If you can’t afford to buy a home, renting is possibly your next-best option. However, renting is fraught with dangers, as tenants increasingly become victims of rental scams.
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According to Adrian Goslett, CEO of RE/MAX Southern Africa, tenants are often emotionally driven when it comes to looking for their ideal rental home. This can make them vulnerable to fraudulent activity.
“Enthusiastic about the prospect of finding a new home, eager tenants might be more trusting, and therefore more susceptible to rental scams,” says Goslett.
“There is also the factor of time. Tenants who have a limited time frame in which to find a home, due to relocation for work or possible personal issues, could be more desperate to find a place to stay and not be as cautious in their approach,” he says.
How rental scams work
It may seem surprising, but there are many people who pay deposits to rent from people who have no legitimate stake in a property.
“The rental property could either be real or fictitious and the scammer possibly a landlord or impersonating the landlord or rental agent. Once the unsuspecting tenant has transferred the agreed rental amount and deposit, the scammer disappears,” explains Goslett.
“Keep your guard up and never assume that, because the property was found on a reputable online portal, you can’t fall victim to scammers,” he says.
“If at any stage of the process you feel there is something wrong, e.g., the whole thing is rushed with unwarranted sales pressure, or it seems too good to be true, then walk away.”
Goslett adds that tenants should always phone the numbers supplied, to ensure that the rental office exists, and is part of the brand the listing agent says they are representing. A reputable agency will be able to provide the tenant with all necessary information regarding the agent and property.
5 Ways to protect yourself from tricksters
Goslett recommends the following five ways to avoid falling prey to scammers.
1. If you are primarily dealing with the “landlord” or “owner” online, and they avoid meeting you or showing you the property, you should become suspicious.
“It’s rarely a good idea to pay money for something you have not seen or inspected. There is cause for concern if the landlord expects you to make payment based purely on online photos and before the property has been viewed,” warns Goslett.
2. It’s common for landlords and agents to request permission to conduct a credit check on you. If they don’t ask for this, you may be dealing with a scammer.
“Landlords and rental agents will normally want to vet a potential tenant and complete a credit check before the rental is confirmed. Beware of landlords who are eager to sign the lease agreement without the appropriate procedures,” says Goslett.
3. If the sum of money to be paid is excessive there may be a catch, especially if you haven’t seen the property.
“Be wary of landlords or rental agents who request excessive deposit amounts or too many months upfront,” says Goslett.
4. Always have a lease agreement in writing as things can easily go wrong. You need to be in a strong position legally if the landlord doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Don’t trust a landlord who says that no lease agreement is required.
“Firstly, it’s never in the tenant’s best interest to forgo a lease, as this document offers protection. Secondly, a landlord who doesn’t want to enter into a lease agreement may not have one to offer,” notes Goslett.
5. When in doubt, consult a legal specialist.
“While an attorney is not required when entering into a lease agreement, it’s generally a good idea to have legal representation review the agreement before it’s signed,” says Goslett.
“While there is no guarantee against rental fraud,” Goslett concludes, “prospective tenants will be far less vulnerable if they are vigilant and aware of the warning signs.
“It is vital that tenants deal with rental agents from a reputable agency that they know and trust,” he says.