Landlords usually screen potential tenants when they’re renting their properties, but should tenants also screen landlords? When you apply for a rental property, you have to hand over a lot of confidential information. From your social security number to your income information, you have to place a lot of trust in your landlord.
Should you perform a background check on your landlord? The simple answer is yes. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where rental scams and identity theft happen frequently. You don’t want to become a victim when you’re just trying to find somewhere to live. Here’s how to perform a background check on your landlord so you know you’re in good hands.
Why Should You Be Worried?
You might be asking what the big deal is when it comes to landlords. Some landlords are rental companies and others are individuals, but can’t you actually trust them? In reality, there will always be people out there who want to prey on others online. Thanks to the rise of online listings, it’s easier than ever to find willing victims.
The Federal Trade Commission warns about rental listing scams on its website. Unfortunately, not all rental listings are legit. These can sometimes be hard to spot, especially if you’re not working with an experienced real estate agent. There isn’t anyone policing most online listing websites to make sure every landlord is safe and legitimate. That’s why you’ll need to take matters into your own hands with the steps below.
1. Know the Red Flags
First, it helps to know the red flags for common scams. If something looks fishy about the online listing, odds are it’s not real. The general saying “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is” always holds true. Here are some other common red flags to steer clear of:
- Vague Details – If the listing details seem excessively vague or don’t make sense, the person behind the page likely doesn’t even own the property. Make sure you can find clear information about where the home is located and it’s characteristics.
- Photos Don’t Match – If the photos don’t seem to match the listing or there are weird watermarks on the photos, they’re likely stolen.
- Ask for Money – No legitimate landlord will ask for money or a money order upfront. Legitimate companies or landlords will go through an application process before asking for any type of deposit or rent payment (aside from an application fee, which is sometimes necessary).
- Out of the Country – A common scam is that the property owner is “out of the country” and can’t see you in person. This is never the case, and you should not engage with this person.
If you notice any of these red flags above, keep scrolling. It’s not worth the risk of disclosing your information to someone who doesn’t seem authentic online. If you’re not sure, continue to the steps below.
2. Check Public Records
Always search for public records of the landlord or the rental company. You can also search for the records of the physical property itself. If you see any liens, criminal activity, or bankruptcy, this is not a good sign.
Sometimes property companies or landlords will rent out properties that are already in bankruptcy or foreclosure. This is not something you want to be involved in, so do your best to discover any potential problems before moving to the next step.
3. Search for Complaints
Thanks to the internet, you can now find reviews on just about anything. This might not be the case for homes or apartments owned by individuals, but it’s almost always the case for big rental companies. See if any past building tenants have had poor experiences by searching online or at RateMyLandloard.com. While one or two bad reviews might not be so bad, several should be enough to keep you from that property.
4. Visit the Home
When you visit the property, take a closer look. Many times things will look fine on the outside only to be falling apart on the inside. Does the space look safe? Is it clean? Do you see signs of rodents or other pests? Don’t just check the interior and exterior. Also look in the garbage and recycling area where more problems arise.
Check that the property is safe. If there are hallways, are they well-lit? Is there a working fire extinguisher nearby? Check the entire unit if you’re renting an apartment. If possible, talk to neighbors who know the location the best.
5. Talk to the Landlord
Finally, you’ll need to interview the landlord in the same way the landlord will likely interview you. Ask them questions about their home and make sure you’re fully educated before you sign anything or hand over information.
This is an expected part of the process and shouldn’t turn them off to you as a tenant. If they act defensive or seem to be hiding something during the interview process, this is a good sign you don’t want to sign a lease with them.
Renting a property is a big decision. If you’re navigating the process alone, you want to protect yourself to ensure your information and money are safe. Take the steps above to avoid falling victim to a scam or dealing with a problematic landlord.