Tips for avoiding rental scams.
As today’s rental market continues to suffer from a shortage of properties and fierce competition, we are hearing increasing reports of scammers trying to target and take advantage of prospective tenants.
Well aware that someone desperate to find a home might be more rushed and less vigilant than normal, scammers are doubling down on their efforts, with those caught up in such schemes losing significant amounts of money as a result.
To reduce your risk of being ripped off in your bid to find a home, here are our top tips for staying safe and avoiding rental scams when looking for a property.
Be careful where you search
One of the best ways to avoid scammers is to restrict your rental property search to the major online property portals or a reputable agency’s website.
Searching for property on other online listing platforms can be riskier. These sites may afford scammers greater anonymity, making it easier for them to pressure renters into handing over personal details or money to secure what may be a non-existent property.
Make sure you’re dealing with a bona fide agent
Most professional agencies will display the leasing agent’s contact details, along with their name and photo, on a rental listing. Always ensure a telephone number is provided for speaking to the agent in person; if you can only contact them by SMS or email, this could indicate a potential scam.
Pay attention to the language they are using when communicating with you, and if it doesn’t sound right, trust your instincts and walk away. If anything seems fishy, check the agent’s identity by checking their agency’s website or phoning the office.
Beware of urgency
If the agent always responds immediately or repeatedly puts pressure on you, this could be indicative of a potential issue. Most property agents are working with many properties and prospective tenants, so their response times will usually be slower.
Always try to inspect a property
Always aim to inspect a property in-person, this ensures there are no surprises further down the track and allows you to verify the agent is legit.
Never apply for a property without inspecting it or, at the very least, having made an appointment to do so. And be cautious if an agent pressures you to apply for a property without encouraging you to inspect it first - this goes against best practice and raises an instant red flag.
Read more about what to consider when looking for a rental property.
Don’t pay any money with your application
You should never have to hand over any money when applying for a property to secure it. Depending on which state you’re in, legislation governs how much deposit/rent needs to be paid and when; this can be when your application is approved and/or when you sign the lease agreement.
Never offer an incentive
You should never offer an incentive, financial or otherwise, to the agent for selecting you as the new tenant. Be ready to walk away if an agent pressures you to do so.
Rules are in place preventing agents from accepting such incentives, which a professional agent would never do. Additionally, the property owner has the ultimate say in who will rent their property.
Ensure your bond goes to the right place
Depending which state you’re in, you may have the option to pay your bond direct to your state’s bond board, which we strongly recommended doing where possible.
This means your bond – often thousands of dollars – is held by a government entity rather than the property owner or leasing agent. Bond boards are tasked with safely managing bond funds and overseeing their repayment in accordance with state tenancy laws.
Get proof of your bond payment
If you must pay the bond to the leasing agent, make sure you get a receipt straight away confirming the amount and date. Receipts can usually be emailed immediately if you have agreed to receive email communications.
Within a few weeks, you should receive confirmation and a receipt proving the agent has transferred the funds to your state’s bond board. If not, be sure to follow up with the leasing agent.
As a rule, most agents will always do the right thing by tenants, but it is important to know what to look out for to avoid problems or pitfalls.
Professional agents will always treat renters respectfully while operating honestly and transparently throughout the rental process. Choosing a reputable agency ensures a safe and positive experience all around, delivering the crucial peace of mind renters seek.
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