Rental laws protect tenants from many types of landlord fraud. Unfortunately, there are some landlords who make more money scamming tenants than renting apartments. Knowing what to look for can help you avoid trouble and recover any money you lose.
1. Security Deposit
The bulk of the complaints from tenants in the area of landlord fraud comes from the landlord withholding some of all of the security deposit after the tenant moves out. Rental laws dedicate what the landlord can take out of the security deposit as reimbursement for cleaning, repairs and other expenses, as well as how soon to return all or some of the security deposit. However, some landlords never intend to return the security deposit and use the following ways to hold on to the money:
- Excessive cleaning charges: They clean the apartment themselves and charge you for much or all of the deposit
- Exaggerated claims of damage: For example, charging $1,000 to clean up “pet odors and stains”
- Fake fees for painting: It either never gets done or doesn’t cost as much
Whenever your landlord charges fees that are deducted from the security deposit, ask for copies of the bills and receipts. If he gives you his own bills and receipt for doing his own work, then compare his rates to cleaning and home repair service companies in the area. Rental laws require the fees to be reasonable and not excessive.
2. Defective Premises
In many states, the rental laws don’t cover a landlord renting substandard or damaged premises as fraud, but the state’s consumer fraud statutes do. Under those laws, it would be fraudulent for a landlord to rent an apartment to a tenant that is known to be damaged or defective. If the tenant takes the landlord to court and wins, the landlord would have to pay for the tenant’s lawyer fees and the court will punish the landlord with “punitive damages,” which means the landlord will have to pay fines.
3. Identity Theft
No one wants to think that a potential or current landlord is going to steal their identity, but there are dishonest landlords who commit identity theft. This takes place on the rental application, where much of your personal information is collected, such your social security number and date of birth. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about the rental application if you want to rent the apartment. Landlords do have a right to determine whether you’re a risky tenant. However, you can do a lot to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. For example, don’t fill out a rental application form with just anyone. It makes sense for apartment buildings, but not an individual landlord. Also, ask them to take one or the other, either the social security number or the birth date, but not both.
According to the rental laws in your state, the landlord can be liable for double and treble (3 times) damages for fraud. If you find yourself renting from a shady landlord, document everything and follow your lease agreement carefully in order to protect yourself while you look for alternative housing. Once you move out, do what you can to warn others, by taking legal action against the landlord for fraud.