Nowadays, the rental housing market is in high demand, with available units being less and less each year. On top of that, the rent in many cities –especially the larger ones- is becoming extremely expensive, with apartments sometimes being unaffordable for students and people with lower paying jobs. As a result of these two unfortunate turn of events, rental scams are also on the rise. People would actually be surprised how many people fall for these scams and end up not only out of money, but also out of a place to live.
If you are new to the rental scene or desperate to find a new place to live, you are a target to these online rental scams. Even experienced renters can find themselves in a bind due to scams, although the young and eager tend to be the biggest targets.
Before starting a search for the perfect place to live, you should be aware of these scams and know how to avoid them. Here are 10 tips to avoid online rental scams.
1. Know average rent rates
This is essential. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Research the city you are living in or moving to and have a look what the average rental rate is. It is also good to know what the renting market is like. If it is a popular city for renting, then there will be more available. If not, then there will of course be fewer places to rent. This will effect average rent rates. Then research the neighbourhood you want to move to. Is it a popular area? Is it close to public transportation? Is it a safe area? These things will also affect the rental rate.
Once you know these things, it will be easier to determine whether or not a rental advert is legitimate or not. If a downtown apartment is being offered for half the cost of other similar apartments, chances are it is a scam. Again, if it is too good to be true, than it most likely is.
This is a serious red flag and a sure sign that it is a scam. Sending money, or even writing a cheque, before a lease is signed is a big no. This is how online rental scams work, and it is the only way that they work. If you send money before seeing the place or signing a lease there is a 99 percent chance that you will not only lose your money, but also end up homeless.
If a so-called landlord is telling you that there is a lot of interest and the only way to endure that you get the apartment is to send money or a cheque straight away, don’t listen. This is where many people have a hard time and how many fall prey to these scams. If they are eager to get money upfront, they are not really the landlord and just looking to get your money.
It is often the case in the condo industry that the owner is not in the country. This is also where scams take place. If they say they are not in the country and you should send the money to secure the condo, don’t send it. Ever! Pretty much every condo owner that is living elsewhere has a realtor or property manager that deals with things for them. So there is no reason to send money overseas to a landlord, as this is the job of the realtor or property manager.
3. Look at the apartment before you rent it
Don’t rely on photos or videos you see online. These can easily be lifted from any realtor or renting website. Make sure you go and have a look yourself. If the ‘landlord’ tells you that they live out of town and can’t show you the unit, this is most likely a rental scam. Again, most owners have a realtor or property manager to take care of the apartment or condo. So there is no reason to be told it is impossible to see the place.
Only meeting you outside is also not an option. If they are nervous about showing you the inside of the property, or cancel a viewing with no explanation, avoid at all costs. If you can’t see the inside there probably is no apartment for rent. Or, at the very least, the ‘landlord’ does not have the rights to rent it.
This can be tricky if you are moving to a new city, as chances are you won’t be there to have a look. This is often what many online rental scammers hope for. If you can’t go yourself then send someone else to have a look for you. If that is not possible, hire a trusted realtor to look for places for you. In the end, it will be much cheaper than losing what could end up being a few thousand dollars.
4. Take your time
Online rental scams work best when there are fewer vacancies and people feel pressured to get a place as fast as they can. If you are too eager you can fall for a scam. But this also works the other way around. If a landlord seems too eager to rent and wants an answer quickly, it could very well be a scam. Landlords know exactly what the market is like and often have more eager renters than not. So there is no reason that they themselves should be eager to rent, or should push you to jump on the place ASAP.
If the ‘landlord’ seems too eager to rent, is willing to negotiate lease terms or even the rent, this should be a red flag. Landlords often go through a tenant screening process before choosing who they will rent to, so if this process doesn’t seem to be happening, it is most likely a scam.
5. Don’t give personal information
This should never be done until you have met the landlord or property manager, seen the apartment and are ready to sign a lease. Regardless, there is no need to reveal some types of information, but if they are asking for personal information before you have even met, don’t give it. There is no reason that this information is needed until the tenant screening process is in place; meaning you have met, seen the unit and want to rent it.
6. Search websites to verify the property
It is very easy to do a search of the property and the landlord. Put the address in and do a search to see if it is listed on more than one reputable rental listing website. Many of these websites require professional renters to pay to advertise. They also verify the listing themselves to ensure that it is not a scam. So if you don’t see the apartment anywhere but on say Craigslist or Kijiji, it could very well be a scam. That is not to say that all apartments listed on these sites are a scam. Many are not. But you can also verify the landlord as well. Search the name of the landlord (and even their number) and see if anyone has listed anywhere that they were scammed by that person.
As well, if you so a search for the owner and the same advert can be seem in a different city, it’s obviously a scam. Also check photos of a listing. If you notice the same photos being used in more than one advert than you know without a doubt that it is a fake.
7. Check details
If the advert lacks details, or there seems to be inconsistencies, avoid it like the plague. An owner, realtor or property manager will put everything about the apartment down in details so that prospective tenants get a full picture of what they will be renting. This should include things like square footage, amenities and details of the lease.
Ask questions! This is another great way to avoid an online scam. If there are details missing from the advert then you should ask as many questions as you can. Again, the owner, realtor or property manager should be able to answer any and all questions that you may have; in detail! Even things as specific as the dimensions of each room. This is something that the person you speak to should know.
8. Look at photos
One thing to always avoid is an ad without photos. If there are no photos of the inside of the apartment then chances are the person listing the apartment does not have access to it. A true landlord will be able to provide photos of every room in the apartment. If only photos of the building, the lobby and the outside area are shown, there is a good chance that it is a scam.
Owners, realtors and property managers want to get the best tenants that they possibly can. They know that in order to do this they should provide photos on the advert. This will give potential tenants a chance to see the unit before they actually go to see the unit in person. Photos should be of the outside of the building, all common areas and of each room in the apartment.
9. Have a lease
Legally, you don’t need a lease to rent an apartment, but it is in the best interest of both you and the landlord to have one. If a landlord tells you there is no need for a lease, run; as fast as you can. Any legitimate landlord will want you to sign a lease to protect themselves in case there is ever a problem. Even if you are renting short-term or subletting an apartment, get everything in writing. If the landlord refuses to have you sign a lease, you can be rest assured it is most likely a scam.
10. Trust your instincts
Know the signs of an online rental scam and be knowledgeable before renting a place. If something seems off, then it probably is. Trust your own instincts, as they are almost always right. If you do feel like someone is trying to scam you, contact the local police and report it. In doing so, you may even learn that others have also contacted them about the very same person or unit. You could also be helping someone else out in the future.