How to Avoid Rental Scams
While the internet has made searching for an apartment easier and more accessible than ever before, this doesn’t mean that all rentals are created equal. Some individuals or companies have taken advantage of prospective renters through various types of rental scams targeting the real estate space.
Fortunately, there are a few key tips for how to avoid rental scams. Make note of these common warning signs of scammers so you can feel confident and happy about your next home:
1. Perform research online
One of the best ways for how to avoid rental scams is to perform your due diligence. Research properties online before making your final decision, and make note of apartment descriptions of what is and isn’t included in your rental, what neighborhood the home is in, and other important living information.
Then, dive deeper and read online reviews and social media postings about your prospective new home. These can provide additional insight into the quality and satisfaction of the apartment you want to rent, as well as insights into your new landlord. Also, contact the building owner, landlord, or property management company to ask any specific questions that may not be listed on the website.
The internet is a powerful thing. Conducting a little research will help you feel more informed about your decision and give you a solid sense of what to expect when it comes time to make a move.
2. Decline cash deals
Cash payments don’t have a paper trail to document the rental arrangement. Once a person has your money, there’s nothing in writing or secured proof that shows you’ve paid for an apartment. There are online forums with rent by owners, many of which are legitimate, but an owner or landlord that requires cash-only is a scam red flag, whether they’re asking for first month’s rent, a security deposit, or any other additional fee.
Keep in mind that landlords also want to be protected. They welcome a traceable transaction for their renters as well. Moving to a new place is a personal decision, but it begins as a business transaction. Property management and real estate transactions should be handled with a certain formality that doesn’t involve handing over cash to a stranger.
3. Compare rental property prices
Every rental unit should have a price (or at least price range) associated with it. Use this to compare with other similar rent prices in the area. Anything alarmingly inflated may be a sign of a scam, though certain factors may cause higher rents.
For example, a bare-bones apartment without utilities or special amenities will likely be much cheaper in rent than a place that is all-inclusive and move-in ready, even when they’re both in the same neighborhood.
On the other hand, be wary of rent prices that seem too good to be true. A rental listing that’s well under normal market value could be a scam or may indicate problems with the apartment, building, and/or area of the city.
While you want to get the most for your money, ask yourself why a comparable apartment might be listed much lower than other units and if the price will be upheld through the duration of your lease term. Sometimes, landlords will offer a move-in special and then increase your rent substantially as the months go on.
4. Submit to a background check
Landlords and property management companies ready to let you move in without having background information or running a background check puts you, them, and fellow residents at risk. Neither they nor you should want to face that kind of liability.
If your prospective landlord or property manager is rushing to have you move in and plans to waive your security check, consider that a red flag. If they aren’t screening you, it’s likely they aren’t screening others, either. Having a background check on record is simply a part of a legitimate rental process.
5. View the property
Review photos of the property you want to rent. When there’s only a description available, as with many apartment listings on sites like Craigslist, it’s hard to picture the actual space of where you’ll be living. There’s also room for misinterpretation of the size, condition, and quality of the apartment.
At the very least, ask the property owner to send photos of the place or schedule a tour. If a landlord won’t share pictures with potential tenants, they may be trying to hide something, such as poor living conditions or a scam. In particular, scammers target potential tenants who have to rent sight-unseen, so pushing for evidence of the apartment’s condition is key.
Fortunately, technology is making it easier for potential renters who are moving from another state to view apartments without having to make an extra trip. Ask your property manager for a virtual tour of an apartment you’re interested in renting to see the layout and imagine how your belongings will fit into the area and aesthetic.
6. Explore all-inclusive rentals further
Many times, property managers will list their units as all-inclusive on their rental website, but this can mean different things to different people. All-inclusive in some instances may refer to a furnished apartment only. When a website or listing offers a fully furnished or all-inclusive living space, check to see what that entails.
For example, what sets Landing apart is a fully furnished apartment with additional home comforts and necessities, including deluxe kitchen appliances, plush linens and towels, toiletries, and more. For people renting homes in multiple cities who want to experience a rental that feels like home, having these offerings readily available makes it easier to settle in and get comfortable.
7. Clarify included amenities
In addition to defining all-inclusive rentals, part of how to avoid apartment rental scams is clarifying which amenities are included. In other words, who is responsible for what? Are utilities part of the arrangement? If so, which ones, and will they be automatically set up? Additionally, is the space fully furnished, partially furnished, or not furnished at all? Review and ask which furniture and appliances are included.
The more specific the listing description, the better. Utilities, new furniture, and other unexpected costs can quickly add up. When these aren’t clarified in advance, it causes you to spend more money than you originally budgeted for. Make sure to confirm which utilities and/or amenities are included in the rental price or if you’ll be paying extra.
You should also check what your upfront renter costs will be, such as security deposits, rental fees, or additional months of rent. Establish rental terms from the start—you don’t want your landlord to bait-and-switch you into paying more down the line.
With Landing, amenities vary by building but are always included in the rental price. Whichever place you choose, the amenities offered are listed in advance and are yours to use at your convenience.
8. Beware the “phantom” property owner
Though technology is making it easier to rent places in cities you’ve never been to or buildings you’ve never visited, you’ll still want the opportunity to talk with a person, if necessary. Landlords or property management organizations that ask you to wire money or say they’ll send keys in the mail are red flags of a scam.
Scammers often create fake listings or keys, or they’ll never send you any move-in information once they have money in hand. Make sure your communication is through a secured system and there’s a human voice available if you need clarification to your questions.
When checking into one of our Landing homes, a Landing host will meet you on your move-in date to show you your new home, the amenities, and assist you with getting on the Wi-Fi. We’ll also send an email with any information you might need to park, access the building, etc. You never have to worry about information lost in translation when there’s support ready to help you transition to a new city.
9. Trust your intuition
Moving to a new place should feel fun and exciting. Rental listings and the communication associated with them should be easy and accessible. When there are more red flags than reasons to choose a place, it could be a sign the place isn’t right for you.
Whenever you feel off about a place or don’t receive regular responses with regards to your living situation, listen to your gut. Nowadays, there are novel ways of renting an apartment, which are quickly making the availability for flexible lease options and remote living part of the norm versus a passing trend. Even when trying something different, get the confirmation you need to rest easy. Legitimate rental companies are a quick Google search away to confirm their reputation in the space.
Find a place you love
Once you’ve learned how to avoid rental scams and have found a place you love, it’s easier to make moving decisions the next time you’re ready to check out a new city. The upfront research performed in the beginning pays off in the long term and will carry you through to your next rental.
Flexible leasing opportunities like Landing are perfect for people who want to pick up and move without being locked into a long-term lease agreement. And, there’s never a need to pack, sell, or buy new furniture, appliances, and other living necessities. Once you’re part of the Landing network, you can transfer from property to property, as available. The increasing flexibility of how many people work now offers opportunities to explore and live in different places with ease.