Property News, Guides, Rental News

How to tell if your rental property is being used for illegal activities

November 28, 2017

From flats used as brothels, to illegal gambling dens, there are plenty of good reasons for landlords to be wary. Sure, some people may accuse you of being paranoid; but they’re not the ones having to do damage control when it turns out the tenants hold senior management positions in a triad or something. Here are some ways to keep an eye on your rental property:

  1. Take note of sudden spikes in power and water bills

This is the earliest sign that something odd is going on. It’s common for water and power bills to fluctuate, but look for significant increases over a prolonged period.

As a loose rule of thumb, look for an increase of 20 per cent of more in water and power bills, over a period of three or more consecutive months. This could mean there are other residents in the rental property other than those stated in the tenancy agreement, so you should check for things like illegal subletting.

Alternatively, it’s a sign that an unlicensed business may be conducted on the property. For example, using the kitchen of the rental property to bake cakes and pastries for sale – that often results in a sky high water and power bills.

  1. Ask the condominium security if anything odd is happening

Your condo’s security is often the first to notice something odd. It’s partly because other residents raise the first complaints to them (e.g. loud noises, or big crowds of people frequenting your property). But there’s another reason too:

When someone uses your property for an illegal business – such as a makeshift massage parlour – there’ll be a bigger number of visitors. If there are six or seven cars coming in every day and dropping your house address, the guards will know it. If your tenant is illegally subletting, security will notice that new group of residents who never seem to have a pass card.

So if you think something’s wrong, speak to your condo’s security first. You can also tell them your suspicions; most security contractors are happy (and kaypoh enough) to keep an eye on your property, and drop you a message of strange goings-on.

  1. Google your rental property address from time to time, and see what turns up

When it comes to illicit businesses, like brothels and gambling dents, the address sometimes pops up online. There’s sometimes a customer who can’t shut up, and will blab about it on a forum or social media.

For that reason, Google your property address from time to time. You might see your property address appear on a sex-forum discussion, or a site discussing high stakes Poker games. At which point you can get shocked, blow your drink out your left nostril, and then shout about terminating the lease.

  1. Take note of increased maintenance

If you’re getting a lot more complaints about choked toilets, air-conditioners that need cleaning, or dryers / laundry machines breaking down, be on guard. It may be time for a proper inspection of your rental property, or to speak to condo security and neighbours.

On their own, these may be nothing. But if there’s an overall increase in the need for maintenance, that could be due to a rise in the number of tenants.

  1. Be on friendly terms with the neighbours

Whether you do it with a fruit basket or a bottle of wine every Christmas, always be on good terms with the neighbours. If they don’t know you, they won’t be inclined to text you that your tenant’s had 40 different male visitors in one week (what they will do is send it to Stomp, for the $50).

Neighbours can also act as a deterrent to illicit businesses. If the neighbours are your friends, ask them to name-drop you on occasion (e.g. they can tell the tenant “I thought there would only be five residents, <insert your name> told me last week). They can be a way to tell your tenants not to even think about trying something funny.

  1. During official inspections, keep an eye out for certain things

When you get the chance to inspect the property, look for the following:

  • Discolouration of surfaces near the stove or oven (someone is doing a lot of cooking, every day)
  • A fridge that’s unusually packed, given the number of residents. A lone tenant shouldn’t have a fridge filled to the brim and ready to burst anytime.
  • A massive collection of of shoes, umbrellas, sandals, etc. at the shoe rack area, despite there being just one or two residents
  • Big piles of extension cords, with 12 different types of chargers plugged in despite there being just one tenant
  • Incongruent items (e.g. in one instance, a landlord realised the tenant was using the property for a dog-grooming side-business, due to the presence of pet care products with no pets).

None of these are definite signs of illegal subletting – but they do clue you in on whether you need to be wary!

Check out other rental related articles here:  Subletting your flat and 6 telltale signs to look out for with regards to unruly neighbours.

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