Tenants are protected from fraudulent landlord practices under state rental laws and consumer fraud laws. However, if you don’t know how to identify fraud, then your landlord could take advantage of you without you knowing. Here are some things to be on the lookout for when it comes to fraudulent landlord practices:
Verbal Communications Only
When you write things down, you have documentation of communications. A landlord engaged in fraudulent practices won’t want anything to do with letters or other forms of writing that could come back to haunt them in court. They tend to stick to short, verbal communications, and often in person rather than on the phone. If you keep making requests for repairs in writing or sending letters notifying your landlord of other problems, and you never get a response in writing, then something is wrong. You should continue with written communications on your part and documenting any verbal communications made by the landlord, but you should be prepared to deal with possible fraud on the landlord’s part.
Another way to identify fraud is when repairs are made due to damages you cause, but you never get a bill or a receipt. Somewhere down the line you’ll have to pay for it, and it’s usually out of your security deposit. However, if there’s no receipt, your landlord can make up whatever amount they want and keep your security deposit. This is unfortunately all too common when it comes to landlord fraud, and although rental laws prohibit this, the expense of going to court over it is often too cost prohibitive for many tenants.
To avoid this fraud, ask for copies of receipts as soon as repairs are made. Make the request in writing, especially if the repairs are made after you move out. A common fraudulent practice is for the landlord to claim that they spent many hours cleaning or repairing an item and billing you for their time. Rental laws require the charges to be reasonable, and therefore you may need to get written estimates from other service professionals for the same repairs to see whether the landlord is committing fraud.
Non-Responsiveness to Requests
One sure way to identify fraudulent landlord practices is to test their responsiveness to your requests for maintenance and repairs and other issues you face during your tenancy. If they ignore you all the time, then you can start to suspect fraud. One type of fraud is that the landlord may have spent your security deposit for their own personal use, which is prohibited by rental laws. As a result, they may have run out of money to hire someone to make repairs or to buy the materials needed to make the repairs themselves. Allow for a reasonable response time depending on the issue you face. For example, your landlord should respond within hours of pipes bursting unless they’re out of town. However, a reasonable response time for another tenant’s barking dog may be a week or so. If a reasonable amount of time has lapsed and there’s no response, and the non-responsiveness is a pattern of behavior, you may be dealing with fraud.
Do your research ahead of time to learn as much as you can about your landlord. Ask other tenants and even check court cases to see whether legal action has been taken (and won) against the landlord for previous violations of rental laws. This will help you to avoid landlords that cause problems for tenants.