Scams exist in every industry, and the rental industry is no different. Having a place to call home is important, and renters often want to believe that landlords and property managers are exactly who they say they are. Unfortunately, some scammers take advantage of this trust and pose as landlords or property managers to trick potential tenants. Usually, these scammers are after either money or information, so it’s worth being extra cautious with both when you’re looking for an apartment.
Here are some common types of rental scams to watch out for:
There’s something—or a lot of things—off about the listing
The most straightforward way to see if a listing is a scam is to search online for the language in the listing’s ad. If you see certain phrases repeated over and over (that aren’t common rental terms) or taken directly from other listings, you’ve likely stumbled upon a scam listing. Since this type of scam often steals language from legitimate listings, they’re also known as copycat or copied listings.
Other telltale signs include tons of errors in the listing such as typos and strange or unnecessary punctuation. Most landlords want to attract the best tenants possible, so they write the listing with care. Scammers usually aren’t so careful.
Checks for checks
During the rental process, it’s common for landlords or property managers to ask their prospective tenants to provide key information such as their credit history, rental history, proof of income, criminal record, and more. This is to verify your identity and make sure you can pay your rent. Most rental application fees have the price of this background check factored in already. However, some scammers will demand a separate, exorbitantly high fee for the background check. Any fee above $60 should raise a red flag. You should also avoid paying on the spot for a background check.
Amazingly cheap listings or the “bait and switch”
Picture this: you’re browsing rental listings online and you stumble across the apartment of your dreams. It’s got in-unit laundry, easy parking, accessibility, and utilities included all for a monthly rent that’s much lower than other comparable listings. In fact, it’s almost too good to be true.
At times like these, it’s best to trust your gut. Things like the market rate exist for a reason. If a listing is priced significantly under market rate, appears to be in stellar condition, and has an abundance of amenities, it’s likely fake. An easy way to gauge market rate is to check other listings in the area that have similar amenities. If the apartment you’ve found is markedly cheaper than these listings, steer clear.
It’s worth noting that some property managers use these listings to attract interest from renters. When renters express interest, they then take the cheap unit off the market and replace it with a
similar unit. However, this unit is usually much more expensive. This action can cause renters to panic and sign a lease quickly to avoid missing out again.
In conclusion, you should always research what the market rate is in your area for similar listings. Sometimes, the rent is much lower because the unit has some kind of issue, it isn’t the peak of the renting season, or the property owners are not familiar with the market rate.
In another popular scam, renters are asked to an apartment without any documentation in place. While a lease can be a verbal agreement, this is extremely uncommon. Even month-to-month leases include some type of lease agreement that should be signed and finalized before you move in. Any rental agreement that doesn’t have a lease is potentially a scam.
While renting has gone virtual to a certain extent, any landlord or property manager who claims to not have a lease or rental agreement to provide should be treated with suspicion. The best way to avoid this scam is to make sure you are provided a lease agreement and to carefully review it before you decide to sign.
Show me the money
Another renting red flag is when the landlord or property manager asks you to pay rent or the security deposit before you’ve even signed the lease. Before you sign a lease, it’s normal to pay an application fee to cover the cost of a background check (as long as it’s not too expensive), but it’s not normal to pay a month’s rent or the security deposit before signing the lease.
An even bigger red flag is if you are asked to wire or mail money before you sign a lease, especially if you have only interacted with the other party online. Even if the landlord or property manager doesn’t live on or near the property, they usually have someone who does and handles everything in person. If you encounter a situation where the landlord or property manager asks for a large sum of money before you sign the lease, you should stop the process and report the listing as a scam.
Quick tips to avoid rental scams
1. Ask (the right) questions.
2. Don’t pay for anything you haven’t seen.
3. Never give out your private information to an unverified landlord or listing.