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Tips to Avoid Being Scammed When Apartment Hunting

Your rental experience could become a real disaster if you are not prepared to enter the market. Having some basic knowledge about scammers and their techniques is a must for everyone who wants to rent a place successfully without dealing with fraudsters 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 desirable 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 cash.

A landlord who aims to scam you will always insist on paying cash and will simply move on to the next applicant if you refuse.

Always remember that such things as a security deposit and paying the last month upfront should never involve cash or wire transfers. They are constantly becoming a part of rental scams.

2. Never Rent Without Taking a Look at the Actual Place

Every tenant should go and check out the place they plan to rent before signing a lease,  and if your landlord comes up with excuses for why it is not possible yet, you should be extra careful dealing with them.

Any landlord or property manager planning to rent out the place is usually ready to show it and confirm that the property looks like the pictures they provided on the website. That’s why we recommend that you always schedule the open house visit and evaluate the actual property condition before taking further steps.

This also goes for those trying to rent a place in another city while working on the relocation. Basically, even in this situation, you should ensure that your friend, family member, or trustee pays a visit to the landlord’s unit and takes a look at it.

Even though many scammers actually have access to the property, insisting on a house tour is a big step towards a more transparent rental process and a good way to protect yourself against various scams.

More like this: 7 Warning Signs in Your Residential Lease Agreement

3. Always Sign a Written Lease

The only form of the lease you should ever consider is a written one — even if the landlord is a person you know personally and trust. We have already discussed the verbal agreement in one of our previous posts and recommend you to check it out to avoid some common mistakes tenants make. 

The reason behind avoiding oral agreements is simple — even though it’s legally allowed in many states — it is difficult to work with in case of any disputes or disagreements. If you decide to seek legal help or take your case to court, an oral agreement will become a real headache.

All lease contracts should be signed by both parties: a homeowner and a tenant.

If you decide to deal with a physical contract, you’ll have to make sure:

  • That landlord signs the copy as well (the best way to achieve this is by signing the lease in the presence of each other right after you decide to rent the property)
  • That you get a copy of the contract

Expert tip: You can eSign the rental agreement with a landlord through Rentberry and forget about faxing and running around the city with the paper contract. Learn how to eSign your lease with Rentberry

These two basic rules should make life much easier and safer for you, but there is one more thing we will review closer regarding the contracts and paperwork.

4. Verify the Owner of the Property

Before going ahead and signing the lease agreement, you should ask for proof of homeownership, such as a title deed.  This will help you understand that this whole deal is legit and that you’re dealing with a person who has all the rights to rent out this place. 

Avoid anyone who’s telling you that they will present the proof of homeownership after signing a lease or receiving a deposit — a real homeowner doesn’t have any reasons to avoid showing you these documents.

If you see that the title deed and the name on it don’t match the landlord’s name, you should either be extra careful or, better yet, stay away from renting this property.

5. Make Sure Your Lease Identifies the Owner as Well

Your lease agreement should include the actual homeowner’s name to ensure that the property is rented out legally. And, anyone presenting themselves as a trustee or saying that they work on the owner’s behalf should have corresponding documents proving this fact.

This, by the way, also applies to the situations when the documents state that the house has two owners. In this case, you should ask for a written confirmation from the second owner stating they know about the rental process and approve the rental agreement.

6. Subletting Might Not Be a Great Idea

Subletting can be the most dubious and dangerous thing you can get yourself into. Checking whether the original tenant has the rights to sublet the place is awfully hard, and you can never be sure that everything is alright and you’re not becoming a victim of rental scams.

The most peculiar thing about subletting is that you cannot feel secure about it due to the original agreement. The landlord can evict you both if the subletting is forbidden by the original lease or if the original tenant violates the terms of the lease in any other way. 

The best way to avoid the problems with the subleasing is to talk to the original tenant and work with them and the property manager on adding your name to the original agreement. And, if you want to know more about all ins and outs of subleasing, you can take a look at our extensive guide to subletting.

7. Meet Your Landlord in Person

Yes, we are the platform that makes it possible to eSign the lease, pay rent and collect rent online, and even schedule the house tour online. However, once the tour is arranged and you come to see the apartment, you should meet the actual landlord — the homeowner and the person who has all the rights to rent out this place.

Any potential scammer will avoid a chance to show you the place and skip any kind of standard interactions, including property tours and lease signing, that a 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.

Basically, it goes like this: you come across this perfect ad for a stunning place, and the price looks very reasonable. You call there, and this person tells you that they are the one who handles or manages this property for the owners.

Usually, the apartment is real, but they don’t actually have access to it. Instead, scammers find this place on the other real estate platform, take the pictures and description, and place all this info into the Craigslist ad. They insist on collecting upfront the first month’s rent, security deposit, and any other payments that might seem reasonable and then simply disappear with your money.

Rental frauds on Craigslist are very common, and they are not going anywhere. According to the study “Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams,” about 29 thousand scam listings were discovered in over twenty cities within a 141 days period. As you see, that’s a crazy number, so we recommend staying away from the middleman services and shady ‘managers.’

9. Do Your Research

The best thing about the Internet is that it never forgets a thing, and there are websites, chats, and Facebook groups where people give their feedback on anyone and anything.

So prior to renting an apartment from someone, make sure you do your homework and run basic research on the internet — you can start by googling the landlord’s name, email, property address, etc.

Also, while searching for a place to rent, you should consider running the reverse image search from Google or TinEye. You can save a photo of the property and do the search by this picture to find the same or similar results. Sometimes you’ll see the same place listed in the other city or even country, as scammers simply steal the pictures of the existing property and place them on different websites.

Also, if there is a real estate company or agent that represents this particular landlord, make sure to read some reviews and feedback regarding how they handle business. If you can’t find any info about them at all, this should be a red flag for you.

10. Check the Current Market Prices

Always run research on the median rental price in the area or neighborhood where you’re trying to rent a place. It will give you a basic understanding of what kind of price is reasonable for the particular apartment you’re considering.

This simple trick will ensure that any ad with a weirdly low price will look suspicious to you, and you won’t jump into giving cash trying to secure an apartment that simply does not exist.

More like this: Illegal Actions Your Landlord Might be Taking

11. Make Sure the Rental Price Matches Up

In some cases, unscrupulous landlords have plenty of possibilities to make some money simply based on your lack of attention. Double check all the details before finalizing the deal to avoid becoming a hostage of your lease agreement.

An example of this situation could be when a property manager offers a tenant one rental price and then blatantly changes the numbers in the rental agreement. If you missed this detail and signed the contract, you’re in huge trouble, as you basically agreed to pay another price. So make sure to read the lease before signing and pay extra attention to any numbers, such as the monthly rent price.

12. Check Whether the Renting Platform Verifies Its Users

There is a huge difference between renting a place on a simple advertisements website or a platform that ensures transparency and security and verifies its users.

When you stumble upon a website that offers you to deal with landlords or tenants who are not verified in any way, no one will be able to ensure the security of your transactions as well.

Rentberry puts transparency at the very core of the entire renting process. All rental payments, lease agreements, and any transactions that take place while you rent a property are encrypted and perfectly secure.

There is nothing more comforting than knowing that the apartment you find on the platform is just one click away from visiting and having a tour. Is there a reason why someone still wants to use classifieds or other stone-age websites today?

13. Talk to the Current or Previous Tenants

One of the best ways to check whether the landlord is a reliable person is by contacting current tenants or the ones who rented his property recently.

Some landlords will be happy to provide you with good references, and sometimes you’ll have to do a small research of your own to find this information out. In any case, talking to previous tenants can show not only how trustworthy your future property manager is. You can also learn how easy they are to contact, how responsive they are to any requests or property-related issues, and what kind of person they are in general.

14. Those Who Are Ready to Make a Deal With No Background Info Are Probably Scammers

You need to understand that not only tenants strive to be safe and feel secure. That’s why landlords usually run a background check and review the credit reports of their prospects.

When your potential landlord doesn’t care about tenant screening and references and rushes to sign the lease or take a deposit, this is a significant red light, and you should be careful before renting their place.

15. What to Do If You Have Been Scammed

We tried to provide you with the most extensive list of tips that should help you avoid rental scams and find your perfect place without any hassle.  Hopefully, this is all the information you may need for your rental journey, and it will protect you against scammers.

However, sometimes even the most attentive person may miss one detail and become a victim of rental fraud.

There are a few simple steps that you should consider if you became involved in a rental scam:

  • Call the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center toll-free hotline: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
  • Fill in the FTC online complaint form
  • File a complaint on the Internet Crime Complaint Center
  • Call the police and give them all the details regarding the situation you encountered and the person that turned out to be a scammer
  • Contact your legal advisor or a lawyer
  • Leave a negative review on the ad to make sure that no one else will fall into this trap

Got any useful tips on how to avoid rental scams? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

6 Comments

  1. Taylor Hansen says:

    I appreciate the tips to avoid being scammed. Getting a bigger apartment is appealing to me. I’ll look online for the best apartments that are open.

  2. George Adkins says:

    Thank you for sharing your fraud-prevention methods! Meeting the landlord in person and signing the written lease is always preferable. In addition to a physical inspection of the property, I believe hiring a legal expert is a good idea.

  3. Alex says:

    Thank you for the tips. I agree with you, a written lease is a must have. If anything goes wrong, you’re safe. And of, course, we should read it very well and ask for legal advice. “The devil is in the details” as they say. In many cases, scammers are experienced and know how to take advantage of loopholes. So we should be careful.

  4. Levi Armstrong says:

    My sister and I are looking for a two-bedroom apartment to rent in a new city since we accepted jobs here. I like your advice about meeting a landlord in person before signing a lease to ensure they are not a scammer. I’ll take note of this advice of yours and share it with my sister. Thanks.

  5. Laura Barnett says:

    When I was scammed, I went to the police they actually were of no help actually the scam or the crime happened in two states and both police department s didn’t help and we’re very rude . Told me there’s nothing they can do . Not sure that your tip to call your local police is of much help cause they don’t want to

  6. Rhianna Hawk says:

    I’m something of a critical person and I want to make sure that I’m being financially savvy when I pick out my new apartment for the coming semester. Your tips are definitely going to help me with that, and I especially appreciate your tip to avoid sub-leasing. A lot of students on campus are selling their contracts right now and I was considering getting one of those, but going straight to the landlord himself about it is definitely a better idea and I’ll be sure to do that.

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