It’s challenging enough trying to find a rental home, especially in this hot rental market in Middle Tennessee, where applicants often discover the house they’ve chosen is no longer available. But to add to the difficulties, there is a growing number of scammers with highly developed methods of tricking renters. At RPM Rental Solutions in Murfreesboro, TN, we’ve met several tenants who have unfortunately been victims of rental fraud. Here are our 5 tips for tenants to avoid rental scams:
Don’t hand over cash to a landlord or agent
Scammers love to receive cash because it’s untraceable. You always need a money trail any time money changes hands for your rent. Any time you make a payment, you should have immediate access to a receipt from the landlord. At RPM Rental Solutions, our primary method for receiving tenant payments is through their private secure online tenant portal. This provides everyone with complete documentation, receipts, and lasting records. Our tenants can go back years to their first security deposit payment and verify the amount, date, and method of payment. We do have some tenants who prefer to pay with cashier checks or money orders and we can provide them with immediate receipts. We also do have some tenants who prefer to pay with cash. Although we don’t accept cash directly to help protect all of us, we DO offer tenants a personal ‘pay slip’ that allows them to take their cash to CVS or Family Dollar and pay their rent electronically, directly to their tenant account and gives them an immediate receipt. We have found that offering this variety of safe and dependable payment methods helps give the tenant options that protect their hard-earned rent money. Protecting your money is the top way to avoid rental scams.
Avoid landlords who don’t require background and credit checks
Although it might be helpful to you if you have some challenges in your background or credit, it’s better to be upfront with a potential landlord about those issues and see if they can still work with you. It’s actually a big red flag if the landlord has no concerns about a potential tenant’s background or credit. A good landlord wants to have a good, well-paying, responsible tenant in place, so if they just want your money upfront without checking on your credibility first, you will be better to walk away no matter how appealing the easier route appears.
Verify that a listing matches the actual property
This tip seems obvious, but there are some scammers who do a bait-and-switch, asking for money before letting the tenant actually see the property. To avoid rental scams, you should never pay anything before actually seeing the property first. If you are having to rent from out of town and there’s no way for you to actually see the property in person, see if there’s someone in the town that can go on your behalf. (We’ve had family members, friends, and future coworkers come to look at a property for a future tenant when the tenant couldn’t come himself.) Or, if all else fails, ask the landlord if they could do a Skype/FaceTime walk-through with you. At RPM Rental Solutions, we’ve done this for many tenants, as well as long phone conversations to help them determine if the property, location, school zone, etc. are really the best fit. It’s in all of our best interest to help make sure the property is the right place for a tenant.
Rent from a reputable property management company or verify that a do-it-yourself landlord actually owns the property
If you are looking at a rental that is managed by a property management company, do your research on the company. Look online for reviews and see if they have a well-established online presence and a professional website. Verify that they have a real office location (required in the state of Tennessee) and not just some kind of generic P.O. box or online-only existence. If the landlord says he’s the owner of the property, check the property records to verify the ownership. (You can search Rutherford County records here.)
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
Do your research on market rates in the area. Be extra cautious if a rental rate seems significantly lower than you would expect when comparing it to the market. Also be cautious if a landlord is willing to hand over the keys immediately if you pay today. There is a process to renting a home that includes the rental application; due diligence to check the applicant’s background, income, credit, references, and rental history that usually takes at least two business days; and a detailed lease signing… all before any money or keys should exchange hands. The lease should include requirements for your state (check the Tennessee Landlord Act here) and should give the tenant some protection too, not just the landlord. The terms of your rental, including fees, rent, and maintenance should all be in writing, and you should have a copy of the lease. (Our tenants can access their lease at any time on their secure tenant portal, which is a great convenience.) If the landlord is skipping these steps, it’s likely either not legitimate or not a wise decision for the tenant to proceed.
If you’ve been a victim of a rental scam, be sure to report it to help prevent it from happening to someone else. Call the police and also the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center toll-free hotline: 1-877-FTC-HELP.
At RPM Rental Solutions, we value our tenants and truly want the best for them. If you have any questions about how to avoid rental scams, the renting process, the renting climate in Middle Tennessee, or even want to know more about renting out your home, give us a call at 615-900-4067 or contact us here.
We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.