How to Avoid Rental Scams
Have you ever been looking for a new apartment or house to rent and stumbled across a listing that seems too good to be true? Chances are it is too good to be true… because it’s actually a rental scam! Rental scams are an unfortunate part of searching for an apartment, but these tips and tricks can help you identify and avoid them easily.
Common Indicators of Rental Scams
Luckily, many rental scams have common elements that make it easy to spot them once you know what to look for.
1. They Won’t Meet You in Person
If you’re communicating with a landlord and they suddenly get cagey when you ask to meet them in person for a tour, this could be a huge red flag. Most scammers will repost current or out of date listings that they don’t actually own or have access to. When it comes time to set up a tour, they’ll be difficult (or impossible) to schedule with or will schedule and cancel repeatedly.
Good landlords will do it what it takes to show you that their unit is a great place to rent, and they’ll be curious to meet a potential tenant. Keep in mind, however, that it isn’t a hard and fast rule that busy landlords are scammers. Sometimes scheduling issues really are to blame, but if that’s the case, you should request a real time walk through over zoom or video call.
2. They Ask for Money Before Things are Official
If a potential landlord asks you for a security deposit or other payment before you’ve signed a legal lease document, that’s another big red flag! While there are typically fees associated with filling out a rental application, these should never exceed $300 and are used to pay for background checks.
If you’re asked to pay a large amount of money without a signed and verified legal agreement, be extremely wary.
3. It Seems Too Good to Be True
If a listing seems like it’s too good to be true, trust your instincts. Scammers will often post stunning pictures of modern, spacious homes and apartments and list them for extremely low prices. They will then try to get applicants to pay an application fee before seeing the place in person. Since listings like these are so eye-catching, scammers can make a lot of money from application fees alone.
They may also try to manipulate you into paying by stating that the property is in high demand, but they “like you” and are willing to move you up the queue if you provide a financial guarantee of your interest. This can feel flattering and like you’re about to score a huge deal, but 99.99% of the time it’s just a sign that you’re about to lose a lot of money.
4. They Push For You to Move in ASAP
Another common sign of a rental scam is when the “landlord” pressures you to move in immediately— without ever seeing the unit. In some of these cases you may meet the landlord in person first, but they’ll have an excuse about why you can’t see the unit until you move in.
Even if you like the person or find them trustworthy, you should never, ever, ever move into a unit sight unseen. If you can’t see the unit in person, request a live virtual walk through via video call.
5. There’s No Screening Process for Tenants
If you contact a potential landlord and they agree to rent you the place without conducting any background check or verifying your identity, they’re likely trying to scam you. Good landlords will be diligent about who they rent to, and will often ask you questions about your financial situation and living habits and will almost always perform a background check.
This is because landlords need to protect their assets— the units they rent— from bad, neglectful, or property-damaging tenants. If the landlord seems like they don’t care who moves in, it’s probably because they aren’t really a landlord.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
Now that you know some of the telltale signs of rental scams, here are some additional tips and ways to protect yourself from scammers.
Diligently Vet the Rental Listing
Scrutinize the rental listing to be sure that it meets the criteria listed above. It’s also a good idea to do some research about the rental company and google the name of the landlord if it’s available. Make sure that they actually exist (and have good reviews) before you agree to meet them.
See the Property in Person
Do what you can to see your potential new unit in person. If this isn’t possible, you should insist on a live virtual walkthrough.
Meet the Landlord
Similar to the above, you should insist on meeting the landlord in person before paying, signing a lease, or moving in.