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How to Avoid Online Rental Scams in Washington D.C.

The Washington, DC, rental market has exploded in recent years, and finding high-quality rental properties at reasonable rates can be challenging. Unfortunately, rental scammers in DC are taking advantage of the incredible demand for rental housing and duping unwary victims by luring them with the promise of affordable apartments and then taking off with their money. Many individuals fall victim to rental scams due to desperation; prospective tenants who don’t know what to look for when renting an apartment could easily fall into these traps.


If you need apartment hunting tips for Washington, DC, you must know much more than just the best move-in tips and how to find an apartment within your budget. You need to know how to spot rental scams.

Why Are Rental Scams So Common Today?

Prospective tenants in DC have learned they need to be very competitive to secure leases for even cheap apartments due to how many people are looking for rental units. Vacancy rates are as low as 1% in some parts of Washington, DC, due to increasingly competitive rental markets in the area over the last few years. 

If you’re looking for affordable rental housing in DC this year, don’t let yourself become a victim. The apartment rental experts at Bay Property Management Group have a few tips to help you avoid Zillow scams and other online rental scams. Stay vigilant, and remember the following tips to protect yourself.

If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

You should spend some time researching the average rent in Washington, DC, or other cities you’re looking at for different types of rental units. This will help you spot suspicious listings more easily and avoid them.


Generally, the rental price fluctuates based on location, amenities, and the number of bedrooms in the unit. Most rental sites like Zillow will offer this information readily, and some even allow you to compare prices within a specific area. 

Suppose you notice a listing with a listed rental price much lower than comparable units available in the same area (such as a gorgeous apartment in a nice area with a fantastic list of amenities, but the price is $1,000 lower than other apartments in the area). In that case, it could be a scam of some kind. Don’t waste your time investigating a property that seems too good to be true; it probably doesn’t exist. 

The Landlord Cannot Meet Because They Are Out of Town

Be wary of any landlord who claims to be out of town, especially one who claims to be outside the United States. A legitimate rental property owner would hire a property manager to take care of leasing and the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the rental property if they live outside the area. It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid any landlord who lives out of the state entirely.

Suppose you are interested in a rental unit, whether it’s a Washington DC sublet, a single-family house for rent, or an apartment unit. In that case, you should insist on meeting the landlord or property manager in person before paying any money or signing any documentation. 

If you’re moving to Washington, DC, from out of the area, and you can’t arrange a face-to-face meeting before your move-in date, do additional research on a landlord or property owner. Ask for references, check property ownership records, and look for reviews online from past tenants. If anything, you’ll want to talk with them on the phone to ask any questions you may have. 

Do Not Fall for the Promise, “Mail Me a Check or Money Order, and I Will Send You the Keys!”

Never send any money in exchange for keys through the mail, whether it’s to see or rent a rental property. Many Craigslist housing scammers will promise to send you keys after you complete a wire transfer because they want to see how serious you are about renting the property. Once they receive the money, they typically claim to be sending you keys or say they are preparing to “make the trip” to meet you, but neither will happen.


If you use apps like Western Union or MoneyGram to send payment to a scammer like the above, these transactions are virtually untraceable, making this the preferred payment source for scammers. They may also mention lawyers and special security measures and make other promises like address verification to lull a potential victim into a false sense of security. 

However, if a landlord seems to offer lots of details about the transaction but is vague about the property or why they cannot accept specific forms of payment, this is a good sign you should not waste any more time and save yourself from possible exploitation.

High-Pressure Communications

If a landlord seems to be pressuring you to make a decision, especially concerning paying money or securing a lease via email or text, be extremely cautious. If a landlord tries to convince you that many different people are interested in a rental unit to try to persuade you to make a quick decision, take this as a red flag. 

A scammer will likely attempt to pressure you to send money as soon as possible to “secure your spot,” whereas a legitimate rental property owner will take a professional approach and screen tenants diligently.

Avoid Other Types of Rental Scams

In some cases, rental scammers will attempt to take advantage of you in person. If you want to know how to identify a Craigslist scammer, you should also know how to spot a scammer in person. 


Most in-person cons will operate under the guise of a roommate or sublet situation. The initial meeting and introduction may appear legitimate. However, in the end, the tenant ends up signing a lease with a completely fake landlord and, most of the time is nowhere to be found once they receive the money.

That’s why it’s crucial to research any property before paying money, especially those that involve subletting or roommate situations.

Be Wary of Red Flags

Watching out for these red flags while searching for Washington, DC, housing can save you tremendous stress, time, and money. Don’t bother looking at properties listed well below market rate or properties owned by out-of-town landlords, and never pay any money for a property you cannot see in person. 

If something seems suspicious, trust your instincts and look elsewhere. Doing your research can help you avoid DC rental scams. If you suspect any fraud or fall victim to a rental scam, contact local law enforcement and report the incident immediately.

If you’re in the DC area and are looking for a place to live, contact our team at Bay Property Management Group today. We’ll keep you safe from scammers and find you the perfect place to live. Additionally, if you own rental properties and need help finding tenants, we can help with that, too! Learn more about our services throughout Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, and Washington, DC today!