As someone who is currently looking for a room to rent, I am extremely concerned about rent scams. It seems like there is no way to know if a good offer on an apartment or home in an ideal neighborhood is just too good to be true. And there are a lot of scammers out there. One study detected about 29,000 scam listings on craigslist across 20 cities.
However, rent scams usually fall into a few categories, so a basic knowledge of what rent scams look like and how to avoid them will go a long way to making your apartment-shopping process much less stressful. Here are 7 tips for how to avoid rental scams.
- Verified Posters: First and foremost, check if the websites you are using conduct background checks on their users. Craigslist, for example, lets anyone post on its message boards.
- Fake Listings: One of the most common scams you may run into are fake listings that are way below the average price for similar listings. There are several variations of this scam. The property advertised might not be the same property shown in the listing, the listing may have been altered by a fake landlord who added the wrong contact information, or the listing might not exist at all. If it seems too good to be true… it probably is.
- Deposit Up Front: The clearest red flag for these scams is when the listing asks you to pay a deposit immediately before giving you a virtual tour. Identifying and meeting with the property owner to tour the property is the best way to make sure a listing is real, and should always be done in the renting process no matter what, and landlords should be willing to do this for free. You can also ask the landlord for a photo ID or search for the rental company online to make sure that it is listing the property you are looking at on its website. Talking to the other tenants to verify what the landlord is telling you can’t hurt either.
- No Background Check: Another step in the process that could potentially expose you to scam is the background check. All above-board landlords should require background checks and should not pressure you to sign a lease before this step. You shouldn’t pay more than $30-$60 for a background check.
- No Written Lease: If the background check goes fine, always make sure that there is a written lease for you to sign, once you’ve decided on an apartment or house to rent. The landlord should sign the lease as well, and this will provide a record of your agreement and any wrongdoing on the part of the landlord. If you are not given a lease, it is possible that the property is already leased to someone else.
- Payment With Cash or Wire Transfer: Never agree to pay the security deposit or rent with cash, wire transfers, or gift cards if you are asked to. Scammers prefer these methods because there is no way for you to get the money back.
- Be Careful with Subleasing: Try to avoid sub-leasing, because a tenant may not have the rights to sublease a given room, and the landlord can evict you both as a result. If you do sublease, make sure this is with landlord approval.
Hopefully these tips will help you avoid the most common rent scams and find the house or apartment that is right for you. If you are scammed, call the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center hotline at 1-877-FTC-HELP, fill out an FTC online complaint form, or call the police.
About the Author:
I believe that working to support access to affordable housing is the only way to address our history of housing discrimination and residential segregation. As the Storytelling VISTA, my primary role is to collect and promote the stories of the customers who NeighborWorks has assisted in the past as part of our outreach. I enjoy listening to music, playing guitar, and reading history in my spare time.