant.
“We’ve uncovered sex workers, people traffickers and one woman who was running a pop-up restaurant from her current flat, and was clearly being evicted for breaching her tenancy agreement.”
Greater London Properties (GLP), which covers Soho, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and King’s Cross, has an in-house referencing team whose job includes vetting the social media accounts of applicants as well as their references and employment. They have had cases of potential tenants using headed paper from made-up universities or non-existent companies.
Rob Hill, director of GLP, said a key concern is tenants claiming to be looking for a flat to live in but then using it for short-term lets. “If a flat costs, say, £500 a week, they could make another £500 a week on top of that using Airbnb,” he said. “That is our main concern, but we are also looking out for people advertising for flatmates because we want everyone who lives in a property to have a contract.”
Checking social media, said Hill, also allows agents to “build up a picture” of what a prospective tenant is like as a person. “We want to know they are likely to look after the property,” he said. “If you see lots of house party pictures where things are smashed and ruined it is something you might want to show to the landlord.”
Hill would also be concerned by indications of “inappropriate behaviour”, which would include excessive swearing and images of gratuitous nudity, because of concerns the tenants might upset neighbours.
Tracey Cumming, head of lettings for Jackson-Stops & Staff, said the firm also investigates tenants’ online presence, verifying that employment details are accurate and scrutinising social media accounts. “It is another layer of referencing,” she said.
As well as looking out for outright lies and evidence of criminal activities, endless drunken photographs might raise concerns. “It would raise a question about their abilities to look after a property,” she said. “We would wonder if they were going to have lots of parties and cause damage to the property. People are obviously social, so it would depend on what they had up there of course.”
A report on the agents’ findings is passed to the landlord, who has the final say about who to let their property to. “Ultimately it is the landlord’s decision, but we want to offer them the best information we can,” said Cumming.