Rental property scams – how to avoid them
If you’re looking for an apartment, the last thing you want is to fall victim to a rental scam. With an increasing trend of unlawful activities surrounding rental homes, especially online, here is a list of the most common rental scams and how you can do your best to avoid them.
- You’re asked to send money without having met anyone or seen the apartment:
It’s not common to pay a lot of money for something sight-unseen. So, if a landlord expects you to pay a lot before you lease an apartment, it’s a reason to be concerned. Don’t rely on promises or photos. Actually visit any apartment you’re considering renting. According to a warning on Craigslist, not following this one rule accounts for 99% of scam attempts.
- The landlord seems too eager to lease the apartment to you:
Many landlords want to know your credit score, and they may also want more information about you, such as a criminal background check and employment verification. If a landlord doesn’t seem interested in any form of tenant screening or appears too eager to negotiate the rent and other lease terms with you, it’s suspicious.
- You’re asked to pay an unusually high security deposit or too many upfront fees:
If the landlord wants a higher security deposit than what’s required by law, or if upfront fees seem excessive to you, it could be a sign that the landlord wants to take your money and run.
- You’re told you don’t need a lawyer:
It’s true you don’t need a lawyer to review your lease, and generally speaking, it’s in a landlord’s best interest for you to skip lawyer review and just take the rental. But when a landlord makes a point of saying that you don’t need a lawyer, it could be a sign that the landlord is trying to rush you into signing the lease and handing over money, perhaps because he doesn’t really own the building or already leased the apartment to someone else.
- You’re told you don’t need a lease:
It’s true you don’t need a lease to live in an apartment. Although renting an apartment under a lease is the most typical situation, but a month-to-month rental agreement is fairly common. But only you know what you need. If a landlord tries to get money from you without considering that you might want a lease, think twice. It could be that the “landlord” doesn’t have any lease to show you.
- The landlord has a convenient excuse for not being able to meet you or show the property:
The person behind a listing might say he’s out of the country indefinitely or that he won’t return until after you would need to agree to the rental and pay money.
How can you protect yourself against scams?
Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you’re not a victim of a rental scam:
- Never send money upfront before you’ve viewed a property. Transferring funds to secure a room is not standard and any landlord asking for a holding deposit may not have the best of intentions.
- Avoid listings that have no photographs.
- Visit the rental property in person and check the landlord’s ID. You should also check the veracity of any safety certificates (in particular for gas and electric).
- If you’re asked to wire money via a service such as Western Union, be suspicious.
- Check that a property actually exists.
- Never pay for a deposit in cash. Use a credit card if you can – this offers more protection.
- Use the Land Registry to check if the landlord is the legal owner of the property.
If you believe you were a victim of one of these scams, please contact the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov and notify Craigslist at www.craigslist.org to request they can pull the posting off their website.