6 Tips to Avoid Rental Scams
It’s sad but true: in the last few years, the red-hot Austin monthly rental market has seen a rise in scams that fleece prospective tenants and leave them without a place to call home.
Most of these schemes involve fraudsters trying to rent properties that don’t belong to them. So what can you do to protect yourself from being swindled?
Never pay cash
Most legitimate landlords accept personal or cashiers checks. So if someone asks you to pay cash (or with cash equivalents like Moneygram, Bitcoin or Western Union wires) for a security deposit, walk away. That person is more than likely trying to make a dishonest deal for a month-to-month rental that’s not legitimate.
Don’t rent sight unseen
Always see a monthly rental home in person. If a landlord makes excuses about why he or she can’t let you in, be suspicious. That person is hiding something and you need to know exactly what you’re getting into before you make a rental commitment.
Always meet the owner
Beware of absentee landlords who offer to meet with you via a personal proxy, such as a friend or relative. If they are legitimate, absentee landlords should be able to provide you with a contact from a reputable management company.
A local landlord is your best bet. And a face-to-face meeting can help you assess not only who you’re dealing with but also the kind of services you can expect as a renter.
For added security, look up the rental property through Travis County tax records, which always list the owner’s name. If there’s a discrepancy, you’re probably dealing with a scammer.
Get everything in writing
A written lease that covers city-specific rental regulations, signed by both the tenant and landlord, is standard procedure. Any landlord who won’t provide you with this kind of documentation or claims that oral agreements are sufficient is someone to avoid.
In a best-case scenario, the landlord and tenant sign in each other’s presence and walk away with copies of the lease agreement for their respective records.
Know market rates
Rental property rates are typically higher in the high-demand spring and summer season and lower in the fall and winter. A landlord who offers an apartment too far below the market rate for a given season is someone looking for a renter to fleece.
Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics
An honest landlord will never force you to hand over money for a month-to-month rental home on the spot. They also won’t pressure to sign sketchy documents once you’ve seen the rental.
What that person will do is ask for a background check fee first before offering a lease (in Texas these charges can range from $15 to $50 [https://texaslawhelp.org/article/rental-application-fees]). Anyone who doesn’t care about a renter’s ability to pay, criminal record or past rental record is someone looking to make a fast buck and run.
Navigating the tricky Austin monthly rental market can be a challenge. But knowledge is power. And the more you know about what you face, the better off you’ll ultimately be.