While renting a new apartment doesn't exactly match up against a wedding, birth of a child or even a graduation, these things all share one common thread - they run the full spectrum of emotions. From the energy and excitement we feel about renting a new apartment to the concern of finding that next perfect place to the sheer terror of not being able to find anything at all, renting an apartment can be among the most exhausting and exhilarating experiences of your life!
Making things worse is there are people out there who are keenly aware of the fragile and disadvantage position you may be in. These are the individuals who lay traps for otherwise unsuspecting, trusting and good-hearted people simply because they can exploit the situation for their own selfish gains. However, by being vigilant and adhering to a couple proactive and proven techniques we can protects ourselves, our properties and most importantly our loved ones.
Let's begin by first understanding what a rental scam is and then introduce a couple general rules to follow and then look at some of the more common scams in the market today.
What Is A Rental Scam?
A rental scam is an attempt to get money from an unsuspecting person who is responding to an ad or some form of communication in good faith. Rental scams most commonly target tenants, but have been known to target landlords as well.
How Can I Protect Myself from Scammers?
Your best course of defense against scammers is to be alert and pay close attention to what you're being told. If the information seems “too good to be true” it more than likely is. For instance, if the average 2-bedroom apartment is renting for $2,000 per month in your particular market and you see an ad for a 2-bedroom apartment for only $1,000 per month, half the market-value, this should trigger an immediate “Red Flag” and be reason enough for you to simply walk away from this listing.
Some scams aren't quite so easily identifiable. It's an excellent idea to talk with friends, family, co-workers and anyone else whose judgement you trust. While everything may appear ok on the surface and you may have no obvious warning signs, a member of your network might have a different take. There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking “Does this seem right to you?” In fact, asking that question is your best course of action.
Attend showings with a trusted friend or relative. There's definitely strength in numbers and for scammers looking to make money as quickly and as easily as possible, knowing they have to deceive more than just one person can be enough of a deterrent for the scammer to move along.
What Are Some Common Rental Scams?
1. Tenants are asked to send money (often via wire or money transfer) to an individual they've never actually met. If anyone ever asks you to send them money before you've even met them in person it's a virtual guarantee that they're trying to scam you. Never, under any circumstance, send money to someone you haven't met.
2. The landlord seems far too eager to lease you the apartment. Because the vast majority of leases start with each new calendar month there's bound to be some sense of urgency, but temper that against what's reasonable. For instance, if the landlord is demanding that you sign a lease today and write him or her a deposit check today, but the lease isn't supposed to start for several weeks they may be scamming you. It's possible that they don't actually own the property they've shown you, but managed to gain access to it long enough to give you a tour. If you ask for a second showing and the “landlord” refuses, it's best that you stop dealing with them immediately.
3. You're asked to pay an unreasonably high deposit before moving in. It's quite common that a landlord will ask that you pay a deposit prior to moving in, but that deposit should be no more than the value of one month's rent. Once you've paid the deposit the “landlord” may disappear with your funds leaving you with little recourse and without a place to live.
4. The landlord is mysteriously out of the country and unable to meet with you. Renting an apartment is just as much of an event for a tenant as it is for the landlord. It only stands to reason that landlords would want to be as present as possible and for them to all of a sudden be out of the country and expect you to carry-on as if they were standing in the room next to you should be cause for concern. Either wait until they return from whatever travel they may be on and then re-start your negotiations with everyone in the same room together or, better still, find a new apartment to rent.
5. You see multiple versions of the same apartment for rent. It's to be expected that landlords want to generate as much awareness for their property as they can, but if you see multiple versions of the same listing on the same site you're more than likely looking at a fraud waiting to happen. An excellent test for this is to compare the contact information and the specific calls to action to identify the fraud. For instance, if one version of the listing encourages interested tenants to call and schedule a listing whereas another version of the same listing is asking for a wire transfer of the deposit as an upfront fee, the listing asking for the wire transfer is almost certainly a fraud.
In summary, the best course of action is to keep your wits about you. Accept the fact that renting an apartment can be a stressful experience, but if you proceed with caution, insist in dealing in person and get absolutely everything in writing you'll end up loving your new home and enjoying the total experience.
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