Keep your eyes open for these signs that a deal is too good to be true.

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Don’t get caught up in a rental scam.

Globally, more people are turning to renting homes. In the US, the Pew Research Center states that almost a quarter of the 100 largest cities have more renters than homeowners. In fact, the majority of households in Minneapolis are renters, with the city starting the Neighborhoods 2020 plan—a set of recommendations designed to guide the way neighborhoods operate—to be more accommodating of tenants. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports the same trend is happening across Europe, from Germany to the UK. Indeed, soaring house prices and strict lending rules are just some of the many reasons why the rentals economy is thriving—and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.

For budding renters, the challenge isn’t always in finding a place. There are numerous beautiful spaces advertised out there just waiting to be moved into; but how do you know which listings can actually be trusted? Here are some tips on how to spot a rental property scam—because the last thing anybody wants is to get scammed while trying to find their “dream home.”

1. If the price is too good to be true

For most of us, our first instinct is probably to go with the best bargain you can find. But while everyone wants to find a good deal, some prices can be too good to be true. Tokyo, for instance, is one of the most expensive cities to live in anywhere in the world. Yet citizens in Tokyo are falling for real estate scams known as ‘share houses’. This is where, despite the building being offered for a lower price, the residents are forced to share living spaces such as living rooms. To tell if a space is priced right, you should compare to the average prices in your area—in this case, at least $1,000 for monthly rent. Anything lower than that should be a cause for suspicion that you might not get what you want. Keeping the average price in mind will help you spot red flags when it comes to low offers.

2. If the listing’s photos have watermarks

Every photo in a listing has to be taken on a personal camera or phone. That way, you’ll know they didn’t just take random stock images from the internet. If you do see any watermarks on the photos, double-check the poster’s credentials. Usually, it’s the official real estate listing that will have these professional-looking photos. So, unless the listing came from the agent’s official account, there’s a high possibility it may be fake. In fact, some scammers will pretend to rent houses that have been listed for sale or recently sold.

3. When the keys will be delivered via mail

“I’ll just mail you the keys” is a common property scam that victimizes many people every year. Recently, an aspiring tenant from Arizona was forcibly evicted due to this exact scheme. True enough, the bogus seller asked for down payment for the property and promised to send the keys in the mail—instead of handing them over personally. While the hopeful renter was able to enter the house, it was eventually found that the property belonged to someone else entirely. The lesson here is that unless the property owner is willing to give you the keys personally (and show an ID for accountability), you shouldn’t engage them.

4. If they don’t allow personal inspections

If your potential landlord bars you from seeing the place before you move in, then you have good reason to be skeptical that they may be hiding something. For instance, British homeowners from Lindley Estate weren’t able to grow anything in their garden due to a “cesspit” in their backyard. Though the mess was indeed caused by a faulty drain, the landlord insisted from the start that it was caused by leaking rainwater, and refused to have it fixed. The property owners should be covered for issues like this with HomeServe UK outlining how landlord coverage can include everything from the plumbing and drainage to the roofing and home security. If you find an issue like this, do make sure that it can be fixed before you enter the property. If it can’t be fixed then the landlord may have every intention of handing the problem over to you – a common problem in the UK and around the world. Other areas worth inspecting are the HVAC systems, flooring, and electricity. It’s your right to inspect the space and ask as many questions as needed.

5. When they’re too eager to have you move in

It might seem like a relief to meet landlords who are willing to lease you their property ASAP, but these can often be scammers. Such was the case for a local Minnesota couple who were looking for a space they could move into soon, so they no longer had to impose on their family and friends. After finding the ad on Craigslist, the scammer asked for a deposit up front. Then, they sent over the couple’s “home” access code and promptly disappeared. Remember: True property owners are very picky with tenants. They will want to make sure that you are a good risk, for instance, or that you have a stable job to pay the monthly dues. If you see an “owner” who’s willing to skip this process but is requesting money too quickly, especially if they sweeten the deal by asking for just part of the deposit, then move on.

Choosing the right rental space isn’t just about the price and amenities; you need to do a background check on the landlords, too. If you find any suspicious activity, consider reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission or the local police if you can. You’d be saving other honest people from being scammed.

About the Author:

Photo of Helena O’Brien

Helena O’Brien

Helena O'Brien is a freelance writer who is passionate about helping people with their house-related issues. When she's not in front of her laptop, you'll find her in her kitchen studying recipes she found online.

Helena O’Brien is a freelance writer who is passionate about helping people with their house-related issues. When she’s not in front of her laptop, you’ll find her in her kitchen studying recipes she found online.

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