If you're looking for a rental, the last thing you want is to fall victim to a rental scam. Scam artists like to take advantage of prospective tenants for several reasons, many times prospective tenants are under financial and time constraints in looking for a affordable property in a short period of time, this provides a potential opening for scam artists to operate in.
Fortunately, there are ways for people who are searching for rentals can lower the likelihood of getting caught up in a rental scam.
Here's what you should keep in mind when you're looking for a rental property
What's a Rental Scam?
Rental scams are a variation on a theme. The scammer tries to get money from a prospective tenant for an apartment that the scammer is in no legal position to rent out. The apartment might be real (in which case, the scammer doesn't have the authority to lease it) or fictitious. The scammer could be a real landlord or, more likely, an impostor. Scammers typically try to get money from unsuspecting rental applicants, then disappear. For example, a tenant who's vacating his rental might decide to show it, pretending to be the landlord. He might lead all prospects to believe they're getting that rental, and collect fees and security deposits upfront. Once the prospects realize they have been scammed, the scammer has usually vanished with their money.
Follow the General Rule
Don't let your guard down when looking for an rental property. Just because you use a reputable search Website does not mean you can't get scammed by unscrupulous landlords or people posing as landlords who manage to get theirfake rental listings onto these sites.
If something feels wrong with a listing, the application process feels rushed, or the whole experience just seems too good to be true, it may be wise not to pursue it.
Avoid Common Red Flags
Here are some common red flags to help you spot and avoid rental scams while looking for a rental:
You're asked to send money without having met anyone or seen the rental. It's not common to pay a lot of money for something sight-unseen. One of the common methods scammers use is to take photos from other properties online. Confirm the photo you are seeing belongs to the property you are looking to rent.
The landlord seems too eager to lease the property to you. Many landlords want to know your credit score, and they may also want more information about you, such as a criminal background check and employment verification. If a property manager or landlord is too eager to lease the property without doing any screening on you be wary.
You're asked to pay an unusually high security deposit or too many upfront fees. If the landlord wants a higher security deposit than what's required by law, or if upfront fees seem excessive to you, it could be a sign that the landlord wants to take your money and run. Below is a breakdown of current state limits as of the writing of this article, for more information contact your local state agency.
California (as of 2013)
Maximum Security Deposit
Furnished - 3 months
Unfurnished - 2 months
Maximum Application Fee
2010 - $42.06
2011 - $42.41
2012 - $49.50
2013 - $49.50
You're told you don't need a lease. It's true you do not need a lease to live in an apartment. Although renting an apartment under a lease is the most typical situation, but amonth to month lease agreement is also common. But only you know what you need. If a landlord tries to get money from you without considering that you might want a lease, think twice. It could be that the "landlord" doesn't have any lease to show you.
Here are a few variations of this:
Example 1: I am currently on a job relocation in (insert location here) so I will not be able to provide you a key. If you can please send over the amount of security deposit I will have one of my associates meet you at the property.
Example 2: I am not available to attend the showing of the property, however if you send over the funds to secure the property I would be more than willing to send you a key via US Mail.
If it doesnt feel right, walk away.