If you have never fallen for a rental scam, then consider yourself lucky because they are still very popular in Nigeria and many unsuspecting people still fall for. As you must have guessed, victims of rental scam suffer financially and psychologically because apart of the clog it throws in a victim’s financial plans, it’s largely humiliating to lose money this way. Sadly, for most victims, this means they have to start planning all over again.
You don’t have to go through the horrid experience of falling for a rental scam before you understand how they work and how to avoid getting scammed when hunting for an apartment/property. Below are some tips from seasoned professionals on ways to spot a scam before it happens.
Apartment/Property Unavailable for Inspection
You should never forget the fact that shady agents and fake real estate practitioners are very intelligent and have successfully scammed several people like you. In other words, they are very convincing when dealing with potential tenants. One of the glaring signs to look out for is that before a rental scam, they make it difficult and literally impossible for you to inspect the property. Of course, they will come up with several excuses but the end goal is the same – They don’t want you to inspect the apartment/property.
The really smart ones will go as far as telling you that they are out of town, which means they are not physically available to arrange an inspection of the property for you. In most cases, he/she (scam agent) will ask you to hold on till he/she gets back. This is just a tactic they use to buy time.
Anyone who keeps you away from an apartment/property you intend to rent has rental scam written all over his/her intention. Don’t fall for this trick regardless of the excuse they come up with.
Urgency of Transaction
Be wary of any situation or scenario where you are put under pressure to make a financial commitment way too early. It is a red flag that gives a rental scam away. Professional agents know that they need to give you time to make a realistic decision on whether you want the property or not. Scam agents; also known as 419 agents in Nigeria are known to stage the rental process in such a way that it puts a lot of urgency on the financial transaction involved.
The biggest hook they throw at unsuspecting victims is that they have received lots of applications and offers from other potential tenants. The goal here is to lure you into making that financial commitment. Once that is done, you are hooked and what follows is merely a familiar plot to serve as the nail the coffin of deception that you have unknowingly walked into. Don’t fall for the line of showing your commitment by paying a deposit.
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Disrupting the Flow of Renting an Apartment
Money should never exchange hands at the beginning of your quest to rent an apartment/property. Instead, this should always happen towards the end.
Under normal circumstances, you should meet the agent, homeowner or verified representative in person. You also need to carry out a thorough inspection of the property before you make payment. Any excuse that places payment above other crucial stages of the property renting process should send your alarm bells off.
No property agent with good intentions asks for payment upfront regardless of how professional they might have come across before pulling that move. Do you know how to find a house to rent in Nigeria? It’s not difficult and you should never be afraid to ask questions.
The Rent is Too Good to be True
If what you are being asked to pay as rent is way cheaper than the value of what you should have been asked to pay, then seek the guidance of a real estate expert to know what the idea rent should be. If the figure still falls below what you should be paying for the apartment, then it is most likely a trap set to lure you in.
For instance, if a typical 2-bedroom apartment in Lekki costs a minimum of N1 million to rent yet an agent tells you he has one for N400,000, you should start asking questions.
If you are ever shown an uncompleted building by an agent or developer who gives you reasons why you need to pay quickly to secure the apartment, this is a major red flag. Many unsuspecting individuals have lost their money to this scam and to make matters worse, they never got their money back.
In many cases, scam agents and developers are not afraid of getting arrested especially those who have a strong hold on the corrupt side of the Nigerian police. These agents go as far as allowing you to inspect the property/apartment even while construction is ongoing. The trick here is to show the same apartment to as many as 10 to 40 unsuspecting victims who pay for the same apartment without ever clashing because the rogue agent schedules their inspection for different days.
One way to avoid this is to work with a property lawyer or a real estate expert; whose years of experience can be relied on to avoid falling into such traps.
In March 2018, a Lagos court jailed an estate agent (also a self-proclaimed site engineer), Babatunde Habeeb. He was sentenced to 1,230 years imprisonment for scamming unsuspecting victims of N28 million.
The Application Form
The application form also gives many shady agents and scammers away. A typical application form should be thorough and the homeowner should not put you under any under pressure to complete the form. Remember that this form is the landlord’s way of ascertaining that you are the kind of tenant he/she wants.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that when you are trying to rent an apartment, you are not the only one being careful. The homeowner knows it is important to check you out to affirm that you will not end up a bad tenant.
On the application form, the homeowner tries to establish the kind of person you are, why you are leaving your previous residence as well as whether you will be able to pay your rent subsequently. Therefore, the less concerned the homeowner is about this part of the rental process, the more he/she tilts toward giving himself/herself away as an agent of a rental scam.
If your potential landlord/landlady does not care about your employment history or a reference from your previous landlord, then he/she is probably just in a hurry to swindle you.
Don’t Be Fooled By Photos
No matter how captivating the pictures of an apartment shown to you by a real estate agent is, it cannot replace an actual inspection. There are millions of images online that a scammer can easily download and present to you.
It’s okay to have images shown to you but don’t be naive enough to believe that once these are shown to you, everything checks out as being legitimate. In a situation where these images are emailed to you, you can verify their authenticity by uploading them on Google search to see if they pop up in a totally different listing.
No Written Lease
An agent looking to scam you will either be deliberately clumsy with the written lease or will not make it available to you. When renting an apartment, the only form of agreement you should take seriously is a written one and the reason is simple. A written agreement can always be used as a reference in cases of disagreement and clearly spells out details of what the lease covers.
It is important that the lease identifies who the property owner is. Anyone claiming to represent the interest of the legitimate owner of the home must have a legal document to back this.
In a situation where the property has more than one owner, you should request for a written confirmation from the other party. What this does is to communicate his acknowledgement of the ongoing rental process. Without the other party’s approval, the entire thing might be a sham.
No Meeting With the Owner
No excuse is good enough to justify not being able to have a meeting with the owner of a property before you rent his/her apartment. This meeting legitimises the rental. If you are renting any house, insist on seeing the documents of the ownership.
A popular trick used by con artists is to tell you that the necessary documents will be sent to you. This is one trap you should never fall for because no legitimate homeowner would refuse to show you the documents you have requested to see.
In a situation where the document is eventually shared with you but the name on it does not match the name of the person who claims to be the landlord, this should mark the end of your conversation.
The Subleasing Trap
Subleasing remains one of the riskiest waters to navigate and this is because you put yourself into a situation where you would be paying for an apartment that does not have your name in the original lease agreement that was signed.
Verifying the claim that the lease agreement leaves room for subleasing is another headache entirely. You should be careful not to make any financial commitment to such an arrangement. One safe way to go about this is to get the original tenant to include your name in the original lease agreement that was signed with the landlord.
Please note that if the sublease is forbidden in the lease agreement and you pay for the apartment without knowing this, both you and the original tenant can be ejected by the landlord.
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In the course of hunting for an apartment, you will be told a lot of things especially if you carry out due diligence and ask a lot of necessary questions. However, regardless of what you are told, it is important that you carve out time to carry out proper research. Google should be your friend at this point. Check the name of the agent as well as the landlord you have been introduced to.
The internet always remembers names and incidents that they have been associated with. For instance, what would you do if you discovered that your supposed landlord was arrested and jailed 10 years ago for collecting rent from 15 different prospective tenants for the same apartment? Would you still go ahead to sign a rental agreement?
Final Thoughts on Rental Scam
Always trust your instinct. If that inner voice or your gut tells you that there is something off about the agent or the property that is being presented to you, you’ll most likely be safer going with that hunch.
Some other things you can look out for that will help you avoid a rental scam include:
- Don’t be moved by the galaxy of reasons the person might give for not being able to help you view/inspect the property
- Restrict your search for an apartment/property to trusted real estate websites like Private Property and others that come to you via referrals from your friends and family
- If the property is excessively cheaper than similar apartments within the same neighbourhood, it’s a good time to ask questions
- Any real estate agent who is constantly impatient with you should also raise a red flag; especially one who tries to goad you toward making payment
- No form of money should be paid until you carry out a thorough inspection of the property and you are satisfied with it