Finding an apartment these days should be the easiest it’s ever been. There are plenty of listing sites, with many of them (like ours!) offering the opportunity to schedule a viewing online without having to call someone in the middle of the workday or wait days for an email response. These sites tell you the final rent costs, showcase amenities, and many even offer a 3D tour, so you can look through the space from the comfort of your home. All of these features make it easier to find a house that’s perfect for your needs.
Although the rise of online real estate search engines has made finding a rental easier, they’ve also opened up new opportunities for rental scams. If you’re not careful, it’s shockingly easy to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals whose only goal is to rake in as much money as possible before they vanish back into the ether.
In our post today, we’ll show you some of the top warning signs of a rental scam, and what you should do if you suspect you’ve gotten involved in something questionable.
The Most Common Rental Scams
Knowing as much as possible about ways you might be scammed will help you spot the warning signs in advance. Even people who are internet-savvy and familiar with the local rental market may find themselves being taken in by one of these common scams. If it’s happened to you in the past, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
1. Duplicate listing
In many situations, scammers will use the exact same images and text from another listing to attract interested renters. Sometimes they’ll replace only the contact information, while other times they’ve gone as far as to hack the emails of the landlords or managers to gain access to their account.
Typically, everything seems fine until you ask to book a viewing, at which point they’ll give you some reason that you either need to pay a deposit to view the unit, or ask you to sign a lease before you’ve even set foot in the place. Once they have your money, they’ll disappear.
2. It’s too cheap
Anyone who has ever tried to find a rental on a limited budget will know the frustration of not being able to find something in your price range. But then, you spot a house or apartment that looks incredible and is much more reasonably priced than any other listing you’ve seen so far.
If you’re thinking it’s too good to be true, you’re right. Listing a rental for a price that’s well under market rates is a common scam.
Either the scammer is trying to get you to pay a deposit in advance, or they’ll do a bait and switch, using the cheaper unit to lure you in, only to tell you that there was a mistake and the only places they have available now are either inferior or much more expensive.
3. The verbal agreement
No landlord or property manager in Windsor should ever try to convince you to rent from them with only a verbal agreement. As of 2018, all landlords in Ontario are required to use a standard lease form for all their units. If they want to use their own form, or want to stick to a verbal agreement, run – don’t walk – away.
Agreeing to a verbal agreement gives you no legal protection, meaning that if you even do get to move in, the landlord can try to remove you at any time. Fortunately, the Residential Tenancies Act protects renters in this situation, but it will force you to go to a tribunal and explain the exact terms of your verbal agreement to an adjudicator.
4. Phantom rentals
Phantom rentals are a phrase that describes a rental that is offered to tenants without the owner’s knowledge. Initially, it will look just like a regular rental, and you may even be able to go for a viewing. However, what you won’t realize is that the person showing you around is not the landlord or even their property manager, and has no right to be renting out the property.
In situations like these, the unfortunate renter will show up on move-in day only to find it already occupied or inaccessible, with the individual who offered the rental long gone.
How to Spot a Rental Scam
Although scammers are getting more sophisticated, most of these rental scams can be spotted quickly, as long as you know what to look for. Here are some warning signs you should always pay attention to.
1. Don’t get rushed
Scammers perpetuate a lot more scams in busy rental markets because they play on the renter’s sense of urgency. They’ll push you to sign a lease without seeing the place first, or ask for a deposit before your viewing “because so many people are interested.”
This is their way of trying to push you into making a rash decision before you get a chance to think about it. Slow down, and try to remember that even if you lose one place, there will always be others.
2. Pay attention to the listing details
Is their listing full of typos, poor grammar and punctuation, and unprofessional language? If so, you might be dealing with a scammer. Most reputable landlords and property managers will take the time to carefully read over their listing before it goes online.
3. Ask questions only the landlord would know
In your initial conversation and while you’re touring the home, ask questions that only the landlord will know. This could be anything from inquiring about recent renovations to the average monthly cost of utilities. If they give answers that are obviously incorrect or they seem nervous, don’t sign anything or send any money.
4. You haven’t been screened
Reputable landlords and property managers will always screen potential tenants, to make sure that there are no red flags in your finances or rental history.
If the landlord you’re talking to offers you the place without looking into your background, it’s a major warning sign. If they’re not interested in your credentials, they may just be trying to get a deposit out of you before they disappear.
5. They ask for a deposit before the lease is signed
The lease should be signed in full before you send any form of deposit or rent payment. If the landlord asks you to send them money to show good faith, it’s a big red flag. A properly signed lease agreement is enough of a good-faith gesture to show your interest. Only after that is executed properly should you send a deposit.
Rental Resources from Professional Windsor Property Managers
The hunt for a great new home or apartment shouldn’t be so difficult. Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous people out there who don’t care about your needs and are willing to lie and steal to take your hard-earned money.
Fortunately, Goldmar Property Management makes it easy to find a great rental using our secure and reliable listing service. We value honesty and transparency and are always available to answer questions about our properties. Get in touch with us today to learn more about what we have to offer in Windsor and Essex County.