The process of looking for a rental is already challenging enough for you to also have to be aware of rental scams right? Rental scams are one of the biggest nightmares of everyone who is looking for a rental, you may have already fallen victim to one or heard horror stories about people who lose their money on one.
Thousands of people lose their money on rental scams every year, according to apartmentlist.com about 5.2 million renters have fallen victim to an apartment scam or house scam, and these days where people rely hugely on the internet and sites like Zillow or Craigslist to find the perfect rental, it becomes easier to fall in a scam. These are some of the most common rental scams that you may encounter:
- Copied Listing: The scammer copies the description of a dream listing, posts it, and lowers the price to an amount that is too good to be true. They don’t offer to do a virtual tour and will manipulate you to pay an upfront deposit with the excuse that there is a high interest in the property.
- Expensive Background Checks: All landlords perform background checks on their prospective tenants to ensure they will be reliable renters. The cost of that process is usually included in the renter’s application fee but some scammers will ask you to pay a huge amount of money to cover the process.
- Bait-And-Switch: The scammer will advertise a property that looks nothing like the real one, they will pressure you into paying a security deposit.
- Hijacked Ads: Posting a real property but putting fake contact information.
- Already Leased Property: The scammer will try to get you to pay a security deposit for a property that is already leased.
- Missing Amenities: In this case, the landlord does own the property but they offer different amenities on the listing such as a laundry machine, a hot tub, a security system, or an AC to order to charge a higher rent. They will usually try to get you to sign a lease agreement before you notice the missing things.
- Fake Landlord: A scammer finds a vacant property, breaks in, changes the locks, and proceeds to show it to potential tenants. You may even move in only to find later by a real state agent that the property doesn’t belong to the scammer.
Red Flags to Identify Rent Scams
Sometimes, it can be hard to realize that you are being lied to by a would-be landlord. This is why it is so important to be aware of a few common red flags you should look out for when looking for a new place.
- The landlord doesn’t care about doing a background check – Professional landlords will look for reliable tenants so if you encounter one that doesn’t care to know your proof of income and is desperate to sign the lease, that person is probably a scammer.
- The landlord is “out of the country” – You want to visit the property but the landlord claims to be out of the property or always have a family emergency but try to pressure you into signing the contract before looking at the property.
- The property photos have an MLS watermark – Scammers usually steal pictures for reliable listing sites where only professional real estate agents post so if you notice that the photo has a watermark, look up closely to identify who actually owns the photo.
- There is vague information in the description – If the landlord can’t even correctly describe the address of the property or the details seem vague, it is probably a scammer. Another red flag is the listing description has poor grammar or typos.
How to Avoid Rental Scams
In addition to understanding how common rental scams work, it’s also important to know what steps you should take if you want to avoid being the victim of a rental scam. Read on to learn a few tips for ensuring that your apartment-hunting experience is a good one.
1. Avoid Paying With Cash
Avoid using cash and wire transfer to pay the security deposit or the first month upfront. Once scammers receive the money they will disappear and you will never know from them. If the landlord insists that they want just cash, go away.
2. Meet the Landlord in Person
Today, you can find different online platforms that will allow you to sign an electronic document, do a virtual tour of the property, and pay rent but you should always take some time to meet the actual homeowner of the property, the person who is legally capable of renting you the house.
In some cases, the landlord can give you access to the property without being in person but that doesn’t mean that he or she is the actual homeowner.
A trustworthy landlord will want to meet you since they need to confirm that you will follow the rules of the lease. Ask the landlord for his or her homeownership documents and the lease agreement should include the name of the homeowner. If the homeowner says that they will later send the documents, run away.
3. Never Pay a Deposit to Reserve a Listing
A scammer will use tactics and manipulation to pressure you into putting a deposit to “hold” the listing because there is a high interest in it.
4. Look at the Property in Person
A reliable landlord will be happy to show you the property, this step is important because you will confirm if the place looks exactly like the pictures and everything is in good condition, verify if all the amenities that are offered are in the house. Never trust a landlord that pressures you to move in without looking at the property first.
5. Be Wary of Anything That Seems Too Good to Be True
Listings that are too good to be true are common in Craigslist rental scams and Zillow rental scams. You find a beautiful property in a nice neighborhood that has a price well below the market rates, look at properties that are in the same location, and have the same size to compare rent prices.
6. Never Sign an Incomplete Lease
Read through the lease agreement to make sure everything is complete and the rent matches, never rely just on a verbal agreement or sign an incomplete agreement because the landlord could change the lease terms and rules anytime without letting you know. Then get a copy of the contract.
7. Do Your Research
You can find reliable information on the listings you are interested in using the internet. Search the property image on Google to find if there are similar ones, maybe you find the same property listed in another state or even country, that is a sign that is a scam. If there is a real estate company representing the landlord, look for information about it online, including some reviews.