Young renters have nowhere to turn in vicious housing circle
Scam artists hold all the cards in a system in which the City Council, police and rental sites are powerless to act
April 6, 2014
The scarcity of housing in the Copenhagen area has created an environment in which rogue agents thrive, preying on desperate house-hunters unfamiliar with the Danish housing market. Most of the victims are foreign students.
Take the money – and gone
When Hristo Aleksandrov, a Bulgarian marketing student, tried to find an apartment in Copenhagen a year ago, he ran into one such scam-artist. The apartment was cheap and at a nice location. The only catch was that the landlord was in the UK.
“I thought maybe I was getting lucky,” recalled Aleksandrov, who had already sent 400 applications to rent a property over a two-month period.
However, when he asked to see the apartment, he was told to make a deposit in the account of an estate agent that only had offices in the UK. He decided not to go along with it and found another place.
Desperate, poor = easy victim
Following our request via Facebook, eleven more young people contacted us to say they had encountered similar scams in which they were asked for money beforehand. And several subsequently come across others who had the same experience.
According to Rasmus Kristensen from the renting site boligsurf.dk, it is a common trend. Young foreign students, he said, were particularly vulnerable because they were often desperate to get a place and did not have a lot of money.
Foreign students need to have an address in order to obtain a residence permit. But when the address is phoney, this can cause problems at the International Citizens Service (ICS) at the City Council.
“We often discover that the address is illegal or they have paid too much when they come to register,” said Violeta Janova, an ICS counsellor.
Too much to lose
Janova has seen it all: fake contracts, sky-high rents and unauthorised sub-renting without approval. There have also been cases in which students think they are the only ones registered at an address, but in reality there are five others living there.
“A lot of foreign students do not know what they can do and cannot do,” she said.
If the council finds out that the student’s tenancy is not legit, the student will be deregistered and therefore no longer legally present in Denmark. So the student will often tolerate difficult living conditions just to stay in the country. And pay handsomely for the privilege.
Information but no action
However, while the City Council and the ICS do everything they can to inform foreign students about housing issues, there is little either can do about individual cases. Instead, the students are referred to complain to the tenants’ complaints authority, Huslejenævnet.
So far, it has only dealt with a few cases. “We do not see them very often,” confirmed Marianne Dons, a manager at Huslejenævnet. “Normally, it would be a case for the police.”
Francesco Bergami, a 26-year-old Italian business student, went to the police last summer when a landlord living in England via Facebook asked for money before he could see an apartment in Copenhagen.
But it was a wasted journey. “I was told they could do nothing,” he said. “We were advised to report the incident to Faceook. Which we did … with zero results.”
Time consuming and costly
“The problem for us is when the person comes from a foreign country,” explained Sebastian Richelsen from Copenhagen Police’s communications department.
He explained that they could investigate who was behind the account or phone number. However, tracing the scams across borders is often both time-consuming and costly.
Renters, he conceded, should not pay any money before they have the keys to the apartment.
Landlords hold the cards
Rental portals like boligportal.dk and lejebolig.dk advise their customers to be aware of scams – especially ads in English – and to report them.
At boligsurf.dk, they have tried to establish some security for their customers by requesting them to sign in with NemID. However, it is only a voluntary requirement for landlords – instead they check their data and make a decision based on that
“We had it as a requirement for the first eight months, but we had to take it out because it put off a lot of landlords,” Kristensen explained.