Too Good to be True: Glasgow Rental Nightmare

Words of Warning on Glasgow Rental Properties

Student Tours Scotland is aware that many students come to Glasgow seeking short term rents. While we cannot help in any way we can spread words of warning. Careful folks. Here is a story from one of our students that will make you think twice before you sign up for something that seems to good to be true.

“Hi, is Sam in?” I asked through the intercom.

“Come in,” replied the girl whom I’ve never met instead, her voice tired and long-suffering.

I was standing on Herbert Street, behind Landsowne Parish Church, practically opposite of the Kelvinbridge subway. The Sam I wanted to meet was someone who had put up a Gumtree ad just about a week ago advertising a room available for rent in Flat B. I had sent an inquiry as I was looking for somewhere to stay for only three months while I wait for my graduation. Short-term lets like that can be hard to come by and often most landlords aren’t interested in entertaining such short-term rentals.  And I could not afford the cost if I went with options such as Airbnb, and youth hostels were simply out of the question considering the amount of stuff I’d managed to accumulate in one year. Sam’s offer was affordable and the location convenient. He seemed agreeable to my situation and told me on Friday that I could move in that coming Wednesday.

From that weekend on however, I could not get in touch with him to confirm what time can I come in. And that was how I found myself on Tuesday morning, speaking to Sam’s former flatmate who had no idea what went on but somehow found herself with the unenviable task of having to explain to at least half-a-dozen people that the person they'd spoken with had made off with their deposit money and could now no longer be found.

The scam, as it went down, went like this: Sam (who was actually the occupant of one of the rooms in the flat) put up an ad on Gumtree, indicating that he had a room to rent out. Those who came to see the flat were told that to secure the room, all they needed was to hand in a deposit (of varying amounts), and they should hurry as interest was high.  Some had even left their luggage behind, while others had arrived that Tuesday morning to unsurprising confusion, as everyone tried to sort out what exactly happened. One even had his guitar vanish along with Sam.

I met with three others who fell for the scam later in the late afternoon as we went to the police station to lodge a report. They were all Erasmus students who were here in Glasgow for only a semester and the common trait we shared was the urgency of finding a short-term rental. Like them, I had found that many prospective rentals would prefer longer term tenants; unlike them, I at least had not lost anything valuable other than the ‘deposit’ I had handed over.  A couple of them showed the handwritten papers that was their ‘contract’ to the police officer – but unfortunately those documents, such as they were, meant nothing and had no legal standing.

The actual landlord to the flat in Herbert Street was right in one sense: we should not have been foolish enough to enter into the arrangement. And I plead no excuse but my own sense of urgency, and failing to heed the old adage, ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’

The basic lesson of the whole episode is simply, don’t hand over money without a formal contract, especially when you have no means to guarantee the reputation of the other party. Yes, we made the police report, and yes, unbelievably, the boy has an active Facebook profile, but the fact is, unless he turns himself in, it’s unlikely we will ever see our money and goods back.

Unsurprisingly, this kind of scam finds its natural victims in the newcomers to the cities like international students, who tend to be less aware about what to look out for in looking for places to stay, especially when arrangements like these tend to depend on trusting on the honesty of the other party with no other formal protection. As I parted ways with the boys, I shook their hands and said ruefully, “Welcome to Glasgow”.

To date, there’s been no update to the police investigation, except for the officer calling me for further questions, since I’m the only one, apparently, who understands his Scottish-accented English.