Serious and organised crime prevention officers for the Forth Valley division have issued landlords in the area with information to help them know what to look out for when it comes to potential ventures run by organised crime gangs.
In the correspondence, officers stated: “We would like to circulate some information to help you protect yourselves from criminal organisations who take advantage of the private rental sector and offer you some advice into how to help prevent this from happening and the types of criminality that can occur.
“As a landlord, you will likely trust your tenants, especially those tenants who pay their rent on time, keep the property neat and tidy and show no signs that they are involved in criminality.
“However, serious and organised crime groups often take advantage of the rental industry, using these properties as a base to conduct criminal activity.”
Some of the examples of the ways organised crime gangs exploit local landlords include human trafficking, cannabis cultivation and brothels.
Human trafficking is the process of trapping people through the use of violence, deception or coercion and exploiting them for financial or personal gain. This can be things like persons being groomed and forced into sexual exploitation, tricked into accepting risky job offers and trapped in forced labour in building sites, farms or factories, recruited to work in private homes only to be trapped, exploited and abused behind closed doors with no way out.
People do not have to be transported across borders for trafficking to take place. It can take place within a single country, or even within a single community. People can be trafficked and exploited in many forms, including being forced into sexual exploitation, labour, begging, crime – such as growing cannabis or dealing drugs – domestic servitude, marriage or organ removal.
In terms of human trafficking, landlords can be on the lookout for a number of signs which may seem innocent at first glance, but in combination may be a sign of human trafficking.
These signs include a dwelling having too many people living in it, the property drawing an unusual amount of traffic, tenants installing interior locks on doors and windows – to keep people in, not to keep people out.
Other warning signs are tenants or applicants not having access to their own personal documents, adult tenants not appearing to be allowed to drive themselves or travel alone anywhere, tenants or residents always seeming to need someone else to speak for them and individuals appearing fearful or showing signs of abuse or malnourishment.
Cannabis cultivation is another money spinner for organised criminals.
The large-scale use of this class B drug is supported not only by industrial-scale cannabis farming at commercial premises, but by residential properties.
For landlords who are unwittingly housing cannabis farmers, the best case scenario could see walls knocked down to make room, flooding or extensive damp from watering systems, and eventually lost rent.
Signs of potential cannabis farming include too many or too little bin bags – it a tenant is rarely putting out the bins, it suggests they are not living in the property. On the flip-side, a mountain of bin bags could contain cannabis plants.
Condensation is another warning sign – the mixture of high heat and moisture needed to grow the cannabis plants results in higher than average condensation levels on the windows.
Blacked out windows are also a giveaway because cannabis plants require a lot of artificial light – so landlords should look out for curtains which are permanently closed or blacked-out windows.
The biggest tip off is smell – cannabis has a very distinct, sweet aroma which will be present in the last four weeks of the growing process.
When it comes to brothels – a premises used by more worker for prostitution – this too can be exploited by organised crime groups and can often go hand in hand with things like antisocial behavior, drug abuse, human trafficking and other serious crime that have a detrimental impact on the community.
Gangs can often use private lets to set up short term “pop up” brothels, allowing them to move from area to area as they try to raise as little suspicion as
Signs to look out for include limited, or scarcely, furnished premises which give the appearance no one actually lives in them.
Multiple women living at the same address, or who may be brought to and taken from the address by an individual, should also set alarm bells ringing as does multiple vehicles visiting the property at any one time and many frequent visitors – usually male – who do not stay for long periods of time.
Summarising the dangers of organised crime for landlords, the correspondence stated: “Best practice when taking on any new tenant would be to carry out as much background checks you can.
“Whether it be proof of identity, financial circumstances, credit checks, references or anything else you can do to ensure you are renting your property out to the right person.
“You can also carry out regular inspections of your properties and look out for the signs we have highlighted.”
If anyone has concerns any sort of criminal activity is occurring within a properties they can report the matter to police at www.scotland.police.uk or call 101 for non-emergency or in an immediate emergency dial 999.