Whether you’re a first-time renter, or a tenth-time renter, the renting process can be turbulent. It’s easy to get burned by landlords, brokers, and leasing offices, or individuals pretending to be any of the latter!

In order to avoid a rental scam for both your sanity and your bank account, here’s some pointers to secure that perfect pad.

How to avoid a rental scam

Picture it--you’ve found the most beautiful place online. It has everything you’re looking for: in-unit washer and dryer, a dazzling dishwasher, two gorgeous bathrooms, a storage closet and ample closet space in your bedroom. Maybe it even has a yard, a bike rack, and it seems like a safe place where you can get your packages mailed to you. This is the apartment of your dreams. Unfortunately, some things are too good to be true. 

A rental scam occurs when someone claims to be a property manager or landlord. They will often try to rent you a property that may not exist, or is very different than what they initially advertised. You can avoid a rental scam by doing the following:

Leave a paper trail 

While it may seem obvious, never do business with someone who wants cash-only rental payments or deposits. If there is no paper trail, then you have no proof to help you right any potential wrongs. You could easily lose your whole deposit and get nothing for it. 

Image of a renter sitting at table on the computer with paperwork
Make sure you have the following:
  • Rental agreements

  • Emails

  • Bank statements

  • Pictures

  • Videos (if applicable) 

Also, never give your debit, credit card or routing number through text. Always protect your personal information.

Pictures can be deceiving

Pictures can be deceiving, even on the best of apps. Apartments are usually much smaller than they appear. Additionally, with every plus usually comes a minus. Perhaps the apartment is in an area a bit farther from public transit, or street parking is impossible to snag. Other times your apartment could be in a food desert with limited restaurant options outside of fast food. If at all possible, always check it out in person.

Image of two renters touring an apartment in person, looking at kitchen appliances with the landlord
Know your landlord

Rental applications and leases can be tricky. They are often purposefully vague and it might say the name of the leasing company on the lease agreement, but it’s always best to know who you’re dealing with exactly. Become adamant on getting that landlord’s name on paper. Make sure you know who you are sending your money to and who to contact in case anything breaks!

Image of a renter shaking hands with a landlord outside

How to report a rental scammer

If you end up having to take someone to housing court, here are some steps you can take to report a rental scammer:

  1. Report them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can call 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to the FTC's online Complaint Assistant

  2. Report it to your State Consumer Protection Office. You can find yours here.

  3. Report it to your State Attorney General. You can find yours here.

Bottom line: always make sure you have evidence of transactions in writing, never pay in cash, see your place in person, and verify the identity of your landlord. If you fall prey to a rental scam, you’re not alone. Always report to the FTC, your State Consumer Protection Office, and your State Attorney General.

And remember: Rhino only partners with creditable landlords. Ask if your prospective property owner offer Rhino to renters and you'll not only avoid a scam, but also save money with a security deposit alternative. Happy apartment hunting!

Larenz Brown

Larenz Brown is a copywriter at Rhino who wants to tell stories that empower people. He once engaged in a 365-day staredown with a security deposit and emerged victorious.