Even though rentals can now be listed on our Multiple Listing Service and many are still listed in the local paper, Craigslist is where most people begin their search to find new digs these days. While most postings are completely legitimate, Craigslist is unfortunately often used as a conduit for someone’s illegal profit center.
Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
It’s fairly common for REALTORS® to receive calls from prospective tenants inquiring if one of our listings is really for rent. With just a few clicks, imposter landlords are able to pull information and photos from our listings and re-post them as rentals.
This week the “landlord” was in somewhere over the rainbow in who-knows-where but, of course, there was a reasonable story line. The bottom line was that the “owner/imposter” wanted funds wired directly to her account because she was not in Hawaii.
A few people called me to verity the rental, but many drove to the house and even pulled in the driveway (which could be considered trespassing, by the way). Others may not have been so lucky.
Here are a few red flags that will help weed out real from scam:
- Below market rent or deposits are the first hint an ad may be bogus.
- A request for wired funds is, of course, the most telling.
- Look at the syntax of the response from the “owner.” It is often that of someone for whom English is not native.
- It’s good to know that state law requires that every landlord have an on-island representative, so logically, every rental should have someone local who can collect rent or at least vouch for an absentee owner’s credentials.
If there are real doubts, check ownership with a REALTOR® or the tax office. Then ask for positive ID.
Other Things to be Careful of
Unfortunately, Craigslist isn’t the only place tenants are running into trouble these days. An unexpected consequence of foreclosures is the potential impact on tenants. And while current rules protect tenants with a valid lease, there are no protections for a bogus lease. This might include a tenant who moves in after the auction but before the new deed records. Tenants on a month-to-month lease or those without a written lease will likely face a 90 day eviction…and good luck trying to recover a security deposit from a foreclosed owner.
Trouble is, tenants have no effective method of determining if a property is being foreclosed prior to moving in. Most mortgages specify that rent money for properties in default belongs to the lender, and yet, owners continue to collect money even though they are no longer making payments.
Avoid Problems – Do Your Homework
Here’s the thing. Homeownership is really the best way to avoid these situations altogether, but for those who must continue renting, it’s best to seek out local owners with a long history of ownership. Working with a reputable, licensed property manager is another great way for tenants to avoid problems with bogus owners or a foreclosure eviction.
So, if you are in the market for new digs, take time to dig deeper. Know as much about your landlord or rental agent as they do about you!