Need an apartment? Survey says rental fraud is common and costly
That two-bedroom first-floor apartment, for $750 per month, may actually be too good to be true.
A survey released Thursday by Apartment List claims more than 5 million renters in the United States have lost money in a scam — a third of them waving goodbye to more than $1,000.
Thirty-seven percent of renters surveyed in the North Jersey area have encountered a listing they suspected was fraudulent, and 7 percent lost money due to rental fraud. In the Philadelphia/Camden metro area, 20 percent of renters encountered a suspicious listing, and 4.4 percent lost money.
"This is nothing new, but after Hurricane Sandy this became rampant all over New Jersey," Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, told New Jersey 101.5. "It's still taking place."
And not all incidents involve scam artists who have nothing to do with the rental market — some are the product of malicious acts by the true landlords of these properties.
In the survey, renters categorized their fraud experiences and the most common practices were ranked from most common to least common:
- Bait-and-Switch: A different property is advertised than the available rental, and the scammer tries to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for this property.
- Phantom Rentals: A scam artist makes up listings for places that don’t exist or aren’t rentals and tries to lure renters with low prices.
- Hijacked Ads: A fake landlord posts advertisements for a real property with altered contact information. Homes for sale are often re-listed as rentals in this type of fraud.
- Missing Amenities: A real rental is listed as having features and amenities it lacks in order to collect a higher rent, the rental market equivalent of catfishing in online dating, when someone fakes their identity. The leasing agent tries to get renters to sign the lease before they notice the missing amenities.
- Already Leased: A real or fake landlord attempts to collect application fees or security deposits for a rental that is already leased.
One should never rent an apartment before seeing it for themselves, Salowe-Kaye advised. But that's just part of the homework necessary to ensure what you're getting is what you're expecting.
A call to the municipality can determine whether a property has been riddled with complaints. A proper inspection should uncover any issues that may cause a nightmare later on. And if the initial listing mentions air conditioning and a parking space, make sure the paperwork lists those amenities as well.
"A month-to-month tenant who doesn't have a long-term lease can still get that information to be laid out in writing by the rental agent or the landlord," Salowe-Kaye said. "A renter needs to be an educated renter."
Of the renters surveyed who lost money from fraud, 88 percent altered their rental search process. At least a third of respondents said they now conduct additional research or make sure to visit an apartment before signing a lease or paying a deposit.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.