I have lived and worked in many states and I’ve never seen a place where the number of rental scams is so prolific like it is in Chicago! I literally (no joking) come across at least one per day. So, if you’re a hard working honest person looking to rent an apartment from a reputable landlord, what should you do:
Hire a Realtor
My first piece of advice is to hire a Realtor. It doesn’t cost you as the tenant anything as we’re paid by the landlord only when you find a place you love and sign a contract. Realtors have access to all of the rental properties listed in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) which are legit properties. The Realtor will take you to see each property which is much safer than you touring the properties on your own and will take care of negotiating a better deal for you than you’ll normally be able to get on your own. In addition, having a good Realtor on your side helps insure there aren’t any problems down the road such as the landlord insisting you pay the water bill when the initial ad said the landlord was going to pay the water bill (this happens all the time!). We’d be happy to help with your rental needs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312.600.7510. Otherwise, any reputable real estate company should be able to assist you.
Be Wary of CraigsList and Domu.com
You can find some great rentals on your own through CraigsList, but there are also a ton of scams out there. Scammers will go to great lengths to make the bait in these con games look both legitimate and irresistible, often by copying and repositing legitimate listings that are for rent or sale online then drastically reducing the amount of rent they are charging for the fake rental so as to lure lots of unsuspecting tenants. Among the red flags:
- Requests for money before a deal is confirmed
- Claims by a purported landlord or property representative that they’re unable to meet with renters because they are out of town or otherwise unavailable.
- Asking to you simply drive by the rental property and peek in the windows rather than offering to take you inside and show you the property
- Asking for a refundable security deposit BEFORE they will agree to show you the property
- Not providing the exact address of the property in the ad. Instead giving a vague description of the location
- A deal that sounds too good to be true. If you think you just found the deal of a lifetime, it’s probably a scam. Get to know the market so you know what seems like a fair price and what seems way too low to be true.
- The bait-and-switch. Finding out that the apartment you were interested in has, when you arrive to see it, already been rented — but another is available at a higher price.
- Requests for deposit funds to be wired. Don’t send checks or wire money to people that you don’t know.
Lastly, while not as common, prospective tenants have been robbed (or worse) by fake landlords before. Therefore, I strongly recommend never seeing a rental property by yourself. Instead always take at least one other person with you (or even better, take two people with you.) Have someone not going with you know where you’re going to be and check in with that person when you leave the rental property to make sure they know you are safe. If you have to go by yourself, buy a purse sized Mace and carry it along with your cell phone in your pocket. It’s better to be safe than sorry.