Avoiding Apartment Rental Scams

(Medford, MA) Well it's late summer and alot of people are looking for apartments. Too oftenI hear about people getting taken advantage of or outright duped when it comes to their apartment choices. I've been asked how to avoid some of these pitfalls. 

1. Verify the owner of the property
Most cities and towns in Massachusetts have an online database for the Assessors office. Search there for the registered owner of the property. Often times large apartment buildings are held in trusts or by limited liability corporations (LLC's). Searching the Massachusetts Registry of Deeds can help identify the corporation as well as it's officers. You can also look up the corporate registration with the city/town as well as the state to make sure you're dealing with the verified owner or authorized agents.

2. Verify it's a legal apartment
Sometimes an unscrupulous landlord will attempt to squeeze in an extra apartment that's not up to code. This can literally be a life or death issue. Improper/illegal apartments may not meet fire codes, building codes and could result in injury or death. Contact the local assessors office and especially the inspectional services department to verify the unit is indeed legal. Things to be on the lookout for are the lack of individually metered utilities, lack of building permits, certificate of occupancy or violations cited for the property. If you come in and see major recent plumbing or electrical work and there's no record of permits for the work then the property might not have been inspected by the municipality recently or at all.

3. Verify the rental agent
Here in Massachusetts real estate agents and brokers are required to be licensed. The Massachusetts Office of Professional Licensure lists all licensed agents and brokers here in Massachusetts as well as any complaints or punishments handed down. Just because someone has a business card doesn't make them a licensed agent/broker. Research who you are working with before handing over any money. This is especially important for out of state prospective tenants. Ask for references and contact them. Look up reviews with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn. Verify the brokerage before writing a check or handing over cash. Use a local bank check for deposits. Make sure to ask for what terms a deposit is held under and get it in writing. The market for rentals is very hot here in the Greater Boston area but you shouldn't feel pressured to make a decision if you're feeling wary. Sometimes it's better to lose out on a hot property than to lose thousands on a knee jerk reaction or pressure. You should also prepare yourself before hand just in case you do find the right property and are ready to move.

4. Read your rental agreement
This is a legally binding agreement. If you are unsure of anything the agent/broker's opinion is not the advice of an attorney. They are specifically forbidden to give legal advice here in Massachusetts. Consult an attorney if you have questions. For the most part apartment rental agreements are boiler plate but sometimes clauses  can be added that might not work for you. Massachusetts is a very tenant friendly state but going through the legal system can be long and drawn out and difficult if you're living in an untenable position.

5. Beware of craigslist/online scams
Not saying that all the apartments on craigslist are scams but there exists a huge issue of the few scam artists on there and other online listing services. Don't meet strangers alone at a vacant apartment. Just because it's daytime doesn't mean those up to no good won't take advantage. Make sure others know where you're going to view properties and take a friend or two. If it feels too good to be true it just might. Listen to that little voice of warning, it could save you financially & personally.

6. Get renters insurance
Typically the property has insurance to cover the structure in case of a loss but your personal belongings aren't covered by these policies. In case of a fire/flood/theft your own policy will cover your losses and some policies will also cover alternate housing in the case of a disaster. Consult with your auto insurance company, friends, family or colleagues for a reputable insurance agent they work with to review your needs and policy options for you. It will cost you a few hundred dollars a year but used once it'll pay for itself many times over. Many landlords are now requiring specific coverage for their tenants just to move in.

Hope this list is helpful to you, do you have any further tips to share? Let me know

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