Mark Roemer image of a cartoon robber trying to fish for people to scam with a house as bait

How to Recognize and Avoid Apartment Rental Scams

If you’re looking for a place to live, I, Mark Roemer, know the last thing you want to do is fall for a rental con. Since the emotions involved in the apartment-hunting process will make people more vulnerable, scam artists like to take advantage of prospective tenants. If you’re excited and enthusiastic about finding a new home, for example, your eagerness will cause you to become more trusting. Con artists often target apartment seekers who are in a hurry (due to a work relocation or personal problems, for example) and need to find a new place as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are steps apartment seekers can take to reduce their chances of falling victim to a rental scam. Here are some things to consider when searching for the ideal rental.

What is a Rental Scam, and How Do You Avoid It?

Scams involving rental properties are a variation on a theme. The scammer attempts to extort money from a potential tenant for an apartment that the scammer cannot rent. The condo could be genuine (if the scammer lacks the authority to lease it), or it could be made up. The con artist may be an honest landlord or, more likely, a phony. Scammers typically attempt to extort money from unwitting apartment seekers before disappearing. A tenant who is vacating his apartment, for example, may decide to show it while posing as the landlord. He might mislead all potential tenants into thinking they’ll get the apartment and collect fees and security deposits upfront. When the victims realize they’ve been duped, the con artist typically disappears with their money.

Follow the General Rule

When looking for an apartment, don’t let your guard down. Even if you use a legitimate apartment search website, you may still be scammed by unscrupulous landlords or people posing as landlords who manage to get their listings into these pages. If something about a listing seems off, the application process seems hurried, or the whole experience seems too good to be true, it’s probably best not to try it. Here are some popular red flags to look for when searching for an apartment to help you spot and avoid rental scams:

You’ve Been Asked to Send Money Without Ever Meeting the Individual or Seeing the Apartment

It’s unusual to pay a lot of money for something you haven’t seen. So, if a landlord wants you to pay a large deposit before leasing an apartment, be wary. Don’t put your faith in promises or pictures. In reality, go see any apartment you’re thinking about renting. According to a Craigslist alert, 99 percent of scam attempts fail to obey this one act.

The Landlord Is Too Excited to Lease the Apartment

Many landlords would ask for your credit score, as well as additional information about you, such as a criminal background check and proof of employment. It’s suspicious if a landlord doesn’t seem interested in doing some tenant screening or seems too willing to discuss the rent and other lease terms with you.

Too Many Upfront Fees or an Unusually High Security Deposit

If the landlord requests a higher security deposit than what is needed by law, or if you believe the upfront costs are unreasonable, it may signify that the landlord is trying to get your money and run.

Sales Pressure That Isn’t Necessary

It’s a red flag if a landlord is overbearing. Suitable property sells itself. If you happen to run across someone that feels the need to pressure you into making a decision, they probably are not the owner of the property. Not once in the ten years that I have been renting property have I had to resort to pressure techniques. While a property may be valuable, that doesn’t mean using that as the main selling point.

You’ve Been Told That You Don’t Need a Lawyer

True, you don’t need a lawyer to check your lease, and in most cases, it’s in the landlord’s best interest for you to skip a legal review and accept the rental. However, suppose a landlord insists on telling you that you don’t need a lawyer. In that case, it may be a sign that he’s trying to rush you into signing the lease and handing over money, possibly because he doesn’t own the building or has already rented the apartment to someone else.

You’ve Been Told That You Don’t Need a Lease

Indeed, living in an apartment does not require a lease. A month-to-month rental arrangement is reasonably typical, even though renting an apartment under a lease is the most common case. However, you are the only one who knows what you require. Think twice if a landlord wants to take money from you without considering whether or not you want a lease. The “landlord” may lack a lease to offer you.

The Inability of the Landlord to Meet You or Show You the Property

A common scam is telling prospective renters that they are out of the country. They will ask you to pay them to fly to the country and show the apartment since they don’t want to go for a possibility. They insist that you are paying them a small fee to convince them you are a serious buyer. They will even promise to return the money if you don’t find the apartment to your liking.

What Happens If You’re Scammed?

You may think there’s nothing you can do if you’re a victim of an apartment scam in the United States. However, there are steps you can take to assist in identifying the perpetrators of the fraud, recovering your funds, and putting this unfortunate experience behind you.


It is important to note that not every listing is trying to scam you. You might find a landlord that tells you that you don’t need an attorney or a lease. You might run across a landlord that asks for a high security deposit. That does not mean they are out to get your money. I, Mark Roemer, am only providing you with a list of red flags that you should be on the lookout for. Just like some of the things on this list might not mean they are trying to scam you, things that are not on this list may mean they are. Scammers are getting better every day. Follow the general rule of “if it feels off, don’t do it,” and you should be fine.