Hunting for a new apartment can be an exciting time, but it is important to be aware and vigilant of rental scams. It has only gotten easier for rental scammers to find new ways to trick would-be tenants into falling for phony online ads. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to detect the good ads from the phony ones. These scams can run prospective tenants out of money and time and also cause stress to owners of the properties being listed fraudulently.
How Rental Scams Work
As you can probably already imagine, these rental scammers do not have properties of their own that they are renting. What generally happens is these scammers will take photos of rental listings posted on rental sites and create their own ad with these stolen pictures.
Oftentimes, they offer these rentals well below market rate, that are seemingly too good to be true. Now, this may seem quite vague and almost impossible to decipher, because yes, there are many legitimate rental listings priced well and even at times below market value. Now the question is: How can I be sure the ad is a fraud or if it’s just a good deal?
Red Flags of a Rental Scam
- Price – As mentioned earlier, the price of a rental can be an indicator of fraud. Owners rent to make money, and usually, they have a mortgage to pay, which is why they rent their properties in the first place. If the price is way below market price this could be telling of a scam. Of course, it could be a great deal as well, so it is important you investigate it thoroughly.
- No visits – There are property owners who rent their units on their own, and property owners who rent their properties with the use of property managers and leasing agents. If you are being refused for visits because the owner is “out of town” or “busy”, you may want to be on high alert. Property owners, if living out of town, will always have someone taking care of their properties for them, especially if they are being rented. It is highly unlikely that an owner would list their property being unable to show potential tenants their property. This usually indicates that the individual who listed the property does not have access to it, because it is not theirs.
- Vague photos – When the listing’s photos are vague, meaning they only show the outside of the building for example, it could be an indication that it is a scam. Generally, if a listing is posted with only the outside picture, it is telling that the person posting the listing did not have access to the inside of the unit, and surely, the owner or his property managers do.
- Money Requests – Without a formal rental agreement, DO NOT comply with any request for money. If you are being asked to give a security deposit or for first month’s rent without having signed the lease, you should be very skeptical. No owner or leasing manager will ever ask to be paid for anything before the lease is signed. We can’t stress this enough: Do not pay before you have a contract!
How to Avoid The Rental Scams
- Don’t pay in cash – The most popular way of performing shady money operation is working in cash only. Why do scammers work with cash only? Easy: it’s untraceable. If you refuse to pay cash, the landlord will move onto the next prospect. As for yourself, you’ve just identified a rental scam.
- Always visit the place – Visiting the place you want to potentially rent should be at the top of your list of things to get done. If the landlord is “too busy” to give you a quick tour, you can skip out on that property. Now, if you are living out of town, request a visit over Facetime or even request a pre recorded tour. If the landlord comes up with some type of excuse that his camera doesn’t work, RUN! Insisting on a house tour is a huge step towards a more transparent rental process.
- Sign a written lease – The only form of lease you should consider is a written and signed one. Verbal agreements are tricky. Although some places may allow it, if you ever need to take the case to court, it will be exponentially harder for you to resolve. Written agreements are clear, concise and non disputable. On top of using a written lease, always make sure that it is signed by you and the landlord, and that you are able to receive some sort of copy as well.
- Avoid sub-leasing – Sub-leasing can be a sticky and possibly dangerous situation. It can be unbelievably difficult to verify whether the current tenant has the rights to sub-lease the property, and therefore you can never be sure you’re not part of a rental scam. If sub-leasing is forbidden in the original contract, the landlord can evict you as well as the original tenant. The best way to deal with subleasing is to actually just take over the current tenants lease, in what is called a lease transfer.
- Do your research – The easy thing about today’s world, is that we can find just about anything we need on the internet, including reviews on people and businesses. Before renting an apartment or condo from someone, make sure to do your homework. Google the landlord, his email, name, property address etc.
- Check the current market rates – Rental prices are not random. They are usually determined based on the current market rates. This means one apartment, about the same size, same area, same appliances, and amenities, will generally be priced similarly. Checking the current market rates will give you a basic understanding of what kind of price is reasonable for the particular place you’re interested in. if the property’s ad that you’re looking at is abnormally low, you should be suspicious.
- Be alert – Scammers have so many opportunities to take your money simply based on your lack of attention. Landlords may offer you one price in the ad, but when it comes time to sign the lease, they quietly change certain things in the rental agreement, to their favour. Things you may want to look for are utilities and appliances. Were you told these things would be included? Does it mention them in the contract? If you miss these details or are simply unaware, and sign the contract, you’ll be stuck. It’s important to make sure that the rent discussed makes up in the lease agreement.
- Hope they do a background check – Those who are ready to make a deal with absolutely no background info are probably scammers. It’s not only tenants that want to feel safe and secure, landlords do as well. Landlords want to know that their tenants are responsible,respectful of neighbours, pay in a timely manner, and are actually financially capable of paying the rent each month. When your potential landlord doesn’t ask you for credit reports or references, and rushed to sign the leasing, this is a huge red flag and you should be careful.
Now the biggest question of them all: What do you do if you have been scammed?
Now of course we have given you all the information we have so you know what to look for in fraudulent rental ads, but with today’s market and the increase of rental scammers, anything can really happen. So, if you do find yourself in this unwanted situation these are the steps you can take to help yourself out of the situation and others from getting in that situation.
- Contact local authorities. If they successfully find the person, they’ll prosecute and may be able to return any money you may have lost. Make sure to keep all your emails, and written conversations saved. These will be used as evidence and will help your case. For more information about how to report to local law force in Montreal about rental scams: http://spvm.qc.ca/en/News/Details/13971
- Contact the listing website where you found the listing so they take it down. They will investigate the situation and hopefully be able to ban the individual from the website. Although it may not stop them from using other rental sites, the more sites they’re banned from, the less of a chance they have to fraud other people.
- Write a negative review on the scammer’s post. It can take time for people to be banned from websites and caught by legal authorities, so what you can do in the meantime is give the scammer bad reviews on their posts.
Rental scamming is on the rise, but can be avoided. It’s important for you to do your due diligence and stay alert. Don’t let the details pass you by. “The devil is in the details” as they say. In many cases, scammers are experienced and know how to take advantage of loopholes. If something seems off, it probably is.
You can use our listings page to avoid any rental scams at http://rentals.agrasoyrealty.com. All of our listings have been thoroughly vetted and certified.