When it comes to renting an apartment, there are more than a few landlords willing to do whatever it takes to get an apartment rented — even to the point of attempting to scam unwary renters.
Brittany Espy attempted to rent an apartment in New York City and wound up in a credit card dispute. As part of her paperwork with a broker, Espy was asked for her credit card information: “They told me nothing would be charged to me. They just needed the info to do my credit checks.” The broker went ahead and charged her card, though, telling her that she had the apartment and had to take it.
Unfortunately, Espy’s experience isn’t unique. More than a few landlords and apartment brokers will get a deposit in their hands and insist that the renter has agreed to take the lease. You might even run into a landlord asking for a deposit before even showing you the rental often to ‘hold’ the apartment for you. There are a few ways to protect yourself from rental scams, however.
Before you hand over any money for a rental or signing a lease, meet in person with the landlord or broker. You shouldn’t even fill out a rental application until you’ve seen the apartment in person and made sure that it really is a place you’re willing to live.
In general, if a rental ad sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the rent is too low or amenities are too good, it’s very possible that something else is wrong with the apartment. While landlords are known to try to get you to sign a lease now — “This apartment will be gone by this time tomorrow!” — if a landlord is pushing too hard, it’s a good sign that something’s wrong with the situation. If a landlord is pressuring you to sign a lease immediately, walk away. It’s more than reasonable to take time to make a good decision about where you’re going to live and landlords know it.
If you do run into a rental scam, the Federal Trade Commission should be your first point of contact. On the FTC’s website, you can file a complaint about a scam. You can do the same with your local police and Better Business Bureau. While the BBB can’t usually help solve the situation, letting that organization know will help warn future renters off before they get taken in by a scam.