Red flags (even when a false alarm is better than no alarm)

Beware brothels, cannabis farms and brothels

The underworld of brothels is one that many people in the UK are blissfully unaware of – but that’s the problem. They’re operating all around us behind closed doors; from built-up urban areas, to some of the countryside’s most unlikely rural corners. 

This has also led to the rise of ‘pop-up’ brothels, where two or more sex workers work out of short-term rentals.

A lot of brothel businesses are run by criminals so there’s often an undercurrent of violence. This really puts a landlord’s property at risk, with drug issues, property damage and of course, very concerned and possibly vulnerable neighbours. It’s a dark situation that can have serious complications for landlords found involved in any way – not to mention the potential financial losses surrounding the reputation a property can quickly establish. I

How can I spot a brothel in my rental?

There’s a lot of red flags that you should be able to pick up if you’re suspicious of any goings-on within your rental property. If you don’t live locally to the property, your neighbours will be your eyes and ears. It’s probably best not to explicitly voice your suspicions to them, but there’s no harm in asking them if they see a range of people visiting the property, or whether they can identify your tenants. A lot of different people visiting the property and an influx of cars parked around it will be a huge tell-tale sign. This is likely to happen during all times of the day and night, as brothels are usually open for 24 hours.

No Furnishings

If a property is sparsely furnished then this can be another sign that it’s being used as a brothel. There may be a couple of beds and sofas and perhaps a kettle and little else. It’s low maintenance and easy to pack up and leave with if needed. Look out for tenants who insist on making rent payments in cash.   They also may want to pay for long periods up front, which should always be treated suspiciously. If you do suspect that your property is being used for the sex trade, don’t attempt to confront the tenants yourself. Contact the police as soon as you can and leave them to gather the evidence and prosecute the perpetrators. 


We’d always advise you to add a clause into your tenancy agreement stating that the property cannot be used as a business. This means that if you do find yourself in this situation, you have the grounds to serve your tenants with a section 8 eviction notice for breaching their contract. Confused yet? It’s always a good idea to seek specific legal advice on this subject if you’re unsure. It’s not an area of the law that we advise you to take into your own hands, but it’s good to be aware of the laws and where you stand should you ever find yourself in the middle of it all.

What is subletting?

Subletting is when a tenant rents all or part of a landlord’s property to someone else, who’s known as a subtenant. The subtenant pays rent directly to the original tenant, instead of the landlord.

Anyone living permanently in a rental property who isn’t named on the tenancy agreement is a subtenant. However, someone staying in the property on a short-term basis (with your permission) isn’t considered a subtenant.

Tenants sublet in different ways – they may rent out an extra room in the property while they’re still living there, or rent out the whole property while they live at a different address.

The reasons for subletting also vary. For example, an existing tenant may need to move away for a few months, or they may need more tenants to help pay the rent.

Is subletting illegal?

Subletting is illegal if a tenant needs their landlord’s permission to sublet and they do so without getting it. It’s also illegal if a tenant sublets a property when their tenancy agreement says they’re not allowed to.

Breaking the tenancy agreement is fraud, so when this happens landlords can take legal action such as an eviction.

What is legal subletting?

Subletting is legal if tenants have your permission to rent to someone else. You might make it clear in the tenancy agreement that you’re happy for tenants to sublet, or you may say they need to ask your permission.

In some cases, subletting can be beneficial for both parties. For example, if you have a long-term tenant who needs to work away for a few months, subletting a room allows you to keep the tenant and make sure the rent is still being paid.

This solution is less hassle for you as you don’t have to relet the property, and you won’t have a void period.

Landlords should make it clear in the tenancy agreement whether they allow tenants to accept lodgers. For example, the tenancy agreement may explain that the landlord allows tenants to accept lodgers under any circumstances, under certain conditions, or not at all.

Signs Of Cannabis Cultivation And How To Prevent It As A Landlord

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. In severe cases, flammable gases used to create butane hash oil can cause an explosion.

Preventative measures to secure a vacant property and thorough background checks are two ways to prevent this situation in the first place – but if you do pick up on any of the following signs of cannabis farming, you’ll know to nip it in the bud by informing the police:

Too many or too little bin bags. If your tenant is rarely putting out the bins, it suggests that they’re not living in the property. On the flip-side, a mountain of bin bags could contain cannabis plants.

Condensation. The mixture of high heat and moisture needed to grow the cannabis plant will result in higher than average condensation levels on the windows. Blacked out windows. Cannabis plants require a lot of artificial light, so look out for curtains which are permanently closed or blacked-out windows.

Smell. Cannabis has a very distinct, sweet aroma which will be present in the last four weeks of the growing process.

Loud fans. Extractor fans can combat the condensation issue, but can present another warning sound loud and clear in the form of a continuous hum.

Security. Bars on the window and CCTV may seem excessive for any law-abiding tenant.

Evidence of tampering with wires inside the property is also a sign, but obviously, if your tenant is growing cannabis they may be reluctant to allow you round for an inspection. 

To avoid inadvertently lending your property to criminal activity, don’t allow anyone to move in who offers cash for a short-term lease up front, and never forgo a background check. 

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