Criminal gangs are increasingly moving into rural and coastal towns and looking to rent properties. We show you how to minimise the risk of unknowingly letting to a drugs gang.
Landlords in rural areas may think the risk of criminals moving into their properties is minimal, but a report issued by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in November of last year suggests otherwise. Urban drug dealing gangs are moving into rural towns, coastal communities and affluent areas, where they establish bases for their criminal activities. They either take over vulnerable people’s homes with force or coercion, or rent property from unsuspecting landlords.
These gangs use a drug dealing model, known as ‘county lines’, where children, teenagers and vulnerable adults are exploited to carry drugs from urban areas to rural towns. While this is not a new threat (this is the third NCA report on the subject), it is a growing one. Based on data provided by police forces, the NCA estimates that there are at least 720 county lines across England and Wales.
To help you avoid letting your properties to these criminals, the NLA has partnered with the Home Office to launch a campaign aimed at reducing county lines gang activity. Alongside the Home Office, we’re working with the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA) and CrimeStoppers to raise your chances of spotting a criminal tenant early. And we’re encouraging anyone encountering a possible instance of county lines gangs to report concerns to CrimeStoppers.
Spot the signs
Possible warning signs to look out for are:
- The prospective tenant offers to pay rent for a long period (for example, six months) upfront in cash
- The prospective tenant is smartly dressed and appears affluent, but wants to rent an inexpensive property
- The prospective tenant is unable to provide landlord or employment references
- The tenant prefers to pay rent in cash, and is unable to provide a good justification
- The tenant does not want to be disturbed and tries to prevent you from inspecting your property when given reasonable notice.
County lines gangs often use other people to secure accommodation as a means of distancing themselves from the criminality; this means you may not have a contract with the actual criminal.
To minimise the risk of your property being used by a criminal gang:
- Ask the prospective tenant appropriate questions about their reason for moving and try to gauge whether they seem genuine.
- Visit your property within a few weeks of the start of the tenancy to confirm you have rented it to the tenants you think you have – but always remember you must observe your tenants’ right to ‘quiet enjoyment’.
- Once the tenant has moved in, arrange regular inspections (quarterly or six-monthly) to ensure the property is being used according to the agreement and to check on the condition of the property. If the tenant seems overly reluctant to allow you to visit, be wary. If you have doubts it can be helpful to ask for feedback from legitimate contractors, for instance those carrying out gas and electricity safety inspections, to assess what’s going on.
On 21 September 2018, a £3.6 million National County Lines Coordination Centre became fully operational. With a new 38-strong team comprised of NCA experts, police officers and regional organised crime units, their focus is on understanding the complexity and scale of the threat, prioritising action against the most serious offenders, and engaging with partners to tackle the wider issues. Lawrence Gibbons, the NCA’s head of drugs threat and intelligence, said: “Effective collaboration between law enforcement and safeguarding organisations must remain a vital part of the national response.”
Anyone with concerns that a prospective or current tenant might be involved in county lines activity should report it to CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111, or use the online form https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/forms/give-information-anonymously.
Don’t forget, members can ring the NLA Advice Line on 020 7840 8939 with any concerns. If you’re not yet a member, you can find out more here.