Landlords Beware: How to Avoid Rental Fraud

beware-scam-maryland-property-management-company

Rental fraud: What is it and how can Maryland landlords avoid it?

For those of you who have yet to experience the horror of rental fraud, we are here to explain to you exactly what it is.

Rental fraud is when someone who is not you or your Maryland rental management company claims to own your rental property and proceeds to lease it out to unknowing tenants.

Scary, isn’t it?

Rental fraud can lead to several difficult situations:

  • Security deposit and first/last month rent is collected by the fraud. Then, come move in time, tenants have no way of accessing the actual property. Meanwhile, the fraudulent landlord is already on the run with money in hand.
  • Your property’s locks are changed and tenants actually move into your rental home having no idea that their “landlord” is a fake.
  • You are forced to remove the innocent, although illegally residing, tenants who have been scammed.
  • You are left with the mess of having to prove in a court of law that the property is actually yours.

Though avoiding rental fraud may not be entirely possible, there are some proven strategies that can help reduce the chances of you ever falling victim to this type of scam.

 

Rental Fraud Comes in Many Formsbeware-maryland-rental-fraud

As mentioned above, rental fraud is when someone poses as either the landlord or property management company to illegally lease out your Maryland rental property. However, there are other types of rental fraud as well.

Landlords are also vulnerable to the types of rental fraud outlined below, and should be aware of their susceptibilities at all times.

 

The Eviction Scam

This type of rental fraud is when a tenant moves into your property with no intention of ever paying rent. As a result, you are forced to evict them.

Unfortunately, the eviction process can sometimes take months to pan out, as well as cost a great deal of money. This leaves the tenant plenty of time to live in your property while lining up another place to scam.

Avoid this scenario: The best way to prevent a tenant who is consistently evicted from every place they occupy is to conduct thorough screenings of each and every tenant you consider placing in your property. This should include a background check, credit check, income verification, and reference follow-up.

Another great tip is to meet each prospective tenant face-to-face, even if your rental management company typically does all the work for you.

Sometimes a first impression will leave you with a gut feeling not to go with a particular tenant, which can be helpful in avoiding scams.

 

The Utility Scammaryland-property-managers-fight-utility-scams

Did you know that many states hold landlords responsible for the water bill despite what the outlined lease agreement states?

Sometimes a tenant will avoid paying the water utility bill because they know that after it goes unpaid for long periods of time, the water company will go after the owner of the property (you) to pay the bill.

To add to this, many tenants are aware that the water company typically does not shut off the water supply to any given residence. This means your tenant is using water on your dime.

Avoid this scenario: The best way to avoid this utility scam is to call your local water company from time to time to make sure your tenant is current on all of their bills.

In addition, it is best to have your property management company draft a detailed lease agreement outlining the responsibilities regarding utility payments. This way, should your tenant neglect their financial obligations, you have a way to prove in court who was responsible for what.

 

The International Scambeware-maryland-international-rental-property-management-scams

This highly popular scam is an unfortunate one that many landlords fall prey to. Also known as the Nigerian 419 scam, this type of fraud involves a prospective tenant from overseas looking to lease your rental property in the near future.

The fraudulent tenant will send you a check for the amount owed at move-in, plus extra “by accident.” This extra money is usually double what you asked for move-in costs.

The fraud will then ask you to wire back the excess money and before you know it, the original check that was sent to you turns out to be fraudulent while the money you have wired back to this person was your real, hard-earned cash.

Avoid this scenario: It is best to not deal with overseas tenants, unless you have a professional helping you with the background checks.

In addition, never accept a certified check from anyone overseas. These checks will usually clear and then bounce weeks later because they are fake.

If by chance you are accepting money from an overseas tenant, only accept money orders through a reputable company, such as Western Union.

 

Monitor Your Vacant Propertiesmonitor-vacant-maryland-rental-properties

In addition to the above-mentioned rental fraud scenarios, there are other ways to avoid getting scammed by sneaky people.

Your Maryland rental property is most vulnerable when it is vacant. The last thing you want is someone breaking into your property and taking up residence with a fake lease agreement.

Should you notice someone squatting in your vacant home, chances are high that the police will have very little authority if the “tenants” have what seems to be a legitimate lease agreement.

The heartbreaking thing is that sometimes these scammers will demand you pay a “ransom” for them to leave your property. This not only costs you money but allows the trespassers a free pass. They never have to take responsibility for their actions and actually make money off of their scam.

And, if you decide against paying the frauds off, this situation will still cost you countless hours and money as you wade through the courts attempting to prove the lease agreement is fake and the “tenants” are indeed trespassers.

Avoid this scenario: Monitor your vacant properties regularly to make sure no one has stepped in and taken up residence.

You may even consider adding an active security system to your Maryland property so that if someone does attempt to break in, the police will have authority to charge him or her appropriately.

 

Watermark Your Photographs

These days, advertising vacant properties online is the norm. And, if you utilize a reputable rental management company, such as Bay Management Group, your rental home is promoted across several platforms to expose your vacant property to the widest pool of prospective tenants.

With any professional rental property ad, images of the home are a necessity. Anyone looking to lease a home wants to have a clear idea what the property looks like before inquiring about it.

The problem is, if someone if posing as you or your rental management company and posting a vacancy online, innocent tenants interested in your property may get scammed or end up living in your home without permission from the true owner (you).

Avoid this scenario: Add a watermark to all images of your property as an extra layer of protection. A watermark makes it more difficult for a fraudulent landlord to steal photos of your property and will likely cause them give up on attempting to scam you.

 

In the end, rental fraud can be a scary situation no matter the type you are involved in. That is why being proactive about your Maryland income properties is absolutely critical to keeping your money out of the hands of scammers and keeping unwanted tenants our of your properties.

If you are looking to safeguard your Maryland rental properties to the fullest extent, contact Bay Management Group.

With knowledgeable staff working solely in property management, Bay Management Group can protect you, your rental property, and your tenants from all types of rental fraud.

Peace of mind is priceless when it comes to your rental property business.

Use Bay Management Group to conduct thorough background checks, draft airtight lease agreements, and inspect your home regularly to make sure everything is in its right place.

 


A Step-by-Step Guide to Maryland Tenant Eviction

Guide to Tenant Eviction in MarylandAs a landlord, you probably don’t want to deal with eviction. If you keep giving tenants “second chances” trying to solve the issues peacefully, you need to stop and reevaluate the situation. One second chance is usually enough to tell you whether the problem tenant straightened out.  Putting off eviction any further means you are losing money – don’t forget that you are running a business!

When it comes to evicting a tenant, you have a set of rules and laws to follow. Our specialists at Bay Management Group have put together a few tips on how to go through with an eviction.

Why does your tenant have to be evicted?

You can’t just evict a tenant based on personal aversion or the fact that your tenant filed a complaint or a lawsuit against you. Tenant’s rights are protected by the law and violating them may get you involved in a costly litigation. Here are the grounds on which you can evict a tenant in Maryland.

Your tenant didn’t pay rent.

If the rent is due on the first of each month and you don’t receive it, you technically can start the eviction process on the second. We recommend talking to your tenant before resorting to this radical measure. Failure to pay on time doesn’t mean your tenant has no money – he or she could have had family emergency or technical issues with the bank. A single instance of late payment is not a reason to evict otherwise diligent tenant.

Note: it doesn’t matter if a tenant is deliberately not paying rent because he thinks you are slacking on maintenance and repairs – you can still start eviction. This is a separate issue and your tenant is free to go to court to seek compensation.

Your tenant didn’t move out.

So, the lease has ended and your tenant is still occupying (a.k.a. “holding over”) your Maryland property. In this situation, eviction is a reasonable outcome. You might already have a new tenant ready to move in, so the sooner you start the process, the sooner you will have your property back.

Your tenant breached the lease.

If any condition of the lease is violated, you have the right to remove tenant from the property. Some examples are:

–    A tenant brought pets in a pet-free apartment

–    There are more tenants residing on the property than the number stated on the lease

–    A tenant damaged or otherwise modified a property in a way prohibited in the lease

Additionally, the State of Maryland can bring action against your tenants if they are involved in illegal activities, specifically drug-related. As you can see, there are quite a few legal issues you need to be aware of – something our Baltimore property managers are trained in and happy to help you with.

 

How to evict a tenant in Maryland

There is a set of procedures you need to follow in order to remove a tenant from your property in accordance with the law. We’ll cover them shortly, but first let’s discuss what you can’t do.

  • You can’t walk into your tenant’s apartment without notice and demand they’ll be out by the end of the week.
  • You can’t physically or verbally threaten the tenant.
  • You can’t cut off utilities, change locks or remove tenant’s belongings from the property before the eviction process is complete.

 

To evict a tenant, follow these steps:

  1. Whenever possible, especially in the case of a first-time mild offense, try to reason with the tenant.
  2. Serve an eviction notice (in writing) that will state the reason for eviction and give a tenant 1 month to vacate the property (14 days if tenant’s presence poses danger to the neighbors and the community). When applicable, include on the notice how a tenant may stop eviction.
  3. If upon the date stated in the eviction notice the tenant doesn’t comply, proceed to file a complaint with your District Court requesting an Eviction Order. Here are step-by-step instructions from the Maryland District Court.
  4. Attend the trial and bring all the documents proving you have a valid reason to evict the tenant. If you are seeking monetary compensation from the tenant, go here for more details.
  5. Once you receive judgment against your tenant, he or she has 4 days to appeal. If they don’t appeal, you can file a Petition for Warrant of Restitution with the sheriff. Once it’s processed, you can schedule an eviction date.
  6. On an eviction day, you need to have movers ready to rid your property of tenant’s belongings. The belongings are left on the public property and are now the responsibility of the tenant.

The entire eviction process may take anywhere from 2 to 6 months. And during this time you might not be getting any payments from the tenant.

Of course, you can attempt to recover your losses through court, but this may take even longer. Offering full-service property management in Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, the teams at Bay Management Group know that in some cases eviction is often a necessary measure.

However, you should take every step to avoid it, and the first one is thoroughly screening your tenants.

A complete credit history, reference and background check are crucial for finding reliable and responsible tenants. Take the time to conduct tenant screening or call us and we’ll help you manage your Baltimore, York, Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland counties or nearby property in Maryland.