Despite warnings, prospective tenants fall victim to bogus landlords

2014-01-17 00:00

DESPITE being warned of the rental scam operating in the greater Durban area, prospective tenants and students still fall victim, according to Sayed Iqbal Mohamed, chairperson of the Organisation of Civic Rights (OCR).

Mohamed, whose organisation campaigns for tenants’ rights, said rental scams are always on the increase at the beginning of the year.

“Bogus landlords frequent several neighbourhoods, especially those with a high concentration of students,” said Mohamed.

Umbilo, Glenwood, Berea and Morningside are among the areas that seem to attract scammers, followed by the Durban CBD, he said.

The shortage of student accommodation at residences at the major tertiary institutions in town, seem to create the perfect breeding ground for these scammers, who mostly target students, Mohamed said.

Durban University of Technology has 26 176 registered students — 7 177 of them first-year — and has only 4 865 beds available in their various residences.

UKZN can only accommodate 11 000 of its 44 326 students in residences.

Mohamed said that over the years student rental scams have increased dramatically in the city, but it seems that the police are reluctant to open charges.

“We have a 40% increase of people falling victim. Bogus landlords advertise properties on websites, newspapers and social media, but then disappear with the money,” he said.

A letter dated August 2013 was sent to provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, asking for her intervention.

They are still waiting for a response, although police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said he was not aware of the letter.

“In August, over 10 victims were referred to us to deal with their cases,” Mohamed said.

Naicker said each case brought to the police will be decided on merit, whether it is a civil matter or whether a fraud case should be investigated.

Scammers’ modus operandi

• Advertisements placed in newspapers and on websites.

• A prospective tenant responds to the advert, contacts the “landlord” on the cellphone number provided (usually the only contact detail provided).

• The so-called landlord conducts a brief telephonic “interview”, then advises the prospective tenant to view the dwelling.

• The prospective tenant meets a “security guard” or “supervisor” to view the dwelling.

• Thereafter, the tenant is required to deposit money (security deposit or first month’s rental or both) into a bank account.

• Upon returning to the dwelling, in most instances, it is found to be occupied by the legal tenant (the “security guard” or “supervisor” cannot be traced).

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