BBB: Research before renting to avoid possible scams

Red flags and empty promises

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A single father in southern Arizona needs a new place for his family to live and a bogus online rental listing is only making matters worse.

Michael McDermott's current lease will be up by the end of September, so he's searching Zillow and Craigslist to find something in his budget.

Some posts on the latter offer ample space and an affordable price, but something doesn't add up. McDermott is wary of ads that mention an owner who is out of town, asking for money up front and refusing to meet in person.

"It was kind of shocking that it was so elaborate and so detailed," he said. "They think of everything."

He's referring to two separate interactions with whoever posted properties on Craigslist for almost unbelievably low prices in Rita Ranch. McDermott corresponded with both posters and both of them went silent as soon as he asked for any documentation to prove ownership.

"False copies of passports, documents of ownership, which was bogus obviously...and as soon as I asked for the title, a certified Pima County title, they disappeared," he said.

The posts didn't cost McDermott a penny, but he lost precious time in finding a new home. He has faith that his family will find what they need.

"I don't want to say we're scrambling, because I just turn it over to a higher power," he said. "She will find a place for me."

One of properties is actually for sale, according to the listing agent. She said whoever created the post took the time to research the owner and establish an email address for the listing to make it appear more legitimate.

She suggested anyone with concerns about a property to simply reach out to any Realtor in town to run a quick, free check of its availability.

The Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Arizona has been warning prospective renters about situations like this for years.

Communications and Consumer Affairs Director Susann Miller said there hasn't necessarily been an upswing in reported cases, but the popular scam doesn't seem to fade away either. She provided the following steps to ensure a renter performs due diligence before signing away any money.

* Research the email address and phone number of the landlord or owner on Google. You might find that someone else has already posted a report on this individual.

* Watch out for deals that are too good. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities, great locations, and other perks. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam. Search online for the listings, or the scammer's email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that's a huge red flag.

* See the property in person. Don't send money to someone you've never met for an apartment you haven't seen. If you can't visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised. And don't fall for the overseas landlord story: scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.

* The easiest sign of a rental scam is when someone asks you to wire money via Western Union, Moneygram, or Prepaid Visa card. Scammers usually ask for a deposit or first month's rent before you even see the property. Don't send money for whatever reason.

* RED FLAG:The owner is out of the country on a mission, job opportunity, or military service. Always meet the landlord or agent in-person and at the property. If they can't meet you there or show you the property, then it's possibly a scam. Good idea is to always have a friend or family member with you.

* Emails from scammers are often littered with grammatical mistakes and typos. If the email is difficult to read, lengthy, or includes a sad story, then it's possibly a scam.

* Never, under any circumstances, send money to anyone without securing a lease and confirming the property manager has legal right to rent the property.

If you're dealing with a property manager instead of renting directly from a homeowner, Miller provided the following tips.

* Get Referrals. Decide if you are more comfortable with a small, local business or a large property management business and ask your realtor for referrals. Look for a property manager with specific expertise with the type of property you own. Be sure to check for business profiles and to read the complaints and reviews for any company you are considering.

* Interview Potential Managers. Meet with property managers in person to see if you feel comfortable with them. Make sure they address all your questions and concerns. Be sure to ask how many properties they manage and if they own any of the properties. When the property manager owns their own property, you may be competing for tenants. Find out how often they check on their properties and how they handle maintenance.

* Check Out Their Work. Look at the property manager's current rental ads. The ads should be professional and appear in numerous locations. If possible, visit a few of the properties they manage. Look at the condition of the building and surrounding property. Talk to current tenants to see if they are satisfied with the management and maintenance. Ask if the property manager deals with complaints and repairs in a timely manner.

* Check Licensing and Certification. Research the requirements to work as a property manager in your state or province. Check with the real estate or licensing division to see what licenses property managers need to have. Make sure all their required paperwork is up-to-date. Ask if the property manager has a certification from a professional trade organization such as the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) or the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM). Those with certifications from IREM or NARPM have completed difficult training programs and participate in continuing education classes.

* Discuss Price. Property managers usually charge between 5 percent and 10 percent for their managing services. The manager should charge their fee based on the rent they collect rather than rent that is due. This will prevent you from paying for tenants who have not paid their rent. Ask the manager what services the fee includes. Find out if there are additional fees for advertising, evictions, or visiting the property for maintenance.

* Review the Management Agreement. The agreement should define the responsibilities of both the property owner and the property manager. Check that the agreement also details all included services, any extra fees, compliance with fair housing laws, and the cancellation policy. Make sure the agreement includes any oral promises made during the interview. Read everything thoroughly before signing and do not sign if there are any blanks in the contract.

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