How to know if your new landlord is not a scammer?

What are some current rental scams?

The most common rental scam we have witnessed over the past year is people with no legal right to lease a property “leasing” it to a potential tenant (or many potential tenants) and making off with the security deposit, first months rent, and sometimes even prepaid rent as well.

Another variant on this scheme is charging many potential tenants fees for background checks and making off with that money. A typical fee for a background check is about $50, charge that to tens or hundreds of potential renters and the thief can make out with a lot of money.



This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.

We advise all tenants to act respectfully with their landlords and letting agents and seek a peaceful resolution to problems with their rented property. For more information, explore the articles in our Managing your home category.

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7. Test the smoke alarms

Smoke alarms save lives. When you’re on a house-viewing, pressing the TEST button on a smoke alarm to see if it screeches in your ears and makes you go cross-eyed for 5 seconds is a small price to pay for your safety. Has the landlord tested to see if the smoke alarms are working? Does the landlord care enough about the property or the future tenants? If the smoke alarms haven’t been tested or aren’t working, this would be an indication that the rental property isn’t legit.

8. Beware of the Middleman Scam

The middleman scam is one of the most common schemes out there, especially on websites like Craigslist and other platforms with classifieds.

Basically, it goes like this: you come across this perfect ad for a stunning place, and the price looks very reasonable. You call there, and this person tells you that they are the one who handles or manages this property for the owners.

Usually, the apartment is real, but they don’t actually have access to it. Instead, scammers find this place on the other real estate platform, take the pictures and description, and place all this info into the Craigslist ad. They insist on collecting upfront the first month’s rent, security deposit, and any other payments that might seem reasonable and then simply disappear with your money.

Rental frauds on Craigslist are very common, and they are not going anywhere. According to the study “Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams,” about 29 thousand scam listings were discovered in over twenty cities within a 141 days period. As you see, that’s a crazy number, so we recommend staying away from the middleman services and shady ‘managers.’

5. Ask to see the EPC

An EPC is an ‘Energy Performance Certificate’.  It lasts 10 years. If the landlord is legit, he or she should definitely have one. You can check to see if an EPC is legit using this online tool. There’s some guidance around EPCs from an official, legit site here. If the landlord doesn't have an EPC, gives you a fake, or doesn't know what an EPC is, you've found yourself an non-legit rental and non-legit landlord.

4. The rental scam: Missing amenities

This type of rental scam is extra sneaky. The listing will advertise a building or unit as having luxury amenities to drive up the price of rent. When the renter has signed the lease agreement and moved into their unit, they soon discover that the amenities offered are nowhere to be seen.

Red flag: The lease will not mention the use any of the amenities offered. The listing will not include photos of the amenities like a fitness center, pool, laundry room etc. If the listing does have photos of amenities, they will be copied from other listings.

How to avoid this rental scam: Touring the building and unit in person is always the best way to ensure you are getting the correct information. If you are unable to tour in person, request a virtual tour through live video and take note of the unit door number to make sure it’s the correct unit for rent. Another option is to do a reverse image search on Google to make sure that the photos listed are not copied from another source.

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1. The rental scam: Copied listings

Have you ever been on a rental site and seen a listing that sounds perfect, maybe even too perfect to be true? Well, it probably is. Behind that posting, there’s likely a scammer waiting to take advantage of your excitement. Scam artists often copy listing details from an actual listing and create their own posting for the apartment. They might take the details from this dream apartment and lower the listing price by hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to make it seem like it’s available at an unbeatable price. They will often take the listing and alter the contact information.

Red flag: The scammer will tell you that they’ve had a high volume of interest in the unit and that, in order to reserve it, you need to pay a deposit immediately to claim it before someone else does. They might also refuse to virtually tour you through the unit without payment first.

How to avoid this rental scam: The best way to avoid this scam is to ensure you’ve seen the apartment— through a virtual tour—and refuse to pay any money before doing so. Common excuses for not being able to show the apartment include the landlord saying they’re out of town, living overseas temporarily, or dealing with a family emergency. Although these may sound believable at first, it’s always best to avoid situations where you’re asked to pay money without meeting the landlord or at least having them show you the apartment first.

13. Talk to the Current or Previous Tenants

One of the best ways to check whether the landlord is a reliable person is by contacting current tenants or the ones who rented his property recently.

Some landlords will be happy to provide you with g

Some landlords will be happy to provide you with good references, and sometimes you’ll have to do a small research of your own to find this information out. In any case, talking to previous tenants can show not only how trustworthy your future property manager is. You can also learn how easy they are to contact, how responsive they are to any requests or property-related issues, and what kind of person they are in general.

5. Is this a real or phantom property?

Another fraud tactic involves showing prospective renters properties that don’t actually exist in order for the scammer to obtain the prospective renter’s security deposit. In some cases, the scammer will take advantage of remote inquiries by offering a virtual tour of a home, but the building isn’t actually up for rent. 

What to do: If you’re searching for rentals remotely and can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust, such as a friend, agent or a fellow employee if you’re moving for a job offer, to visit in-person for you. Use Zillow’s Rental Walkthrough Checklist to thoroughly vet the rental before you commit to a lease.

Additionally, be sure to schedule an in-person or virtual meeting with your prospective landlord early in the process. If you feel you need to do further research on the property, the local Assessor’s office or County Clerk can provide property records. Verify all names, websites and phone numbers in the listing. If the property manager has a website, read reviews to spot any potential red flags ahead of time. 

Ask Neighbors in Nearby Buildings

Other people and businesses in the neighborhood may know something about the reputation of the building and its tenants, landlord, or manager. Be sure to ask about crime in the neighborhood—both on the street and apartment break-ins, as well as other incidents requiring a police response. Ask if tenants seem to stay more than a year—if so, that’s the mark of a well-run building.

How to avoid rental scams

Avoiding rental scams will save you time, energy and money. Here are a few tips for how to avoid these deceptive listings.

Search the company online

Rental properties can be owned by companies or individuals. When you find a listing, research the owner to see what the online reviews say. If there aren’t any or if they have a bad reputation, you’ll want to steer clear.

Verify the address listed on rental sites

Verify the address listed on rental sites

All listings should have an address associated with them. Copy and paste this address into your preferred search engine to see what the street view of the home looks like. If there isn’t one or it looks different than the photos listed, the posting is probably fraudulent.

In addition, it’s not a good sign if the landlord is withholding the address. Don’t give away any personal information in exchange for a property address.

Be sure the listing is complete

Rental scams often have missing information. This may include typos throughout the post, a lack of property photos or no address. If the listing looks incomplete and sketchy, it probably is.

Is the price reasonable?

While we all like to find a deal, rentals don’t come half off. The property is likely to be a rental scam if the rent is well below the average in the area. Be sure to do research on what rentals in the area are going for so you can have that in mind when looking at properties.

Tour the property

Tour the property

Many scammers will refuse to show you the property until you pay a deposit. This is because they don’t have a legitimate property to show you in the first place.

Some excuses for why they can’t show you the property include being out of town or dealing with a family emergency. Regardless of what their scenario is, you should never put down a deposit without first having a real or virtual tour of the property.

Meet the landlord

If the landlord isn’t the one showing the property, inquire about who they are and how they can be contacted. If the person doesn’t have these details, it’s likely they are involved in a renting-for-the-owner scam.

Don’t feel pressured

A scammer may try to put you in a time crunch. They will tell you the property has had a lot of interest and that you need to put down a deposit immediately to claim the property. While properties do move fast, don’t let this pressure keep you from making rational decisions.

Take a thorough look at the lease

Take a thorough look at the lease

Once you’ve viewed the property and your application is accepted, you’ll be asked to sign a lease. It’s important to look over all the components of the lease to ensure it includes everything that you’ve agreed on. If you have any concerns, be sure to bring these to the attention of your landlord before signing.

Never pay cash

Whether you are paying for an application fee, deposit or rent, be sure you don’t pay in cash. There needs to be a way to track the money you’ve sent and get it back if needed. Also, if you are wiring money or disclosing bank information, be sure that you’ve verified it as a legitimate company.

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Make Sure the Home Is Not In Foreclosure

Ask the landlord if the property is in foreclosure or going into foreclosure. Some states, including California, require landlords to inform renters when this happens. If you think the landlord might be hiding something, you can check the current status of the property in the clerk’s office at the county courthouse. If the property is in foreclosure, you will find documents showing that a foreclosure suit has been filed. A “notice of default” notation indicates that the landlord has not been making payments and the property is close to foreclosure.

2. Is this listing legitimate?

When searching for rentals online, if you come across the same listing under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam. Scammers without actual rentals to tour may hijack a real rental or real estate listing and change the email address or other contact information. They’ll then place the modified ad on another listing site to attract renters. 

What to do: Search listings you’re interested in touring to see if they appear elsewhere online. If the property is listed on major rental listings sites, make sure the listing contains the same contact information, landlord name, address and other high level details. 

More Information on Renting an Apartment or House

For a more detailed finding a place to rent, see Nolo’s book Every Tenant’s Legal Guide (or, California Tenants’ Rights, if you rent property in California).


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