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11 Ways to Avoid Rental Scams

Liezl Hesketh in Renters 


Whatever you do don’t panic

Gut instinct. It’s a good thing to have and you should listen to it. If you’re not 100 percent comfortable with something, walk away. Especially when it comes to finding accommodation. Let’s say you have to move out at the end of the month. The clock is ticking. You need a new place – fast! How hard can it be, right? Isn’t that what the internet’s for? You find a few places for rent that look promising. The photos look good. So you start phoning. “So sorry, it went yesterday”, “I’m signing up a tenant as we speak, sorry”. “It’s not for rent anymore, they just haven’t taken the ad off the site yet, sorry.”

Those that are available resemble the photo on the internet about as much as a newt resembles an ostrich. But even as you’re standing there looking at the “fully fitted kitchen” that has only a two plate cooker instead of an oven, the fridge door is rusting through and the sink is a plastic basin, five more hopeful renters arrive. Now you start to panic. You’re running out of time. You wonder if you’re ever going to find something. That rumour you heard about there being fifty times more tenants than landlords suddenly feels very real. That’s because it is.

But whatever you do, don’t panic. Panic will drive you to make bad decisions. You’ll leave yourself wide open to a rental scam. No one thinks they’ll ever be conned. They forget how good conmen and women are. They prey on your panic. Whether you’re an owner or a renter, you can dramatically cut the risk of being taken for a ride in a rental scam by taking just a few simple safety measures.

Here are 11 ways to recognise a rental scam

General warning signs

  1. Communication is exclusively by email or cell phone. You need to meet face-to-face. 55 percent of human communication is revealed in body language. Your voice can lie, but your body always tells the truth. Always ask for and confirm the identity of the person you’re dealing with. You want a confirmable name and address or even a notarized ID.
  2. The “owner”, “managing agent” or “renter” claims to be out of the country. If you owned a piece of property would you rent it out to someone you’ve never met? Really? You’d entrust something that valuable to a complete stranger?
  3. Communication is urgent. The person seems in a hurry to close the deal immediately. You’re standing in the apartment, he’s on his cell phone, looking at his watch and harassing you to say yes. Always a worrying sign. Even if you’re in a panic internally, never let it show and never react to it. Panic equals bad decisions that will inevitably be costly to resolve. Smile politely and leave at once.
  4. Messages use poor spelling and grammar and, frequently, religious terms like “God Bless.” Run. Run very fast. Conmen often use religious phrases to try and prove they’re the good guys. Real believers don’t need to do that. They’ll prove it in the uprightness of their ethical way in dealing with you as well as their transparency.


Warning signs for renters

They don’t own that house and have no right to rent it out. They’ve checked out the house and found out when the owners are at work. They’ll take your money and then disappear. And this is how you can tell:

  1. The house has a “For Sale” but not a “For Rent” sign. No, it wasn’t a mistake. I don’t care how many times they tell you they ran out of “For Rent” signs.
  2. The lock is broken.
  3. The home appears to contain someone else’s personal belongings. That’s because it does and they’re the real owner or tenant of the place.
  4. The rent being asked is less than the going rate for the area. Do your research. Check out average rental prices in the area by chatting to legitimate estate agents or managing agents and never hand over cash for rent or deposit. All bona fide landlords and rental agencies should have a trust account at a reputable bank. If they ask for cash, run.

Warning signs for owners

  1. The “renter” asks for information that you had in your listing or advertisement. Questions like when the place is available or what the rent is.
  2. The “renter” claims he’s prepared to take the deal sight-unseen (usually a prelude to an advance fee scam). They usually pretend to be a foreign student and need to have accommodation already secured before they arrive in the country. They’ll happily agree to the rent required and forward a cheque almost at once. But it will be for more than you were asking. When you point this out, they’ll ask you to transfer the extra back to them. And then you’ll never hear from them again.
  3. The “renter” requests that you buy things or hire a contractor to do some work on the place first and tells you they know someone who can do it quickly and cheaply. And who just happens to be their cousin. If the request is valid insist on using your own contractor. is here to help you avoid a rental scam whether you’re a landlord or a renter. We’re experts at helping negotiate the tricky terrain of accommodation and finding great matches for everyone, especially for student accommodation. We understand how difficult it is to find accommodation when money is so tight you can barely breathe.  Remember to sign a contract before paying over any money!

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