HOW TO DETECT AND AVOID RENTAL SCAMS
It has come to the attention of Property Hunters that individuals misrepresenting themselves as landlords on behalf of our rental properties have offered fraudulent rental opportunities with the intent to steal personal information and/or solicit money from renters. One of Property Hunters core values is integrity and we want to help potential renters avoid being scammed.
- Property Hunters would never ask a potential renter for money upfront.
- Anyone can view our rentals at www.propertyhunters.com. If one of our rentals is advertised by a person pretending to be the andlord it is not a legitimate rental.
- Property Hunters directs potential renters to apply on our website at www.propertyhunters.com.
- If Property Hunters requests an application to be completed, a renter will send the potential tenant a link to complete a rental application. This email would include our agents name at an “@propertyhunters.com” email address.
- If you receive a fraudulent email or phone call from a person inpersonating a landlord for one of our properties with an out of town (country) phone number save the message and send it to your local law enforcement agency and please contact us.
Rental vacancy rates are low and where just 1.2% of units are ready to be someone’s new home. The urge to jump on that excellent rental before someone else snags it away comes an unfortunate side effect: a rise in rental apartment, condo and home scams. Here’s how to sniff them out and not get taken in by those questionable people who’d rather take your money and leave you hanging on moving day.
Know Your Average Rents
Any scam requires bait and a rental rate that’s too good to be true is your first—and major—red flag. There’s such thing as an absolute steal when it comes to renting but if someone’s offering a rental for three-quarters the cost of its neighbours, unfortunately it’s more likely that something doesn’t add up.
Once you decide which neighbourhood you’re looking to settle into, look at a few sets of rental listings as well as news articles to get a sense of what the average rent is in that area. It’ll not only help you pick your neighbourhood and budget well but that’s knowledge that can keep you from getting drawn into a rental scam.
The Invisible Rental Property Problem (or Landlord, or Lease)…
So you’re all set to see the property but there’s one problem: The landlord doesn’t live in town—the classic phrase is “I’m a business person who travels abroad”—and only wants to communicate by email. There’s nobody local to show you the place. Or your prospective landlord has met you outside for a showing—but doesn’t want to show you around inside.
All these are red flags and they spell trouble.
Yes, they might have pictures but the fake landlord sends pictures of the inside of a different property or copied from an original ad. Photos of a unit can be lifted easily from real estate listings or plainly faked. One quick way to check if those photos are legit is to run a Google image search to see if those photos show up anywhere they don’t belong—like on a real estate, property management or rental site for multiple other addresses. If so, you’ve just found a scam artist and not a landlord.
If the potential landlord gets a little too nervous about letting you inside the property and makes excuses to avoid it or cancels viewings without explanation then it’s quite possible that the front of the building is exactly that, a front, and they don’t own this space at all.
Make sure, whenever you’re renting a property you physically see the inside. If you’re renting a property from out of the city to move into for work or school have a trusted friend or colleague check it out in person. Look into hiring a reputable rental or property management company to be your eyes on the ground and pre-clear any property before you consider it.
Lease First, Payments to the Back
Beware—strongly—of anyone who wants you to write a cheque—or especially wire or pay cash—for a first and last month’s rent without having signed a paper lease. It’s never, ever a good idea to put down money for any upfront deposit before the lease is signed.
If you feel like your prospective landlord is pushing for money upfront, or if they say those magic words—”We don’t need a lease”—pick up and get right out of there.
Furthermore, if you’re being asked to wire money—which is less recoverable than cheques, especially when sending overseas—that’s a huge red flag. While it’s true that many rental properties are owned by overseas investors, landlords who are business-minded enough to keep a rental in another country are also business-minded enough to hire a local property management company to lease and manage it. There should be a manager or agent available to assist you.
Professionalism is key
It’s the inconsistencies that sometimes can mark someone who’s not so much renting the property but playing a part. Does the email address that writes back to you match the name of the contact? Do your contacts with this landlord come from multiple email addresses?
Likewise, while “I’m a travelling business person” is the standard for rental scams. Does this person act the part of who they claim to be? Are they asking you for references, a credit check, letters of employment, and the other tools they could use to make sure you’re a good tenant? If they’re a little too eager to skip the steps that protect a landlord from bad tenants then they might not be interested in having you as a tenant at all—just in your deposit.
If a landlord solicits extra personal information—”Tell me about yourself so I can decide if you’re the kind of person I want to rent to!”—but don’t want to give information back. Be careful: that’s more a rhetorical tactic than a question designed to create a situation where you’ll worry about being the kind of person who can get this property and not ask the hard questions of the prospective landlord.
Ask Questions. Lots.
When looking at a potential home ask questions. Ask about the landlord what are their plans for the property? Property history, the rent and utilities? Anything you’d normally ask.
If the process feels rushed, off or gives you an uneasy feeling—wait. Ask the landlord for an extra day or two. If your prospective landlord gets a little weird or evasive ask questions about leases and proper legal procedure. Scams can’t quite answer questions about the area, the property, or their plans in concrete detail. Check out all the rest of the signs of a scam and see if they add up. Most people aren’t actually built to lie and the best-laid con game can fall apart.
If you run into a rental scam… what do you do? Report, report, report. Drop a line to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, file a report, and help make sure nobody else gets caught in this particular trap.
Stay smart and happy renting!