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Home / Finances / How to Spot and Avoid Potential Rental Scams


The following is a guest post by Jennifer Riner of Zillow:

Many scam artists recognize lessees’ desperation in a competitive rental market – and they don’t hesitate to capitalize on such opportunities. Young professionals, for instance, fairly new to renting and constantly on-the-go might rejoice at listings with all online transactions and signings. And, units listed below market value pressure prospective tenants into making hasty decisions.

To avoid losing money and trust in future landlords, keep the following apartment hunting best practices in mind.

Don’t be dazzled by deals

Large apartments with great amenities in prime locations almost always cost a premium. If the offer is too good to be true, it’s likely a scam. While fake listings in highly-competitive rental markets like San Francisco or New York City are easier to spot because cheap rentals appear too good to be true, lessees in other metros might be unaware of prices considered “too low.” For example, renters seeking apartments in Dallas, face a median rent price of $1,330 per month. One of the most expensive neighborhoods is Uptown, located in North Dallas, where the median rental price is a steep $3,393 per month. Therefore, an apartment in Uptown listed for far less than the city’s median list price could be a scam. It’s important for prospective renters to be knowledgeable of the market they plan to rent in to recognize unrealistic price points.

Alternatively, unusually high deposits and fees should also raise concern. Landlords charging astronomical add-ons may plan to pocket those funds and disappear before even discussing potential rental rates or lease agreements.

Pay in person

Handing over funds to a person you’ve never met is risky, especially without receiving something in return. Any listing agent or landlord who asks for payments prior to showing physical units are likely attempting to scam prospective applicants. These con artists typically tell renters they can submit their payments via wire transfers and then pick up the keys on move-in day. Established property managers, on the other hand, rarely force tenants into paying for something sight-unseen. Keep in mind, many legitimate rental professionals rely on electronic deposits and signatures to streamline their business practices, but only after meeting in-person and proving they have apartments for lease matching their listings online.

Assess listing quality
Dark, blurry or flipped images should be red flags to prospective tenants searching for apartments online. Low-quality photos limit potential applicants from properly visualizing and assessing properties, which is why most established rental companies do everything in their power to avoid amateur photography. Also, be weary of listings with a large number of grammatical errors that extend beyond common real estate industry abbreviations, including BR for bedroom or BA for bathroom. Also, check the phone number attached to each listing. If it goes straight to voicemail after multiple attempts, the “agent” could be using a Google Voice number to mimic a desired area code, especially when committing fraud from a different country.

As scammers become savvier, it’s important for renters to keep up with their trends. Always rely on your gut instinct when signing a lease, and start your search early to avoid last-minute pressure that might cloud your judgment


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