Top 9 Signs of a Rental Scam and How to Avoid Them
Unfortunately, the rental world is susceptible to scammers. In fact, it has become somewhat common. There’s probably a good chance you have had your own experience with a rental scam or have heard stories from friends and family. While the Internet has made it very easy to find a rental, that has also made it easier for renters to become victims of apartment rental fraud.
Have you ever found a listing that sounded perfect or maybe even a little too good to be true on a rental site? Chances are, it probably was too good to be true. These are some of the most common rental scam warning signs and strategies for how to avoid them.
Rental Scam Warning Signs
One common tactic used by scammers is copying actual listings. They might take the details from a dream apartment and lower the listed price by hundreds or even thousands. Some tenant scammers will even take the identical information and simply change the email address or contact information. Then they will place the modified ad on another website.
A unit that is slightly under market value might not be a problem, but if it’s significantly undervalued, that’s a red flag. Scammers will try to attract inexperienced buyers who are simply looking for a good deal with this tactic.
Typos or Poor Grammar
Beware of listings that are full of errors like typos, poor grammar, or excessive punctuation. A serious landlord or property manager will take the time to write a good listing. If you see a listing with any of these things, it was most likely created by a scanner.
Viewing Landlord Scams
Sometimes the landlord may not be the one showing the property. If that is the case, always inquire who they are and how they should be contacted. If the person doesn’t have those details or you cannot reach them using this information, it’s likely to be a landlord scam.
Also, always view any apartment you are considering buying in person. 99% of scam attempts occur because tenants didn’t follow that one, important rule.
No Screening Process
As a tenant, you want to rent from high-quality landlords. Professional landlords will have a screening process to ensure they only have quality tenants. If the landlord doesn’t require a rental application or credit check, consider it a red flag. There’s a chance they are unconcerned because it’s a tenant scam or because they are inexperienced. Either way, be a little suspicious.
Expensive Background Checks
It’s very typical for landlords to perform background checks on tenants before move-in. Landlords need to make sure the people living in their properties are exactly who they say they are. Many times, the rental application fee will include the price of the background check. Some scammers may ask for way more money than is necessary and say it is to cover the background check. If you are asked for more than $30-$60 to pay for a background check, beware. That is a landlord scam.
Asking for Money Before Signing
Asking for rent or money for a security deposit before signing a lease is another red flag that you may be getting involved in a tenant scam. You will never be asked to hand over a large sum of money before seeing or having each party sign a lease. Application fees are acceptable, but the first month’s rent is not.
Although you don’t technically need a written lease, be wary of a landlord who tries to get you into an apartment without one. If they try to get money from you without even considering that you might want a lease, think twice about that agreement. The supposed landlord might not have a lease to show you at all. Even a month-to-month lease usually has some sort of formal agreement outlining each party’s responsibilities.
Pressure to Commit
A red flag in this situation is them telling you that they’ve had a high volume of interest and in order to reserve it, you have to pay a deposit immediately. While properties may move fast, that pressure should not keep you from making rational, smart decisions. They might also refuse to give you a tour until you submit your first payment. Always make sure that you have seen the apartment before paying any money. Common excuses are the landlord saying they’re out of town, overseas temporarily, or dealing with a family emergency. These may sound believable at first, but you should always avoid situations where you pay before even seeing the apartment.
How to Avoid Rental Scams
Even if you haven’t seen any of these warning signs, here are other ways to avoid rental scams.
Research the Company Online
Companies and individuals can own rental properties. When you find a property you might be interested in, research the owner. Find out what other properties they own, if any. You will also want to see what the online reviews say. If there aren’t any or if they have a bad reputation, you will want to stay away.
Speak to Other Tenants
When possible, also try speaking to current or even former tenants. Someone who has lived in the apartment before or is doing it now will be the best source of information. Some questions you may want to ask would be the cost of utilities, rent increases, and any other details the landlord might not want to share.
Verify the Address
All listings will (or should) have the address associated with them. Copy and paste that address into your search engine to find out what the street view looks like. If there isn’t a property there or it looks different from the photos, the listing is likely an apartment rental fraud.
Research Comparable Options
Although we all like a good deal, rentals are not something that comes discounted. You may find a deal like the first month’s rent free, but anything much more than that should be concerning. Research what other rentals in comparable buildings, areas, and of similar size are going for. You should keep that in mind when looking at properties.
Last but not least, if something feels fishy, it probably is. Trust your instincts – it’s better to be safe than sorry. Use a reliable and trustworthy company like SRE Holdings to prevent you from falling for rental scams.