With summer moving along quickly and a new school year not too far off on the horizon, many college students are planning on moving on from college dorms – or their parents’ homes – to find apartments or rental homes for the school year and beyond. Better Business Bureau ® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is reminding students of the importance of doing their homework to ensure online listings for rental properties are legitimate and avoid falling victim to scams.
“The internet has made it very easy to search for rental properties,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Unfortunately, it’s also made it easier for scammers to create fake ads on sites like craigslist, which attract victims with promises of low rent, only to take their security deposits and leave them on the outside looking in.”
In an effort to help students avoid rental scams, the BBB has compiled some helpful information and tips for those who are beginning their search for rental properties.
Renters should always take the following steps before signing a lease:
- Follow the first rule of real estate: Location, location, location. Does the location make sense in terms of your day-to-day life? Consider your commute to work or school and also your access to grocery stores, shopping and restaurants.
- Visit different rental units in person and be sure to research their backgrounds by visiting bbb.org. You can also access Customer Reviews through BBB and other online sites, to get a sense of the experiences past tenants have had.
- Be sure to ask if any utilities, such as cable or trash collection, are covered along with your rent. These extra costs can add up, and quickly.
- Always read the lease carefully and ask any questions you have prior to signing the lease. You’ll also want to be clear on the notice required to vacate the premises at the end of your lease. 30 to 60 days is fairly standard.
Prospective renters should be wary if:
- The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
- The landlord claims to be located elsewhere and prefers to communicate solely via email. Scammers might say they’ve been transferred outside the country for a job or missionary work - don’t believe it.
- An online listing has grammatical or spelling errors – often a sign the ad may have been created by overseas scammers not familiar with the nuances of the English language.
- You’re asked to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, or if you’re told the deposit or rent needs to be paid with a prepaid debit card. Any money sent via these means is difficult to trace, and there is little chance – if any – of getting your money back.
- The rental requires a security deposit or first month payment without meeting the landlord, inspecting the property or signing a lease. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for a property you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s actually for rent – and make sure they have access to the property to inspect its condition – inside and out. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the property listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a sign that something is likely amiss.