You don’t have to go through the horrid experience of falling for a rental scam before you understand how they work.
Over the years, rental scams has unfortunately become a familiar scare most house hunters have to experience to get what they want. If you have never fallen for one, do consider yourself very lucky. Victims who have fallen for it, have had to suffer some level of undue financial and psychological stress because of it.
Asides the financial heartbreak resulting from losing money this way, it is also humiliating and has been observed to result in depression for some, probably because they dread having to start all over again.
Here’s the great news I have for you in all these; you don’t have to go through the horrid experience of falling for a rental scam before you understand how they work.
I am hopeful that the tips that will be shared here today will go a long way in helping you avoid being cheated when hunting for an apartment/property by these unscrupulous agents.
Find below some tips on how to spot a scam and avoid falling victim.
You can’t inspect the property/apartment?
One of the simple ways to judge if you are about to be scammed is if the agent acts all cagey when you request to inspect the apartment in question. Be also alert, if they make it literally impossible for you to inspect the property. Of course, they will come up with several excuses but the end goal is the same – they don’t want you to inspect the apartment/property.
The really smart ones will go as far as telling you that they are out of town, which means they are not physically available to arrange an inspection of the property. In most cases, he/she (scam agent) will ask you to hold on till he/she gets back. This is just a tactic they use to buy time.
Anyone who keeps you away from an apartment/property you intend to rent has rental scam written all over his/her intention. Don’t fall for this trick regardless of the excuse they come up with.
The transaction seems urgent to the agent?
If there is one other sign you should be wary of when house hunting, it is the pressure to make an early financial commitment. One of the tactics they use is trying to make you pay before an inspection. This is a red flag that gives a rental scam away.
The biggest tactic they use with unsuspecting victims is saying that they have received lots of applications and offers from other potential tenants. The goal here is to lure you into making that financial commitment. Once that is done, you are hooked and what follows is merely a familiar plot to nail the coffin of deception that you have unknowingly walked into. Don’t fall for the line of showing your commitment by paying a deposit too early.
The rental amount sounds like a big steal?
If what you are being asked to pay as rent is way cheaper than the value of what you should have been asked to pay, then this is another sign of a scam. One way to find out the value of an apartment/property is through research. You can check trusted real estate websites to compare prices. Another way to achieve this is through a real estate expert. If the figure still falls below what you should be paying for the apartment, then it is most likely a trap set to lure you in.
The building is yet to be completed?
If an agent or developer takes you to an uncompleted building, and almost immediately starts asking you to pay up inorder to secure it before others do, count this as a major sign. A lot of unsuspecting victims have been duped this way.
These rogue agents go as far as allowing you to inspect the property/apartment even while construction is ongoing. The trick here is to show the same apartment to as many as 10 to 40 unsuspecting victims. They make payment without ever clashing because the rogue agent schedules their inspection for different days.
One way to avoid this is to work with a property lawyer or a real estate expert; whose years of experience can be relied on to avoid falling into such traps.
Pictures are all you’ve gotten?
No matter how captivating the pictures of an apartment shown to you by a real estate agent is, it cannot replace an actual inspection. There are millions of images online that a scammer can easily download and present to you.
It’s okay to have images shown to you but don’t be naive enough to believe that once these are shown to you, everything checks out as being legitimate. In a situation where these images are emailed to you, you can verify their authenticity by uploading them on Google search to see if they pop up in a totally different listing.
No Written Lease?
An agent looking to scam you will either be deliberately clumsy with the written lease or will not make it available to you. When renting an apartment, the only form of agreement you should take seriously is a written one and the reason is simple. A written agreement can always be used as a reference in cases of disagreement and clearly spells out details of what the lease covers.
It is important that the lease identifies who the property owner is. Anyone claiming to represent the interest of the legitimate owner of the home must have a legal document to back this.
In a situation where the property has more than one owner, you should request for a written confirmation from the other party. What this does is to communicate his acknowledgement of the ongoing rental process. Without the other party’s approval, the entire thing might be a sham.
Impossible to meet the real owner?!
No excuse is good enough to justify not being able to have a meeting with the owner of a property before you rent his/her apartment. This meeting legitimises the rental. If you are renting any house, insist on seeing the documents of the ownership.
A popular trick used by con artists is to tell you that the necessary documents will be sent to you. This is one trap you should never fall for because no legitimate homeowner would refuse to show you the documents you have requested to see.
In a situation where the document is eventually shared with you but the name on it does not match the name of the person who claims to be the landlord, this should mark the end of your conversation.
Offering to sublease?
Subleasing remains one of the riskiest waters to navigate and this is because you put yourself into a situation where you would be paying for an apartment that does not have your name in the original lease agreement that was signed.
Verifying the claim that the lease agreement leaves room for subleasing is another headache entirely. You should be careful not to make any financial commitment to such an arrangement. One safe way to go about this is to get the original tenant to include your name in the original lease agreement that was signed with the landlord.
Please note that if the sublease is forbidden in the lease agreement and you pay for the apartment without knowing this, both you and the original tenant can be ejected by the landlord.
In the course of hunting for an apartment, you will be told a lot of things especially if you carry out due diligence and ask a lot of necessary questions. However, regardless of what you are told, it is important that you carve out time to carry out proper research. Google should be your friend at this point. Check the name of the agent as well as the landlord you have been introduced to.
The internet always remembers names and incidents that they have been associated with. For instance, what would you do if you discovered that your supposed landlord was arrested and jailed 10 years ago for collecting rent from 15 different prospective tenants for the same apartment? Would you still go ahead to sign a rental agreement?
Final Thoughts on Rental Scam
Always trust your instinct. If that inner voice or your gut tells you that there is something off about the agent or the property that is being presented to you, you’ll most likely be safer going with that hunch.
Are you aware of any rental scam story or incident that others can learn from? We’d like to hear from you in the comment section.