Looking for an apartment can be an exciting experience. Here’s your chance to find an apartment that’s perfect for you, and maybe even in a part of town you’ve always hoped to live in. And with the internet, it’s even easier than ever to find your dream apartment.
Unfortunately, the internet has also made it easier for con artists to scam unknowing apartment hunters. Anyone can post a fake listing on Craigslist or any other apartment listing website, and you could accidentally give money or your personal information to a scammer if you’re not careful. But even real property owners can scam you by misleading you about the real nature of the property. Either way, you don’t want your apartment search to end in disappointment or stolen cash.
Here are 5 common scams you should watch out for when you’re looking at apartments for rent.
They Make Demands Before a Viewing
It’s a major red flag when a supposed property owner asks for either personal information or payment information before you even go to view the apartment. Before a viewing, the only information that a property owner or landlord should ask for is your contact information so you can arrange the viewing.
When you go to the viewing, you’re given an opportunity to evaluate the landlord’s legitimacy: that they have keys to the building, that they’re familiar with the place, and that they have rental applications. Only when you’re convinced of the landlord’s legitimate overseeing of the property should you fill out a rental application with your personal information. And you really shouldn’t have to make any kind of payment on the property until you go to sign the lease (rental application fee excluded).
But if the landlord is requesting payment or your personal information (like your social security number) before you even view the apartment, it’s a good sign that the “landlord” is just a scammer who’s quickly trying to extract your info or steal money from you before you realize the rental listing is fake. Be safe online by not giving your personal information to someone you’ve never met.
Your Background Won’t Be Considered
If a landlord says that criminal or rental histories won’t be considered on your application, or that there’s no rental application at all, it’s a good reason to be suspicious of a scam. Most landlords conduct a SmartMove tenant screening to check a prospective tenant’s legal history and financial standing. Very few property owners want to offer leases to tenants with criminal records, or who have been evicted at prior properties, or who are financially unstable and unlikely to pay rent on time.
Some scammers will use the “no background considered” policy to try and fish payments and personal information from over-eager people who are having a difficult finding a place to live.
Extremely Cheap Price
If there’s a rental listing for a great property at a bizarrely low price, you should start sniffing for a scam. It’s very rare that truly great properties, with large lots and upscale amenities, will come with low rent prices. Typically, it’s a good sign that a scammer will try to extract personal information or payment from you, or there could be serious defects with the property that make it an unsuitable place to live. What could those defects be? There could be a recurrent pest problem at the property, or perhaps the property is located in a dangerous neighborhood. Or, there was a horrible tragedy or death that occurred on the property.
You might not care about some of those issues, or maybe you will. Regardless, always do a viewing before you fill out a rental application. You should also check apartment ratings at ApartmentRatings.com and see what prior tenants thought about the place. This can help you examine the validity of a low price.
Extremely Expensive Price
You should also be weary of units that go for exorbitantly high prices. Sometimes, these property owners try to prey on overzealous first-time apartment hunters who aren’t quite sure how quality equates with rental price. Always try and find similar apartments and see what their rent prices are. This will help you judge the true worth of a unit. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be share the space with a roommate—be skeptical about a $2500 apartment when nearby apartments go for $1400.
High Application Fee
Lots of landlords charge rental applications fees to cover the cost of tenant screenings. Beware of application fees that are too expensive. Tenants screenings usually only cost about $45, so anything significantly higher than that, could be a landlord or scammer trying to steal from you.
So long as you keep these five scams in mind, you’ll find a great apartment and won’t fall prey to greedy landlords or unscrupulous scammers. Happy apartment hunting! When you’ve found your dream apartment, be sure to read our guide on packing and moving before you move in.
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