Ultimate List of Tips to Avoid Being Scammed When Apartment Hunting
Your rental experience may become a real disaster if you do not prepare to enter the market. Having some basic knowledge about the scammers and their techniques is a must for everyone who wants to rent a place successfully without dealing with frauds and their shady schemes. We prepared an ultimate list of tips that will teach you how to spot a rental scammer while looking for a perfect place and we’re ready to make a real homegrown renting expert out of you.
1. Dealing In Cash Is A Bad Start
The most popular way of performing shady money operations is working in cash only. The reason why it’s so important for crooks to deal with real dollars is the fact that this money simply cannot be traced. So once you’ve paid them the money for a new cozy place, they have all the time in the world to get away with your money.
A landlord who aims to scam you will always insist on paying cash and will simply move on to the next prospect if you refuse.
Always remember that such things as a security deposit and paying the last month upfront should never involve cash, wire transfers. They are constantly becoming a part of rental scams.
2. Never Rent Without Having A Look At The Actual Place
Having a chance to look at the place you plan to rent should be the number one priority for you and once this requirement is not met, you can skip that landlord.
Any landlord who is really planning to rent out the place is ready to show it and confirm that it actually looks like the pictures he provided on the website. Schedule the open house visit and evaluate the real property condition.
This also goes to those who are trying to rent a place in the other city while working on the relocation process. Basically, even if this situation you should ensure that your friend, family member or your trustee pays a visit to the landlord’s unit and takes a look at it.
Even though there are lots of scammers who actually have access to the property, insisting on a house tour is a huge step towards a more transparent rental process.
3. Always Sign A Written Lease
The only form of lease that you should consider is a written one. We have already discussed the verbal agreement in one of our previous posts, make sure you check it out it’s a few minutes read. This is simple: even though some states allow oral agreements (for example, Maryland), there is always a chance that you’ll have to take this case to the court and this will become a real headache for you, all these cases are really hard to resolve.
All lease contracts should be signed by both parties: a homeowner and a tenant.
If you decide to deal with a physically existing contract, you’ll have to make sure:
- That landlord’s sign is there to (the best way to achieve that is signing the lease in the presence of each other right after you decide to rent the house)
- That you get a copy of this contract, not only the landlord
These two basic rules should make life much easier and safer for you, but there is one more thing I want to review closer regarding the contract.
4. Identify The Owner Of The Property
Prior to going ahead and signing the lease agreement you should ask for the homeownership documents that prove that you’re dealing with a person who has all the rights to rent out this place. This will help you understand that this whole deal is legit.
Avoid anyone who’s telling you that the documents will be sent to you later, a real homeowner doesn’t have any reasons to avoid showing you the documents.
When you see the ownership documents and the name there doesn’t match with the name of the landlord, there is nothing to do here.
5. Make Sure Your Lease Identifies The Owner As Well
Your lease agreement should include the actual homeowner name in order to ensure that the house is rented out legally. Anyone who is trying to personate a trustee or says that he’s working on a behalf of the owner should have the corresponding documents proving this fact.
This, by the way, also goes to the situations where the documents state that this house has two owners, cause in this case, you should ask for a written confirmation from the second owner that he is aware of the rental process and approves the rental agreement.
6. Sub-leasing Is Not A Great Idea
Sub-leasing can be the shakiest and the most dangerous thing you can get yourself into. Checking whether the original tenant has the rights to sub-lease the place is unbelievably hard and you can never be sure that everything is alright and you’re not becoming a part of rental scams there.
The most interesting thing about sub-leasing is that both you and the original tenant cannot feel secure about it due to the original agreement and the fact that the landlord can evict both of you if the sub-lease is forbidden by the original contract.
The best way to avoid the problems with the sub-leasing is to talk to the original tenant and work with him on adding your name to the original agreement.
Expert tip: It’s really convenient to split your rent with a roommate, just do it the smart way.
7. Meet Your Landlord In Person
Yes, we are the online platform that makes it possible to e-sign the lease, pay rent and collect rent online and even schedule the house tour online. However, once the tour is scheduled and you come to see the apartment, you should meet the actual landlord, the homeowner, the person who has all the rights to rent out this place to you.
Any landlord who is a potential scammer will avoid a chance to show you a place, skip any kind of real interaction including the property tours and agreement signing that legitimate landlord usually prefers.
8. Beware Of The Middleman Scam
The middleman scam is one of the most common schemes out there. Especially on websites like Craigslist and other platforms with classifieds.
So you ran into this juicy ad of a place that looks amazing and the price looks reasonable. You call there and this person tells you that he/she is the one who handles or manages this place for the real owners.
Typically the place is real, but they don’t really have access to it. They find this place on the other real-estate platform, takes the pictures and description and place all this info into the Craigslist ad. They insist on collecting rental payment, security deposit and other payments that can be gathered in the first place and then they simply run away with your money.
Rental frauds on Craigslist are living there like in heaven. According to the study called ‘Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams’, in total there were about 29K scam listings detected over the 20 cities they monitored, within a period of 141 days. This is a hell of a number, so try to avoid the middleman services from shady ‘managers’.
9. Do Your Research
The best thing about the internet is that it always remembers and it always has places where people give their feedbacks on anyone and anything.
So prior to renting a place from someone, make sure you do your homework and run a basic research on the internet, google the landlord: e-mails, names, property address, etc.
Also, my favorite part of research is running the reverse image search from Google or TinEye. You can take a picture of the property and run the search by this picture to find the same or similar ones. Sometimes you’ll find the same place listed in the other city or even country, scammers are not smart enough to modify the photos.
If there is a real estate company that represents this particular landlord, make sure you google some feedbacks and reviews regarding how they handle business.
10. Check The Current Market Rates
Run a research on the median rental price in the area you’re trying to rent a place in. This should give you a basic understanding of what kind of a price is reasonable for the particular place you’re looking at.
Having this knowledge will ensure that any ad with a weirdly low price will look suspicious to you (and it should, the market is hot).
11. Make Sure The Asking Rent Does Match Up
In many cases, scammers have plenty of possibilities to make lots of money simply based on your lack of attention. You have to look up all the details prior to finalizing the deal or you’ll become a hostage of your lease agreement.
I’m talking about the situations when a landlord offers you one rental price and then silently changes the numbers in the rental agreement. If you missed this detail, signed the contract, you’re in huge trouble. So make sure that the discussed rent matches up the rent in the agreement.
12. Check If The Renting Platform Verifies Its Users
There is a huge difference between renting a place on a simple board of fake house ads and renting a place on the platform that ensures the transparency and verifies its users.
Basically, when you stumble upon a website that offers you no working mechanisms of verification of both parties (tenants and landlords), this is a truly risky business and no one will be able to ensure the security of your transactions.
13. Talk To Current Or Previous Tenants
One of the great ways to check whether the landlord is a reliable person is contacting current tenants or the ones who rented his property recently.
Some of the landlords will be actually happy to provide you with good references and sometimes you’ll have to make a small research of your own to find this information out.
14. Those Who Are Ready To Make A Deal With No Background Info Are Probably Scammers
You need to understand that not only tenants want to be safe and feel secure. That’s why landlords usually want to run a background check and see the credit reports of their prospects.
When your potential landlord doesn’t really care about it and rushes to sign the lease without running any checks on you, this is a huge red light and you should be careful.
There is a reason why the landlord may not care about your background and usually, it’s not a good one.