Scanning the market to rent a new apartment is always a tough job. You need to be prepared as there are scammers out there looking to take advantage of possible emotional vulnerability. If you wish to avoid all the various rental scams out there, check out the following guide. We’ve structured the article so you can familiarize yourself with the most common rental scams. Then you can learn the signs used to spot a rental scam and receive helpful tips to avoid shady schemes and frauds when apartment hunting.
Scam artists will see prospective tenants as opportunities for their schemes because people can become more trusting when they’re excited about finding a new place to live. There’s also the issue of time as you might be in a hurry to rent an apartment so scammers can employ various tactics to take advantage of that desperation. The likelihood of falling victim to a rental scam can be lowered through different methods. Let’s first take a look at the most common types of rental scams.
1. Types of Rental Scams
One of the most popular methods used by rental scammers relies on “leasing” a property they do not legally own. The potential tenant can be pressured to pay the security deposit and even prepaid rent while the scammer is in no position to do such a thing. Typically, the scammer could be a tenant that needs to vacate the property so he can actually show you a real apartment as if he’s the landlord. The fraudster will quickly disappear after he scammed the unsuspecting apartment hunters.
Creating fake listings for inexistent properties to rent represents another common tactic. Another type of rental scam involves signing the lease for a different apartment than the one advertised. This is the so-called bait-and-switch method. Alternatively, scammers can try to collect money for rental homes that have been already leased so you should be aware of that as well.
2. Spotting a Rental Scam and How to Avoid it
There are certain signs that can be more or less suspicious when it comes to detecting rental scams. We’ll explore all the important ones as well as some helpful advice to learn how to steer clear from a rental fraudster.
- Never Sign a Lease Sight-Unseen
A large majority of rental problems start from signing the lease without actually checking out the apartment in person. Be careful about landlords that try to get you to rent sight-unseen as this is a huge red flag. Whether it’s you personally or someone you trust, it’s essential to get a good look at the potential apartment before you sign anything or pay the fees. This is a good starting point to significantly cut down on the risk of getting scammed.
- Check the Listing Carefully
Many prospective tenants can stumble upon some “too good to be true” rentals. You probably already know what they look like. They’re the ideal properties with lots of amenities and no location compromises at a suspiciously lower cost compared to all the others. These listings can be often fake and used by scammers so you need to be extra careful before deciding anything.
Some listings may not feel obviously fake but they can be riddled with too many grammatical errors or strange spellings. Proceed with caution when dealing with these kinds of ads. Other listings can conveniently leave out very important details like the address or property photos. Scammers can craft listings very skillfully to make them feel as real as possible but a bit of research can take you a long way to ensure that you’re looking at a genuine rental place.
- Watch Out for Lack of Background Checks
It’s definitely a strange sign when a landlord doesn’t rely on any sort of screening process to find tenants. Certain fraudsters attempt to scam particularly vulnerable people such as those with criminal records or bad credit who have difficulties in finding a good rental.
You should be suspicious whenever the landlord doesn’t seem to be interested in the prospective tenant. Scammers can often appear a bit too eager to lease the apartment. Landlords that don’t want to negotiate the rent or don’t care about employment may be impostors.
- Don’t Wire Money and Never Give Them Cash
Receiving untraceable payment is one of the ideal scenarios for any rental scammer. Paying the landlord in cash should never be done, particularly for the security deposit. If the landlord wants you to wire money via Western Union, Venmo, Moneygram or a similar service that’s difficult to trace, it’s safe to say that it’s highly suspicious. You can see wiring money as the same thing as handing out cash.
Another important aspect that can be considered relevant is whether the landlord asks for a strangely large security deposit or excessive fees. Unless he offers some legitimate reasons, it’s a glaring sign that you’re dealing with a scammer who just wants to squeeze out as much money as possible from you before he disappears.
- Always Meet the Landlord in Person
There’s a particular rental scam that can be found circulating which involves the landlord telling you that he’s away on a trip or vacation. He will usually lower the rent in exchange for not being able to show the apartment. Then he might ask for the security deposit before signing the lease which represents a considerable red flag. Scammers can go so far that they even send you fake keys to the apartment.
For this reason, meeting the landlord in person is always the preferable situation. Keep in mind that lots of scammers aren’t afraid of going to a meeting but it gives you a good opportunity to check your suspicions and get a good impression. Some landlords are legitimately out of town but you need to insist on finding a solution to avoid fraud, such as relying on a management company.
- Identify the Owner
As a prospective tenant, it’s not always clear if the person that tries to lease the apartment is actually the legal owner. To avoid rental scams, it’s a good idea to do some research and identify the owner. This is particularly recommended if there are suspicious signs and you want to make sure you don’t become a fraud victim.
One method to identify the owner is to review deeds as you cross-reference the PIN of the property with recent deed records. There’s quite a lot of effort involved and you may not always be in luck, depending on the area you live in. Sometimes the owner doesn’t have to be disclosed but it’s worth a shot.
- Speak With the Current Tenants
When a landlord shows you a property that’s currently occupied, this is usually a very good sign. Chances are low that he’s involved in fraudulent schemes. The presence of tenants gives you a good opportunity to dis-spell misinformation about the apartment and make sure there’s nothing unusual going on.
Ideally, you should try to speak with the current tenants discreetly while somehow avoiding the presence of the landlord. This might help you with your decision to lease the apartment as you can discover how the landlord behaves with the tenants. While showing you an occupied property is the norm, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be suspicious of a landlord that shows an empty apartment.