So this isn’t my norm, but I’m going to go ahead and try a go at it, whatever “it” is. For the last two years, I’ve been managing three apartments for my mother. She owns the building and I find the tenants. I’m a makeshift manager and to set matters right I’ve been studying to be an apartment manager. In the meantime however, I’ve learned the ins and outs of some minor marketing strategies, how to make a lease, edit paperwork, talk to tenants, find tenants, help with upkeep, and so on. I’ve learned a lot from the apartment course and I’m hoping to pass the test, I’ve never been good with tests, so if I end up flunking the test at least I have this to fall back on. I’ve learned a lot from the course and I’ve also learned a lot from my tenants. They have told me a lot of horror stories from past rental experiences that I’m now familiar with all matter of greaseball landlord situations. Someone once told me their landlord turned off their heat, and another the landlord would try and come into her apartment late at night. I’ve heard “he took my money and then I never saw him again.” Or “he never answered the phone for repairs. Or ‘I didn’t have a working bathroom for months.” Literally horror stories. It’s no picnic renting, I lived in a rental that was slowly poisoning me with carbon monoxide because the company that I rented from never fixed the alarm and never fixed the furnace. Horrific. Last night I had a peak of inspiration and decided to write my own rules for renting, especially from private landlords which makes up the brunt of rentals in most major cities.
Tips for renters renting from private landlords and/or first-time renters;
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- If a landlord or manager refuses to post pictures or prices or refuses only to talk through certain channels, WhatsApp, Facebook marketplace, or just text. It is most likely a scam or a ring of scammers like getting spam calls, but reverse.
- Always ask as many questions as possible. If a landlord can’t explain timely or accurately then forget about it.
- Never send money to someone without sighing a lease. Only send money to someone if you see the unit that is available and sign a lease. Never send money to save the apartment or unit.
- A lease protects you as the renter and the landlord as well. A promissory note is not a lease. If there’s no lease you should not move in. You will have no rights what’s so ever. A landlord could even say you're a trespasser.
- Always read over the whole lease!
- Always read the whole ad and cross-check. Many things you might ask could already be in the ad, cross-check with the person your talking to about the unit. Cross-check on other sites, to see if it's cross-posted or if the pictures match.
- It is a sign of good faith to be as truthful as possible when talking to a manager or landlord. If you bring a pet, say you're bringing a pet. Many leases may have hidden clauses about pets or businesses on the premises.
- Never try to bargain with the landlord on price or deposit. Some private landlords will work with a person to pay the security in chunks or will accept twice-a-month payments. However if a landlord seems shady, potential tenants negotiating rent also seems shady.
- In the business of finding a home, apartment or room it is a first come first served. Make a point to see the unit as soon as possible and be ready with all necessary paperwork plus a security deposit if things go smoothly. Obviously don’t carry a wad of cash around, but just be on your toes, the longer you wait the less likely a chance you’ll be moving in.
Facebook marketplace is the core of fake tenants and from what I’ve learned fake companies and landlords are as well. It’s so easy to get caught up in the search for reasonable apartments, unknowing you might be enticed by a bot. Those bots can be clever, and yes they might not even be bots, they could be regular old scammers too. So I decided to try and help people out. I decided to talk to what looked like scammers to me. Women and men posting about units on different Facebook groups. I chose not to talk to individuals trying to sublease their 1 bedroom in a 6 bedroom house because they just seemed more legit and wholesome than the over-all overflow of self-proclaimed managers. I know what people are thinking though, "why facebook?" In reality I do post other places, but its much easier to find people to rent single rooms on facebook or to find people willing to rent with someone else if they can see a legit profile.
So I started my journey, I made a fake email, but I used my real Facebook account. Which I still use to advertise my mom's units, and yes I get a lot of bots too, but as I do this I know I have to take it all with a grain of salt. Anyways back to me having a boring Saturday night. I used my above list of tips to find landlords that meet the criteria and within a few minutes, I found two exceedingly shady people. The first one we will call Betty Oops. Betty’s initial ad was up in an affordable housing group on Facebook marketplace. She advertised that she had units, bedrooms, apartments, and houses for rent. She posted no pictures or prices and just asked people to private message her. First red flag. So I messaged her. I told her I was looking for units for my friends: A single female budget $650 w/o utilities and a couple $1500 budget 2 bed/1 bath w/o utilities. Here is our correspondence. You can see how towards the end her demeanor changes and so does her grammar. The first address she sent I cross-reference with Zillow and her prices did not match up. The second listing she sent matched the pictures and price, but did not match the company advertising the apartment. Also, a friend not Betty herself messaged me on the email I sent her and also asked for WhatsApp. Betty's inability to reference the correct rent for the first unit shows she is superbly not who she says she is. Her WhatsApp calling card cemented her further into her shame. A respectable landlord should be able to call, text, and email. They should have a real phone number and real address. If they can't produce either don't bother.
The Real Anastasia, though also not really real is next, she advertised an apartment for $750, a reasonable price, it was a 1bed/1bath with posted pictures and address. However when I looked up the address on Zillow its a whole house that was for sale, not apartments. The worst part about the Zillow ad is it's advertised as a 4-bedroom house and 5 bathrooms and only has one picture of one bathroom. Hmm seems like Anastasia is lying and so is the seller of this fancy $350,000 house which by the way needs major renovations. Besides which it's missing 4 of its 5 bathrooms.
For our final round, we have Noname, Noname was like Betty, she advertised she had prime spots, but with no prices or pictures. She also took a very long time to respond to texts and even though I told her many times it was not me looking for a spot, but my imaginary friends. She still thought it was me moving in. Although those are not most certainly red flags, they do put you in the position of asking, "Is this person even reading what I wrote?" However the following information put me off almost immediately and created a number of flags that you just can't help but wave bye to. Noname advertised she had a ready-to-move-in house for $1,295 with a security deposit of just $400, which in most cases is not a security deposit. Most private landlords or companies will ask for first and last or first, last, and security. Noname then texted me the address which I cross-referenced with Zillow. The rent matched and I was certainly surprised, however on the Zillow ad, the deposit was $2,390, which did not match either post. I also asked Noname about an application fee which she replied was $60 per adult, while the Zillow ad lists it as $35. To make matters worse, she asked to fill out an application and basically save the space by putting down $60. Which means I would of not seen the apartment or been there. I would literally be giving money to a stranger in the hopes my $60 would save me a whole house.
As you can see there are a lot of scammers out there, and I think it will be fun to play detective and root them out. I guess my next step would be to figure out how to out them. Which is just as hard as figuring out if they are real or not. Any help would be much appreciated. I've thought about contacted people on Zillow or other sites I reference, but in general, people don't answer those unless your actually looking to rent.