How to avoid rental scams

Last night I was contacted by someone on Rentfaster and something seemed off about it. As someone who prefers renting to owning property – I’ve had my fair share of dealing with terrible management companies. It’s why I switched to private rentals in 2008 and have never looked back.

Today I’m writing not only to warn people about rental scams, but to also give some tips to young readers who may be looking to rent their first home. In today’s world, there are lots of scammers out there and it’s better to do your homework before falling victim and losing your hard earned money.

Rentfaster Ad

I put out a new accommodation want ad on a popular website the other night called Rentfaster. It’s my preferred site for finding a rental as you can fill out a general application and send it to potential landlords. It’s pretty easy to use. You can search by location and use filters. It’s a renter’s market here in Edmonton and there are a ton of properties available.

Unfortunately for me, the search is trickier as I need a place without stairs. I’d also like a full kitchen, private laundry and a balcony with a view. The search goes on. Why are kitchens so small now? It’s one of the reasons I moved in here – to have a full sized kitchen. Mice and all.

The Potential Scam

I received an email out of the blue. I still don’t know if it is a scam but it’s sketchy and it definitely was a red flag. The person sent his full name, phone number and said:

Name: V P
Phone Number: 7809999999
I got 2 beds condo near Uni and one more available in southside – please contact me back if you are still interested.

That’s it. That’s the message. So, I responded politely asking him to send the rentfaster ad – which most people who are serious about finding a tenant do. I’ve had some great conversations with people about potential rentals.

Moments later, I receive this email.

Right away – my spidy senses were tingling. Something felt off. I responded to him and said, no. That’s not what I asked. I got a second email from this company which is called Naborly – and they wanted me to pay $25 for a credit check! Are you kidding me? For a property listing I hadn’t even seen yet? This is not how rental applications are handled here.

The other thing I noticed was the address he gave me – didn’t match the information his original email. Again, another huge red.

Excuse me? You want a $25 fee to request for a viewing of an online listing? Once again, I emailed this guy and told him, no. I’m not interested. I’ve never paid in my life for “pre-screening” and I never will. This sounds like a scam. At this point, I forwarded the communication to Rentfaster and blocked the person from further communication.

Out of curiosity, I hopped onto Google and searched to find out what Naborly is. It is a legitimate company but it’s not required here in Alberta. It never has been. In fact, the last two private rental leases I signed (12 years in total) never even asked for a credit check. As long as I have steady pay and made my rent payments on time – that’s all that these people cared about.

The list of things they ask for is intense. For one, I don’t trust this company since it’s an American website and I’m in Canada. Why would anyone even use an American based service when screening Canadian tenants? The rental laws here are very different than in the US.

I can understand wanting to see a credit check and that is required by most rental companies. But when you’re an independent landlord, you can generally get a sense of what people are like by either looking them up online on social media or asking for references. Luckily, I have two great references now because I’ve lived in this condo for six years and my previous for eight. I really hate moving.

As a long-time renter, I’m going to offer sage advice to those looking to move out for the first time.

Do your homework

If you have found a great rental and it seems too good for the price – there’s usually a reason for it. Buildings that are of wooden structure often have foundation problems. This may mean that there are heating problems, plumbing problems – or worse – thin walls where you can hear everything your neighbours do ALL the time – welcome to my life.

An average 1 bedroom apartment here ranges from $600 – 2000 from what I’ve seen with the higher end being luxury condos with all the amenities. If you’re looking for just a clean and quiet home, you might get something decent for $800-900.

But do your homework. Look up reviews of the building and property managers online. Some questions to ask – and keep in mind – landlords can lie too.

  • Why is the apartment vacant?
  • How old is the building?
  • What’s the history of the apartment – was the last tenant a drug user or in trouble with the law?
  • Does the building have onsite maintenance?
  • Have there been any reportings of bedbugs or mice? (If yes, run fast)

Things to look out for while checking apartments – that I wish I had when I moved in here.

  • Is the building well maintained? Does it look clean, bright and welcoming?
  • Are there piles of trash sitting on balconies or have the garbage bins outside been trashed?
  • Is there graffiti or old stains on the carpet in the hallways? Holes in the walls or ceiling?

Before meeting the landlord, visit the building and area a few times. Go at different times of the day – especially later at night. What you’re looking for is how safe is the area? If the building is clean, with bright lights and have working security cameras – then that’s an added bonus. Older buildings tend not to have these things. Added bonus if they have onsite maintenance and security guards.

Inspect Everything

Take a friend or relative with you who knows what to look for. If I hadn’t of been in such a rush to find a home when I moved, I might have noticed there were old stains on the counter that I can’t get rid of. Or stains in the cupboards and the wood was unfinished. I might have noticed that the bathroom taps never seem to have hot water and that the master bathroom toilet runs when flushed. I might have also noticed there is no plug on the balcony for Christmas lights – which was a total bummer this year.

Other things to look for:

  • Are the appliances clean and updated? Is there a funky smell in the kitchen or under the sink?
  • How does the water run? Will the shower put out hold water at full speed?
  • Check for noise – can you hear people walking above?
  • Can you hear a lot of noise from traffic or the hall? If so this is a sign that the building has terrible problems with the structure.
  • Check for signs of rodent droppings or bugs
  • Check out the Alberta bedbug registry – yes there is one

If everything is in check and you decide to move in – take photos and document every bit of damage you find. Date it. You can even have your landlord sign it. This protects you later on when you want to move out. You can also do a walkthrough with your landlord on the day out and point out any damage you may have caused. I know I’m paying for a bleach stain that was left on the bathroom counter by toilet bowl cleaners. That sucker is just not coming out.

Vetting landlords

You have every right to check out your potential landlords like they vet you. I often use Facebook to check for local rental ads. This way I know the person’s name and can search for them online. Use sites like instagram, linkedin, and twitter to find out what you can.

I lucked out with my last rental. I found a nice newly married couple who had purchased a condo as a rental property. We worked well together for eight years. While they weren’t keen on updates, they were willing to repair things when they fell apart. I eventually moved because of the noise in the building and I was tired of the area.

Unless you’re in an emergency situation, there’s no need to rush the rental process. Take your time getting to know your potential landlord and form a professional relationship with them.

For me, the young couple I rent from have been great. But their lives changed – they have had two babies in the last few years and they want to focus on family. I want a change – and just need to get out of this building. I don’t fault them for what’s going on here. They’ve done their best to negotiate and let me out of my lease early.

Why I rent privately

There are lots of benefits to rent privately. If you have great landlords, you can negotiate things like how you pay your rent, or the date you pay your rent on. My pay dates have been all over the place – every few months I send a calendar to my landlords of my pay dates and they are okay with that. Because they know that I’m good for the money.

You can also negotiate the lease each year. While there are slumlords out there who are just looking to take your money – there are some gems who are just looking for a responsible tenant to pay their rent. Asking for repairs has never been an issue. Some older buildings will require ongoing maintenance for plumbing and heating issues. This is why I’m looking for something newer.

Never rent without a lease

I have seen so many people online get screwed over for not signing a lease. It’s great if you can work things out verbally – but whatever you agree to get it writing. Don’t rely on texts. Use MS Word and draft up a document outlining expectations from both parties. Make sure to read the fine print on ending your lease – as sometimes there are clauses that can get you in the end.

If you want to end your lease early, you may have to pay a fine.

A lease is an official agreement that protects both the landlord and the renter.

Never rent without tenant’s insurance

Take it from me who has lost two beds due to floods and bedbugs. I was so pissed about bedbugs. I also lost most of my clothes and furniture as I didn’t want to take the bugs with me when I moved. Never rent from a Mainstreet property for this reason. Most of their buildings are infested and they don’t care. I’ll write another post on my experiences with them. I still have flashbacks from it.

Insurance is cheap like $30-40 a month. It’s worth it. You may have to pay a deductible but if anything happens like a fire or break-in, you’ll at least get some of your belongings back.

Document everything

The last big of advice I’ll share is to document everything. Any communications or dealings with the landlord or maintenance companies. You may need this later on. Save your emails, texts or keep a journal of events that happen in the building.

One of the reasons I’m moving is how unsafe this building has become. I had to call the police FOUR times last year. One was due to a neighbour threatening me – that was fun. She threatened to cut my throat after I told her to shut up at 3 in the morning. One time was because I found a pile of unknown drugs in the entry way. And other times to report mail theft and damage to the property.

This building is no longer safe. I no longer feel safe in my own home. And that’s a problem. Had I done my homework properly – I would have known that. Learn from my mistakes!

Let me know your horror stories as a landlord or renter below.

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