Finding a place to rent is fraught with potential. But whether that potential is good or bad depends on the owner or manager of that property - if the property exists at all.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises renters to be alert to possible red flags when shopping for rentals - whether for a permanent residence or a weekend getaway.
Rental fraud often shows up in classified ads - online or in print - for properties at prices that are well below prevailing market rates. Scammers know that shoppers are looking for the best deal, and a low-ball price can attract bargain hunters.
Scammers may use pictures or descriptions from legitimate rental property ads to entice their victims, substituting their own contact information for that in the real ad. Or they may hijack the email accounts of property owners of reputable sites. In other cases, they make up listings for nonexistent properties.
"Renters deserve to get what they pay for," said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. "When they put down their hard-earned money for a place to stay, they should be assured of getting the room, apartment or home that is advertised."
BBB has also issued warnings about services that promise to give you leads on apartments or homes to rent but that deliver nothing, homes that aren't in the appropriate price range or rentals that are no longer available.
BBB has tips that can help you find rental properties that are managed by honest landlords:
• Check out rental companies or websites with BBB before you put down a deposit or meet a rental agent. BBB Business Reviews include a company's contact information and a rating based on whether the company abides by BBB Standards, which require companies to advertise honestly and tell the truth.
• Get the rental agreement in writing before providing a deposit or rental fee, and make sure any verbal promises are covered in the agreement. Review all terms and conditions, taxes, fees and cancellation policies.
• Never pay the entire fee up front, especially for a vacation rental. If an agent wants you to pay by wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, it's probably a scam.
• Beware of fake contact information. If you're renting from a well-known rental company, such as a vacation rental site, look them up online and compare advertised 800 numbers or email addresses with the contact information on the site. If you're renting from a website, check its URL to be sure it's not a subdomain of another site.
• If the price seems too good to be true, it could be a sign that the listing isn't legitimate. Compare the cost to similar nearby properties.
• If at all possible, inspect the property before you rent it. Never put down money unless you are sure the rental is real.
For more consumer tips or to check out a business or charity, go to www.bbb.org or call 314-645-3300.