The rental industry is filled with people that prey on unsuspecting would-be tenants. If you are looking for a home or apartment to rent, protect yourself from rental scams by learning how to spot them early on.
Signs You Are Dealing With a Scammer
Scam rentals affect millions of American renters. In fact, according to an Apartment List survey conducted in 2018, more than 5 million renters in the United States fell victim to rental fraud. And while many have learned from their mistakes, there are still renters who fall for scammer tactics.
As with other schemes, rental scams also come with their fair share of tell-tale signs. Here are the most common red flags to help you identify scam listings:
Poorly Written Listing
If you come across a listing written with poor grammar or several typos, there is a good chance it is a scam listing. Real landlords or property managers don’t make the mistake of writing a bad listing. They also make sure to proofread everything they write so they come across professionally. Scammers, on the other hand, are more focused on making a quick buck and typically don’t care about writing a decent listing.
Refusing to Meet or Show the Property
A big part of the renting process is meeting your landlord and viewing the property in person. But, when a landlord refuses to meet you or show the listing through anything other than photos, then you probably have a scam listing in your hands.
Scammers will use any excuse to make it seem like they sincerely can’t meet you face-to-face. They might say they’re out of town or sick. Remember that any good landlord would want to talk to their tenant to get to know them a little better. Even if an in-person meeting isn’t possible, you can always compromise by setting up a video chat and a real-time video tour of the property.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that meeting someone — anyone — claiming to be the landlord is already a sign of an authentic listing. Scammers could have someone pose as the landlord to earn your trust, but they rarely have access to the actual property. As such, in addition to meeting the landlord, you should also always ask to see the property. If they are who they claim to be, then they should have no trouble showing you the listing in person.
Scammers have a single goal — to get money from you as fast as possible and then disappear completely. Because of this, most housing scams involve asking you to pay a large sum of money upfront before even meeting you in person, showing you the listing, or signing a lease.
They will also ask you to send the money instead of giving it to them in person as this would make them identifiable.
Most renting processes will involve application fees, which are normal. But, it is not normal or acceptable for a landlord to ask for a security deposit or rent before signing a lease. Scammers may claim to live far away and, therefore, can’t receive the money in person. They will ask you to wire them the money instead before they send you the keys. Never fall for this trap.
Rent Too Low
Another good way to spot a rental scam is when the price is too low. It is rare for properties to be priced at a significantly lower rental rate compared to similar properties. Scammers advertise a low rental rate to persuade you to ask fast out of fear that the unit may go to someone else if you hesitate. To avoid this, make sure to educate yourself on the market rental rates in the area.
Sometimes, though, a landlord might price their unit lower than the market rate because of a flaw. For instance, the unit may be in an area that floods easily or may be positioned close to a noisy construction site.
Suspiciously High Deposit or Advance Fees
Scammers want to get the most out of each ploy as possible, so they will take any chance to charge high fees and run. This could be in the form of too many advance fees or an expensive security deposit. If the person is asking you to pay an unusually high amount as a deposit, investigate further. Remember not to pay a deposit or rent before meeting them in person, seeing the property, and signing a lease.
No Screenings Necessary
A good landlord screens tenants because they want to know they can trust you. The screening process is a way to filter out bad tenants. But, renting scams don’t require screenings because scammers aren’t really worried about the quality of the tenant. As such, if a landlord doesn’t ask you to fill out a rental application or for a credit check, then you’re probably not dealing with a genuine or decent landlord.
Incomplete or No Lease
Without a lease, there is nothing binding you and the landlord in an agreement. So if a landlord asks you to pay money without even offering a lease, that’s a huge red flag.
Some landlords will ask you to have an incomplete lease to sign. This is a bad idea as the landlord can change the terms of the lease any time they want without your consent. You can easily avoid this, though, by reviewing your lease thoroughly before signing. Make sure there aren’t any blank spaces that can later be filled or language that can easily be misinterpreted.
Overly Eager and Pushy Landlords
Scammers have to act fast so that there’s no room for their victims to grow suspicious. This is why they will use high-pressure sales tactics on you, scaring you that someone else is interested; this is to inspire you to jump on the offer at once. They will be as pushy as they need to be, doing or saying anything that will get you to pay them money immediately.
No Lawyers Necessary
While you don’t really need a lawyer to go over your lease, landlords that absolutely insist on leaving lawyers out of the agreement are generally not to be trusted. It only means that the landlord is trying to get you to sign the lease as fast as possible so they can get your money and run. In a case where they actually do own the property, it might be because they’re trying to get you to sign an incomplete or unfair lease.
How to Avoid Renters Scams
In your quest to find a nice, affordable apartment to rent immediately, it is easy to fall into a scammer’s trap. The best way to avoid apartment rental frauds, though, is to familiarize yourself with what red flags to watch out for.
Do your own research when it comes to rental rates, and don’t be afraid to question everything. If something seems suspicious to you, it is worth investigating further.
Many scammers rely on stolen photos from actual apartment listings that they pass as their own. Therefore, as a tenant, you should always insist on viewing the property in person or taking a live video tour. You should also make a point to meet your landlord face-to-face so that you know you’re talking to the real deal.
Of course, if all of this sounds like too much work for you, then you’d be better off partnering with a property management company. A property manager or management company can help you find a property that meets your needs and budget. Thanks to years of experience, they are also well-versed in spotting rental scams from a mile away. Thus, hiring a property manager or management company is a surefire way to avoid getting scammed.
After the Scam: What Should Victims Do
The first thing you should do after getting scammed is to contact the website where you saw the listing. Make sure they take down the listing so that no one else will fall victim. After that, you have a few options.
- Report the incident to local law enforcement and press charges once they find the culprit.
- File a report with your state consumer protection office.
- Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Protect Yourself from Rental Fraud
Rental scams take place all the time. The best thing you can do is to focus on what you can control. Educate yourself on the warning signs of a fraudulent rental, insist on meeting the landlord and viewing the property, always look for and review your lease, and never pay rent or deposit without signing a lease.
Millions of renters have lost money on rental scams. Don’t be a statistic. When possible, seek out a reputable property management company, such as, Innovation Property Management, Inc., to make your next property your dream and not your nightmare.