Invasive Referencing

Private renting is an area with several very large problems and a thousand smaller problems. One of those small issues is how much some landlords want to pry before you’ve even moved in.

When we were last moving we got as far as putting a holding deposit on a flat that looked promising.  After we passed our reference details to the letting agent, they got in touch saying that the landlord wanted to see our bank statements. This was a new thing to us – when you’re going through a letting agency this seems part of their very thin reason for existing. You tell them who you work for and how much they’re paying you – they then charge an absurd fee to get someone else to check that to see if you can afford the rent.

A quick google told us was actually fairly common, and in fact found posts on landlord forums (which are some of the grossest places on the internet outside 4chan) where some landlords say they insist on it – they’re taking the risk letting out the house you understand. A word on this: the “risk” of the landlord is a privilege of making money off owning property – they’re welcome not to. The risk of substandard housing, irresponsible landlords, rip-off fees and insecure living can’t be opted out of nearly as easily.

But renting comes down to a contract between two people. Landlords can ask to see anything they want before judging a tenant worthy. Tenants are of course free to walk away and find someone else. But you know, good luck.

Landlords who want to see bank statements aren’t being financially prudent – they’re being creepy. Giving a potential landlord an itemised bill of everything you spend money on and how much money you have in the world to your name is personal stuff. But we wanted somewhere to live so, like many others, we handed it all over.

He then wanted to meet to interview us personally – and when we talked we quickly realised we were not at all comfortable having any kind of professional relationship with this man – let alone involving something as important as our home. So we took the decision to walk away and look for somewhere else to live (with a week to find it). The place we ended up wasn’t quite as nice, but there’s no doubt in my mind it was the right thing to do. I’m sure he disposed of our personal information in a secure and safe way.

This inquisition into our finances was all especially galling given the problem with the previous landlord was that they were financially unable to uphold their side of the contract. We didn’t have a working oven for the first four months because they couldn’t afford a replacement, other repairs to the house (two months with a broken shower) dragged on for financial reasons. At the end of the tenancy it took three months to get our deposit back. Through the wonder of deposit protection we got every penny – the landlord didn’t even contest, they just wanted to drag out the process to hang on to our money for as long as possible. Just in the time we were waiting for our deposit house prices in the area went up 1.7%. I suspect this was somewhat more than the value of our deposit.

Tenants need to bow and scrape to prove they are financially worthy of renting. We have to give deposits to be dipped into if we’re deemed to have committed some property sin (which are often part-withheld knowing that tenants can’t afford to contest – they need it quickly for the next place).  Landlords, who also have financial obligations, for some reason don’t have an equivalent deposit. It’s a contract between equals you understand. But they have the house.

Do you have a story about a renting issue you’ve experienced? Get in touch contact@wf-renters.org.uk

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