Signing a lease on a rental can mean the start of a new life. However, it is possible to be scammed on a rental application. Just like in other areas of the economy, scammers and thieves exist to prey on the unsuspecting in the real estate rental market.
Common Types of Rental Scams
It is important to be aware that scams can be simple or highly sophisticated and no one is immune to the risk of being scammed.
Listings That Are Too Good To Be True
Real estate scam artists have been known to copy actual apartment rental listings and polish them up to look better than they really are. Important details of the listing will be altered to make it look more attractive, such as
ridiculously low prices in comparison to other properties. Much of the time, the scammer cannot legally rent out the property. Some scammers are real landlords, while others are just online thieves trying to make a buck through trickery.
Fortunately, there are ways to spot these. Pay attention to any deposit requests to secure the property from other prospective renters. They may also demand you to pay the money without letting you see the property first. This is a sure sign that the listing is doctored by a scam artist looking to take your money.
To avoid this scam, never pay money down on an apartment or home rental without seeing it first, regardless of any excuses the landlord or listing agent gives.
If the listing seems too good to be true, it probably is and you may be best to move on to other properties.
Overpriced Background Checks
Having a landlord run a background check on a prospective tenant is a normal occurrence. After all, landlords need to protect their time and property by making sure the tenant is a law-abiding citizen with real income. However, background checks should not cost a pile of money on top of the rental application fee. Scammers will often try this to make some extra bucks from a potential tenant.
Background checks should not cost more than $75 (at most) to run, and having the counsel of a real estate agent or broker will help you spot scams during the process.
No Lease Documents
Never agree to a lease without documentation of the agreement. This can lead to rental fraud and no way to get a fair shake in a court of law.
Be direct to the landlord and ask for a lease document, making sure to read the fine print carefully.
If the landlord tells you that you do not need a lease to rent the property, this could be a sign they are trying to scam you. You do not need a lease to rent an apartment, but it is usually a good idea. Keep this in mind when this
Get a Tour of the Property First
Getting a tour of the property lets you see if it is real and what shape it is in. If you cannot get an in-person tour, at least get a virtual tour online. Whichever one you choose, at least make sure to get some type of tour of the property.
Do not rely on promises or even photos of a property before agreeing to pay money to a landlord. Remember, this is an expensive transaction so it is worth protecting yourself from rental application scams.
Fake Landlords (Vacating Tennants)
Some scammers are tennants who present themselves as the landlord to try to get as much money as they can from prospective tenants. Once the money has been exchanged for any fees, the fake landlord has already moved far away to an unknown location.
Landlords that are in a hurry to rent the apartment out without doing their due diligence in requesting the right renter information could mean they are presenting a shady deal. The landlord may not be a scammer, but you could be dealing with one that overlooks issues and does not provide facility support when you need it.
If the security deposit or additional fees are high in relation to other rentals you’ve experienced, this could be a sign the landlord is a scammer.
You Are Told You Do Not Need A Real Estate Agent
If the landlord tells you that you do not need a real estate agent or lawyer to assist you with the lease documents, this could be a sign they are a scammer. There is no law that says you need either of these, but
it is a good idea to go over the lease documents with one.
Most landlords are not looking to scam renters, but having the assistance of a licensed real estate agent can help protect you in the event you run into one. Emotions can run high during the process of finding a new apartment,
due to excitement or a limited time frame to find a place to live. These increased emotions can make you vulnerable to scams.
The Landlord Does Not Show The Property Themselves
If the landlord is not in the area or country that you are leasing the property in, this could be a sign they are not truthful in their dealings. Never sign a lease or pay money to a landlord that is not available to meet with you.
Speak to Current Tenants
If possible, speak to a current tenant about the quality of the landlord and facilities you may be considering.
Topics of questions to ask other tennants include:
- Security deposits
- Pool and gym facilities
- Lease terms
If you get positive feedback from current tenants, you will likely have less to worry about when it comes to being scammed by the landlord.
Reputable Websites Can Have Scammers Using Them
Even reputable rental property websites can have scammers on them looking for victims. So, never get too complacent and keep your eyes open for anything that seems fishy.
Always be wary of giving personal or financial details to online listing providers. If the listing seems potentially criminal in any way, move on to other rental properties. The costs of being the victim of a rental application scam can be very high.
Although rare, rental application scams can happen to anyone and are an unfortunate experience. If you take the right precautions you can avoid this and not have to take steps to catch the thief and get your money back.