In areas like Whatcom County that have very low rental property vacancy rates, renters become especially susceptible to scam artists who prey on people looking for a home to rent. Rental property fraud is very real. Potential renters can end up losing their security deposit, paying an application fee for an apartment that is unavailable or moving into an apartment with broken/missing appliances. So what is rental property fraud and how can people protect themselves from becoming a victim?
The Definition of Rental Property Fraud
Rental fraud is when a landlord intentionally deceives prospective tenants by listing a property for rent that is unavailable, that does not exist or misrepresents the unit available through false advertising. By the time the applicants realize that they have been deceived, they have already paid an application fee and security deposit; sometimes even first and last month’s rent. In extreme situations, the fraudulent landlord stoops to selling applicants’ personal information to identity thieves. In fact, some identity thieves pose as landlords on Craigslist and other online rental sites with the hidden motive of stealing applicants’ personal information.
How to Avoid Rental Fraud
Verify the Landlord’s Legitimacy
Do not be intimidated by the prospect of verifying the landlord’s legitimacy; this task is easier than most assume. Look up the landlord on city records. If there is a building manager, speak to him or her to determine if the landlord is authentic.
View the Property In-Person
It is a mistake to exclusively rely on online rental sites like Craigslist when researching properties. Before paying an application fee or making a security deposit, visit the property yourself to guarantee that the apartment looks exactly like it does in the advertisement. Make sure all of the appliances and amenities listed in the ad are included. Test the stove, faucets, lights and other features before handing over a security deposit.
Never pay with Cash or a Wire Transfer
A fraudulent landlord typically requests payment through cash or wire transfer because these payment methods are difficult to track. It is better to pay for a deposit with a personal check or money order.
Speak with Current Tenants
If you spot any tenants on the property, engage them in discussion. Their opinions will help you get an idea as to whether the landlord is legitimate and responsive. Ask tenants if repairs are performed in a timely manner, if there is excessive noise pollution and if they would recommend their friends move into the property.
Do not Hand Over Your Personal Information in a Careless Manner
Plenty of rental applications require prospective tenants to provide their Social Security number, bank account balances and even bank account numbers. Do not provide this information until you have verified the legitimacy of the landlord and are absolutely sure that you want to move into this rental property!
Confirm Amenities and Price Prior to Signing the Lease
It is a mistake to assume all the features listed in the advertisement are accurate. Verify each and every aspect of the listing prior to paying the security deposit or first month’s rent. As an example, if the ad lists a washer, dryer and off-street parking as apartment features, perform your due diligence by verifying each of these promises. Once you sign the lease you are tied to the apartment “as is”, meaning that you have committed to living in the apartment in its current condition.
Rent from Reliable Property Managers
The best way to avoid being the victim of rental property fraud is to rent from an established property manager or property management company. These experienced groups are much less likely to scam lessees as they have a visible face and reputation to protect in the community.
Son-Rise Property Management has been serving the property management needs of Bellingham and Whatcom County since 1996. Contact us today to see how we can help you find a rental property for your family or manage your rental properties.