We have this perfect understanding these days that renting a place is a huge pain. Unfortunately, that’s a truth about the current market situation and one of the reasons why it is so hard is the inefficiency of current technologies. Don’t get me wrong, we are years from sending people to Mars, but we still trust strangers on the internet that we have to wire them a few thousands to see the place we want to rent.
To ensure your safety in this cruel world, we want you to know how to spot a rental scam, so we prepared a list of useful tips that you may consider as a good part of ‘Renting 101’ course.
The general rule of thumb
There are basics that you should know before going apartment hunting, like the fact that rental agreements shouldn’t be oral if you want to feel secure enough.
One of the best advices here will be watching out for something weird in every detail especially when you deal with brokers and property managers. The middlemen scam is often used these days to fool you and grab the money before you actually have a chance to meet the property owner and discuss the details. Most of the times, there is no owner and there is no property, there is a fraud and his sneaky imagination.
Some states work on the security of their tenants. For example, while looking through the apartments in Atlanta, you can notice that in Georgia you have a right to sue a landlord for up to $15,000 in the small claims court.
Don’t send money before you see the apartment
Money – that’s what separates you from renting the place of your dreams, so make sure you don’t hand your money to some stranger you know around fifteen minutes.
Frauds never sleep and they think of the most sophisticated schemes to get your money and offering you to send the money upfront is not one of those. This scam is as old as the hills and you should be better than that and never fall into this stupid trap.
Once the property owner gives you a chance to attend an open house or simply visit the place and review it, you can go further and discuss the rental agreement. Don’t trust the stories about the homeowner being currently on the business trip abroad: see the place, meet the man, go forward with the deal.
The upfront fees and security deposit should be fair
Security deposit is a part of our life for a long time, it can be huge when you have a pet or you can try to talk your landlord into lowering it for some reasons. However, the amount of the security deposit should always be reasonable. Some states even indicate the maximum sum that a landlord can charge you, but the main idea here is that you should feel alarmed when you meet a homeowner who wants a huge upfront payment for no reason.
Usually, this type of frauds think up something crazy like the fact that you need to give a bigger amount cause your background check doesn’t look right to them. By the way, most of the states in the United States indicate that the credit score and background check fees should be reasonable as well and a tenant can be entitled to a refund otherwise.
Always get a written lease
Image Source: Rental Realities
Let’s say you’ve already seen the place and the landlord looks like a decent person that has no intentions to scam you. However, no matter what you think here, you should always go with the written agreement and sign it together to ensure your security.
A written lease gives you a great chance to defend yourself in the court in case of any fraudulent activity on the landlord’s side. Basically, this document regulates your relationship with the apartment owner and helps to resolve any claims both sides may have.
Important: When a landlord tries to find an excuse not to sign a written contract and offers you to rent a place using just oral agreements, better leave. This person is not being serious.
Check all the necessary ownership documents
Image by Mark Moz
Usually, scammers tell that they represent an owner and avoid showing you the actual ownership documents. Make sure you see all the paperwork proving that this particular person is entitled to perform any owner-related activity with this apartment.
Also, sometimes a place can have two owners. In this cases, you’ll need to request a written approval from the second owner that he allows this deal.
Dealing in cash is always bad
Cash, wire transfers and other sorts of unreliable and old-fashioned transaction methods can screw you up fast. That’s what all the scammers want: untrackable money without a chance to reverse the transaction or perform any other chargeback activities.
When you deal with bank accounts, at least you’ll know the information regarding the corresponding account. In case you use blockchain transactions, for example, you’ll get even more transparency, but people are still not ready to perform rental payments in cryptocurrencies.
Review the last utility bills
This goes more to a landlord with a bad personality that like to deal in a bad faith, but it can also be called a scam.
It’s quite simple yet you can miss it if you decide to go further with the deal without checking all the details of this particular apartment. Utility bills are crucial since some landlords can hide the fact that their place is in the burden of huge utility debts. You will sign the lease and become responsible for paying them.
Of course, it’s easier to get out of such a situation through the court than trying to get back your money in a more classic scam, but it still can be painful.
You’ve been scammed, now what?
There are several steps that you should perform once you’ve been scammed:
- Gather all the information regarding the ad publisher, the apartment he advertised and all the communication history you had.
- Call the police and hand them all this information along with the police report.
- Hire a lawyer and try to work this out with him, seek an advice from an experienced professional.
- Share your story on social media.
Summing things up
Feeling insecure while apartment hunting is okay since there are too many dangers out there. However, it shouldn’t discourage you from finding your next home Make sure you follow our general advices and you will meet any scammer fully armed.