Searching for a rental property should be a fun experience – even if it is a little stressful, there’s still joy in the experience of looking at different condos, homes and apartments while picturing your life and how your furniture will fit within the new space. Unfortunately, rental scams can very quickly transform a positive experience into a real nightmare. Although most rental listings are legitimate, it is very important for renters to learn how to avoid rental scams and protect themselves from fraud. The best way to do this is to learn how to spot listings that are fraudulent and stay far, far away from them. Younger renters who are not experienced in looking into properties are more susceptible to falling victim to rental scams and fraud – they are also more likely to lose money in these situations.
Rental scams are looking to accomplish one thing – to steal your money. They will try to encourage you to send a check for a security deposit or move-in fee without ever giving you the opportunity to view and tour the property, and they will keep your money without ever intending to rent out to you. Rental fraud occurs when a person claims to be a landlord, or a property manager and they try to rent out a unit or property that doesn’t actually exist or is not one that they have access to. When renters are on the hunt for properties to rent, they usually share various sensitive information for background and credit checks. Access to this type of information and bank accounts can easily put vulnerable renters in fraudulent situations. Understanding the most common types of rental scams is the best way to avoid them – here are some of the most typical situations to keep an eye out for so you can stay away from them:
- Already leased property: A real or fake landlord will attempt to collect application fees or a security deposit for a rental that has already been leased out.
- Bait-and-Switch: The scammer will advertise one property but the one that is actually available is completely different. The scammer will attempt to collect a deposit or get a lease signed before allowing you to tour the property.
- The Rental Doesn’t Exist: A scam artist will make up an advertisement or listing for a place that does not exist and will try to attract renters by advertising low prices significantly below market value.
- Property Not as Advertised: The listing will feature an actual rental unit but will embellish information about features and amenities that are offered in order to collect a higher rent. The leasing agent will attempt to get a renter to sign the lease agreement and submit a deposit before they notice that the advertised amenities are actually missing.
- Hijacked Listing: A fake landlord will post a listing or advertisement for a real rental property but will change the contact information. Homes that are actually listed for sale will be listed as rentals in this common rental scam.
Make note that in these common rental scams, the scammers will use real listings and change them around to fit their needs – this is why it’s hard to spot a fake from a real listing. The best way to determine whether it’s a scam is to take the time to visit a property in person. Here are some tips to help you figure out if a rental listing is a scam or real:
- If the landlord is not willing to meet you in person then it’s not a good sign. Some common excuses include telling you that they are out of town, they are in the military or they don’t live in the area. A good landlord will always take the time to meet you, because they will want to get to know you just as much if they decide to rent out their property to you.
- If a landlord is insisting that you move in immediately, without ever seeing the unit then it is probably a scam. It’s very easy for someone to fake an online listing, so it’s important that you visit the property to make sure that it is really available. If the landlord tries to get you to inspect the property by walking around the outside at your convenience, then it is most likely a scam.
- An obvious sign of a rental scam is if they are asking you to pay rent or a security deposit before you sign the lease. As a potential renter you should never be asked to hand over a large sum of money before seeing a property and signing a lease agreement. You may be asked to pay for application fees that are usually collected to cover the cost of background checks, but first month’s rent or a deposit is not required as part of the application process. Don’t ever mail or wire money to a person, especially if you have not signed a lease. There have been instances where the scammer lives overseas and will ask you to forward money in return for the keys – this is something that you should be very suspicious over. Another dangerous situation is being asked to wire money to someone who you have only spoken to online, in which case you should immediately cease communication and report the listing as fraudulent.
- If you come across a listing with a price that seems to good to be true, it probably is. A property that is priced significantly below market value should immediately be treated as a major red flag – many times an owner could use this type of listing to lure in potential renters, encourage them to act fast and sign a lease before it’s gone, then switch the option to a more costly unit. The best way to determine if a property is listed at a fair rent is to research other comparable units or properties and speak with a real estate specialist who can guide you through the process and offer professional expertise and advice.
- Be aware of rental listings that are full of typos, poor grammar, excessive punctuation and many other errors. Landlords that are serious about renting out their property to a qualified candidate will take the time to put together a professional listing, complete with high resolution pictures, details about amenities and features and various other helpful information. A poor listing is likely to have been put together by a scammer.
- As a tenant, you will want to rent from a landlord that is responsive, available and professional. If a landlord does not require a rental application and credit check, or any other typical screening items then you should feel suspicious.
- A landlord or property manager that asks you to sign a lease that is not complete does not have your best interest in mind. If you sign an incomplete lease agreement it allows the landlord to change it whenever and any way they want without letting you know, which leaves you very vulnerable. Be diligent when going through your lease and make sure there are no blank spaces, vague writing or incomplete sentences. If you are unsure whether a lease agreement is legitimate or not don’t hesitate to get in touch with a lawyer or real estate professional to help you read through it.
If you do happen to fall victim to a fraudulent rental listing, here are some steps to follow:
- Contact the local authorities – if the person is located, they will be prosecuted, and you may be able to recover any money that was lost.
- Contact the listing website where you found the rental and make sure it is taken down.
- Report this to the Federal Trade Commission – they are responsible for protecting consumers.
- File a complaint with the IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) – this is a government agency that makes it easy for people to report crime that takes place on the internet. They work with the FBI and other local authorities to manage and solve crime like rental listing scams.
The best way to avoid a rental scam is to make sure that you insist on seeing the unit in person and meet with the landlord before you move forward with submitting an application or surrendering any type of payment. Similar to a job interview, you are evaluating the property and the landlord to make sure that it will be a good fit for you. While it’s important for you to love the place you will call home it’s also important that you get along with your landlord.
If you are looking for rental properties in Bryan College Station, make sure to check out our rental listings and see if something catches your eye. If you have any questions about rental information, renting in the area, listing a property for rent, more tips on how to avoid rental scams or need general real estate guidance please don’t hesitate to contact us.