Common rental scams and landlord frauds
Rental and landlord scams are more common than you think. Learn ways to tell if a rental is legitimate and how to avoid apartment scams.
Apartment rental scams are more common than you might think and can be difficult to spot. As you're hunting for your next house or apartment to rent, look out for these red flags to help avoid future rental scams.
Tips for how to tell if a rental is legitimate
- Requesting deposit money first. Scammers will try to get you to hold the rental and send money before ever meeting you, showing the property or having you sign a lease. If the listing asks for payment or wired money up front, walk away from this potential security deposit scam.
- Landlord or leasing agent not available. If the person who replies to the listing claims to be out of town, sick or simply unavailable to meet, yet still demands a security deposit, the listing could be a scam. Scammers avoid meeting so you can't report them and they escape with your deposit. A legitimate landlord will arrange to meet you in person and show you the property.
- Fake or false listings. Even if you meet the landlord, you should still view the property before signing a lease. It's easy for scammers to copy another listing and claim to have a fake property. Another red flag is a request for an unusually high security deposit, as the scammer will quickly disappear after receiving the money.
- Added fees for background checks. While it is common for landlords to check a potential tenant's credit and backgrounds, some landlord scams involve requiring potential tenants to pay exorbitant fees to cover these checks.
- No lease required. Without a lease, you might be at risk for potential problems. Even month-to-month leases usually have some form of agreement that outlines the responsibilities of both parties.
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Tips for how to spot a rental scammer on Craigslist and other online classifieds
- Apartment lease is more than a great deal. If you find a listing in a popular neighborhood that's a few hundred dollars less than other rentals in the same area, chances are you are looking at a fake listing. The scammer most likely copied from a real listing and is offering at a lower rate to appeal to unassuming renters.
- Replicated apartment photos and description. It's a good idea to pay attention to the photos of the listing. If you notice a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) watermark, chances are the scammer copied the photos from the local real estate MLS. You can verify this by either performing a reverse image search or searching the address to see if the property is listed for sale on other real estate sites. And, a lot of times, a Craigslist listing is identical to the MLS description.
- Vague details in the rental listing. If the listing seems overly vague or doesn't make sense, it could mean the person creating the listing has never seen the property.
Avoiding rental scams
- Meet your landlord in person. Before the meeting, be prepared with questions about the lease agreement, how the property is managed and if pets are allowed. Getting your questions answered may help you avoid fees, miscommunication and headaches down the road.
- Ask to see the property in person to ensure the pictures and location match what was advertised. Do not pay a deposit until you have seen the property and confirm it is a legitimate listing. Make a checklist of what you should be looking for when viewing apartments. A rental property viewing checklist will help you stay organized and prepared when viewing properties.
- Do online research about the landlord or company that owns the property. Read the reviews other people have provided and if there are many negative ones, you might want to consider other options.
- Beware of cash requests to pay for an application, deposit or rent. You should be able to pay in a way where money can be tracked. Only provide your bank information or make the payments after you have confirmed it is a real and legit company or landlord.
Steps to take if you are a victim of a rental scam
- Call the police so they can help find the scammer and possibly get your money back.
- Contact the publisher of the listing so they can remove it from the site.
- Notify the Federal Trade Commission which is responsible for protecting consumers.
- File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center which allows people to report crime that happens online.
- Think about sharing your story to warn others of what happened to you. Don't lose hope! You'll find the perfect property.