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Tips for House Hunters: Common Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them

If you are in a market for a rental, you need to take precautions to avoid getting scammed. And because most of the apartment search is typically done online, con artists have all the means to building an illusion while staying anonymous. It’s easy to get carried away with an opportunity of a new beginning, which is why Bay Property Management Group put together this list of common rental scams and the ways to protect yourself.


Pre-foreclosure Homes

How it works: Homeowners who failed to pay their mortgage are on the verge of losing their house. In a desperate attempt to better their financial situation, they move out and put the house up for rent. Tenants moves in only to find out that in a few months they have to vacate the property. The tenants might not have lost the rent because they got to live in the house, but the expenses and stress in regards to moving in and out are irreplaceable. And good luck getting back that deposit!.

Protect yourself: check your state’s Land Records and Deeds Directory to make sure the property you are interested in is not being foreclosed.

Former Tenant Scam

How it works: a tenant who has just moved out of the rental (or is planning to) sees an opportunity to make money by subrenting behind the landlord’s back. A con artist creates online listings for the property and lures in potential tenants with low pricing. He or she then meets with tenants and even gives them a tour of the property accessing it with a duplicate key. After tenant signs the “lease” and pays the deposit and the first month of rent, the “landlord” leaves the city. Unsuspecting tenants then move in and find themselves in trouble with the real landlord. In some cases, con artists manage to subrent the property to several renters, so the fraud is discovered when they meet while attempting to move in.

Protect yourself: always make sure that the person you are renting from owns the property or, in case of the property management company, has an explicit permission from the owner to act on his/her behalf. Look up the property records or ask for proof of ownership and ID.

Stolen Listings

How it works: a scammer finds a legitimate rental property listing and duplicates it posing as a real property owner, but providing his own contact information. A scammer will then avoid meeting with the potential tenant in person using such excuses as he’s overseas, on a business trip, sick, etc. However, he requests the deposit and first month rent before he can mail you the keys. Needless to say, after sending in the money you never hear back.

Protect yourself:

  • Always meet with a landlord in person and take a tour of the apartment.
  • Research online to find listings of the same property on different websites. Make sure they are consistent and the contact information is the same throughout.
  • Whenever possible, deal locally

Impostor Property Managers

How it works: a group of con artist would set up a temporary office and post ads in local newspapers and online advertising properties owned or managed by others. They will then urge would-be tenants to leave a “holding deposit” to reserve the house. Of course, later people find out that the company doesn’t represent the property owner and wasn’t authorized to act on his behalf. By that time, the office and the money is gone. And if it isn’t, there is typically no paper trail that will require the fake company to pay money back.

Protect yourself:

  • When renting through your local Baltimore property management company, request a proof of an explicit permission to act on the landlord’s behalf.
  • Examine the company’s website: does it even have one? Does it look professional and solid or just thrown together in five minutes?
  • Always get everything in writing, specifically rental contract and any invoices or receipts.
  • Read online reviews about the company.

Vacant Homes

How it works: a scammer finds a vacant home, breaks in and changes the locks. The place is then listed for rent, the fake landlord even gives house tours and unsuspecting tenants move in after paying rent and deposit. Everything goes smoothly until the real homeowners return.

Protect yourself: besides requesting a proof of ownership or researching property records, you can always talk to neighbors. Ask them if they know the owner, what’s he like or even show the picture of your “landlord” and see if they recognize him.

As you can see, these scams have a few things in common. Beware of these red flags:

  • The listed rent is much lower than the price of other rentals in the same area.
  • A landlord is refusing or unable to meet in person.
  • A landlord requests to wire money upfront before showing you the house, handing the key or signing the lease.
  • There is no means of contact besides an email, and the messages from landlord are full of grammatical mistakes and/or things that don’t add up.

Knowing about such scams is the first step to avoiding getting involved in one. Remember, if you are looking for a place to rent, you can always rely on Bay Management Group, your Baltimore property managers with excellent reputation. We usually have plenty of Maryland houses for rent listed on our website.