How to Spot and Avoid Rental Housing Scams
March 24, 2023
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Rental housing scams can be a common problem, especially when searching for a new place online.
Thus, it’s important to know what to look for to avoid these scams.
Let’s look at some key things to keep in mind as you look for rentals.
Pay Attention to Price
Who doesn’t love a great deal? As consumers, we want to get the most for our money. However, this approach can lead down a wrong path when looking for a rental. Here are some things to keep an eye on regarding pricing and rentals:
- If the rental price is significantly lower than similar properties in the area, be wary. Rental prices are usually set based on the local rental market, so if one property seems substantially lower than most of the others, the listing could be a scam.
- If the rental price seems too good to be true, it probably is. While you can sometimes find amazing deals on rental properties, wildly low rental prices should raise a red flag. Scammers use extremely low prices to lure in renters and then vanish once they’ve collected deposits or an initial rental payment.
- If the rental price doesn’t align with the condition of the property, it’s probably a scam. A property’s rental price should reflect its condition, location and amenities. If a property is in pristine condition or has a lot of amenities, but the rental price is still extremely affordable, move with an abundance of caution.
- If the rental price is non-negotiable, it could be a scam. This one isn’t necessarily an indicator, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Legitimate landlords are often willing to negotiate a little bit, especially if a property has been on the market for some time. On the other hand, scammers almost always set fixed, low rental prices and won’t negotiate at all.
When it comes to pricing, be cautious if a property’s price seems too good to be true. Do your research, compare rental prices for similar local properties and always trust your gut if something seems off.
Research the Property
Conducting research is the best way to avoid scams. Legitimate listings shouldn’t be confusing or limited. Here are some things you should do when conducting research:
- Check the address on Google Maps: Use Google Maps to check the property’s location and see if the property exists at the address listed. This can also help you determine if the property is in a safe area and if it’s close to amenities like public transportation, grocery stores, and restaurants.
- Look for reviews of the landlord or property: Look for online reviews of the property or the landlord to see what other renters have to say. If there are multiple negative reviews, it could be a sign that something is not right.
- Check property ownership records: You can check these records to ensure that the person you’re communicating with is the property owner. You can typically find these records online by searching for the property’s address or by contacting the local county recorder’s office.
- Visit the property in person: If you can, try to visit the physical property to ensure it is available to rent and to check out the condition of the property. This also provides an opportunity to meet the landlord face to face.
- Be cautious of properties with limited information or pictures: If a rental listing has little to no information or photos related to the property, it could be a sign that the listing is fake.
Never Send Money Before Seeing the Property
Scammers will often ask for the security deposit or first month’s rent before showing you the property. Thus, it’s wise to avoid sending any type of payment before seeing the property in person.
Trustworthy landlords or property managers will typically want to meet you and show you the property before they request payments. A good landlord wants to ensure that the unit works for you and that you’re a suitable tenant for the property.
Proceed with caution if the landlord or property manager asks you to wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card or other non-traditional payment method. These kinds of payment methods are typically difficult to trace, which makes it easier for dishonest people to avoid leaving a trail.
Use Reputable Listing Sites or A Real Estate Agent
Reliable websites with rental listings like Zillow and Apartments.com typically have safeguards in place to verify the legitimacy of their listings. Additionally, these websites usually have reviews and ratings from previous renters, which can provide insightful information about the property.
Working with a licensed real estate agent can also help you avoid rental housing scams. Real estate agents know a lot about the local rental market and can show you legitimate rental properties that fit your needs and budget. Furthermore, agents must adhere to ethical and professional standards, adding an extra layer of protection for renters.
When using rental listing websites or working with a real estate agent, do your research and choose a reputable source. Find websites and agents with positive reviews and a proven history of helping tenants find excellent properties.
Lastly, it’s important to note that some scammers may use fake listings on reputable rental listing websites or pretend to be real estate agents. To avoid falling victim to these scams, be cautious when communicating with anyone who contacts you about rental properties. Always verify the identity and legitimacy of every landlord or agent you hear from before providing any personal or financial information.
Trust Your Gut
If your instincts sense something if off, it probably is. Scammers often employ high-pressure sales tactics to get you to send them money or give away personal information. For instance, they may claim that multiple interested renters expressed interest and you need to act right away to secure the property. Another tactic they often use is claiming they’re out of the country but still need payment immediately.
Be very cautious when dealing with anyone who seems pushy or aggressive. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a decision.
When communicating with the landlord or property manager, be sure to ask questions and clarify any of your concerns. Trustworthy landlords will be more than happy to answer your questions and provide information about the property and the lease agreement.
Lastly, if you suspect you’ve stumbled upon a rental housing scam, report it to the appropriate authorities. This can help prevent others from falling victim to the scam and put bad actors out of business.
If you want to know how to avoid rental scams, it’s important to pay attention to price, do your research, avoid sending money before seeing the property, use reputable listing sites or real estate agents and trust your gut. You can also check out our tenant guide to renting for additional tips.
Don’t let anyone rush you into making an important decision like where to live. Take your time and make sure you get the information you need.