Student Life How to avoid the most common rental scams

Published on June 27th, 2018 | by Jones

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How to avoid the most common rental scams

Apartment or house hunting? Be alert for anything that seems too good to be true. Hunting for a home online is supposed to be a cleansing, exciting experience. You’re able to look at a variety of different places within your budget and make a decision based on your lifestyle. However, if you’re in rush to move, you might miss all of these steps and land yourself up in a scary predicament. Often times, people who are so eager to find something new get scammed with the next ‘best’ deal without even knowing.

With the digital space making it increasingly easier to find a place online, from the comfort of your own home, this process can make you vulnerable. Scam artists know exactly how to play on your emotions, especially when they can see that you’re in desperate need to find something as soon as possible. Unfortunately, innocent people get caught doing this every day, so if you take the time to learn about the different red flags, you will have a clear idea of what to look out for during your search.  

Before you can identify strange behaviour online, you need to know what a rental scam is and how a professional rental agreement template looks. Put simply, a scammer will try and get money from you before you’ve had the opportunity to view the place. Once they receive your payment, they will likely disappear. Often, the apartment or house you see online might be real, however, they’re not the landlord or the real estate agent of that home. So, worst case scenario, he or she will lead you to believe that you need to pay a certain fee before viewing the place in person. And after you pay, they will disappear.

The sad news with this is that it can happen, no matter the site you’re viewing on. You might think that you’re searching on a reputable site but it does not mean that you can’t get scammed into something. Throughout your searching process, if something feels wrong, rushed or unreal, do not pursue it.  

Here are a few red flags when shopping for homes online:

  • You’re asked to send money before meeting someone or seeing the apartment

Whether it’s a professional advert or a scam, you should never agree to pay for something without meeting the real estate agent or landlord in person. The same goes for viewing the apartment or house. Depending on the place, you might be required to pay a fee for the lease agreement before you’ve been considered for the place. However, you should never agree to put down any money without meeting or viewing the place in real life. Not to mention, you should never rely on photos to make a decision. For one, the photos you see could be edited or fake and two, the photos might not have been updated.

  • The landlord seems overly eager to lease the apartment to you

Renting out an apartment or a home requires lengthy screening tests from both sides. While you might be the perfect candidate for the place, it might just feel wrong. And vice versa. Either way, if the landlord seems overly eager to lease the apartment to you specifically, there could be an issue hiding around the corner. Landlords or retail agents need to do credit score and background checks to ensure that the person you say you are is in fact correct. So, if your contact skips this entire process or doesn’t find the need to perform these tests on you, you should immediately be suspicious.

  • You’re asked to pay too many upfront fees

Ideally, you should not be paying anything until you have viewed the place and met with the landlord or agent in person. But regardless, there are security deposits that protect the landlord and the property, should someone destroy it or refuse to pay, however, during your application process, be wary of any major fees. You need to have a detailed breakdown of all the costs which you agree to before you make any deposit. Keep your eyes open and do not think with your emotions. It might be an urgent or exciting process but be careful. On that note, you are given a time period where you can read through the application process before making any decisions. If you feel pressured, take it as a red flag.

  • You’re told you don’t need a rental agreement

Renting a house or an apartment requires a rental agreement. You can do your research on how a rental agreement template should look so that you know exactly what you’re looking for when you receive it. Having an agreement in writing is a saviour for both parties, so do not move forward without the necessary documents at hand. It protects your bank account as much as it protects their property.

Too good to be true?
The above tips are there to assist you in your process. Any peculiar behaviour should alert you to think otherwise before you pursue any commitment. Set your boundaries and keep asking questions if you feel that the connection is strange. Make sure you meet with the person and view the property with your own eyes, to avoid running into these scams. Think ahead and familiarise yourself with a basic rental agreement in South Africa as well as the right action steps, should you be caught in a situation like this.

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