Johannesburg has become notorious for rental scams, with fake landlords disappearing with thousands of rands conned from desperate rental seekers.
"Time is a factor. Tenants are often eager to find the right home within a limited time frame, which can make them vulnerable targets for criminals," said Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of property group Remax.
The internet has made it very easy to search for rental properties. Unfortunately, it's also made it easier for scam https://t.co/HYmc54cSpL— WSI Blog (@WSIBlog) September 16, 2017
Some scams are very easy to spot. Yet of late, they have become so sophisticated and appear so legit, that you'd be forgiven for falling victim.
This is how the most promising rental opportunity can look:
- An advert on a property website, complete with images of the fake property in question. The rental property could either be real or fictitious, with the scammer possibly a landlord or impersonating the landlord or rental agent. Further, said Goslett: "Crafty rental scammers are resourceful and often manage to get their listings onto search portals."
- The property will be available for viewing and inspection, via the fake landlord or tenant said to be vacating the premises month-end. At times, a security guard at a complex or a block of flat will have the keys to view the vacant space.
- There will be a bogus lease agreement, complete with convincing details such as a company logo. You can check whether the so-called estate agency is registered with the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB).
- The most sophisticated fake landlords will be rather professional in their conduct, to remove any suspicion.
While no precautionary step in the search of rental space is absolutely foolproof, there are steps you can take to lower your chances of being scammed:
- Do not pay for anything beforehand, no matter how desperate you are or how nice and trustworthy the landlord seems.
- Physically visit the property and inspect it before making any agreements.
- Request the identity of the owner, such as an ID or passport, and also request proof of ownership of the property, such as the title deed. Then verify that the person owns the property. This can be done at the deeds office or through an online enquiry on Deedsweb. If you're meeting the current tenant, still request proof of ownership of the property owners.
- In the case of a flat or apartment in a residential complex, contact the body corporate for verification.
- Never carry cash when meeting the property owner.
- Pay the deposit and or rental money only when you are entirely satisfied that the deal is legit.
- Do not pay without signing a lease.
- Ask for references if the landlord has had previous tenants – to confirm that they are who they say they are, and that they will pay you back your deposit.
- Landlords and rental agents will have a vetting process that will include a credit check before they select a tenant. Beware of landlords or rental agents who are willing to sign contracts without following the correct protocols. However, scamsters may send prospective tenants an application form, which they must return with a copy of their identity document, three months of bank statements and a copy of their latest payslip – just to put you at ease.
- To avoid other crimes, meet in public areas.
- If you suspect any possible fraud or crime, contact the police immediately.
This might seem like a lot of work, but you can never be too careful.
"Unfortunately there is no foolproof way to avoid a rental scam completely," added Goslett.
"However, potential tenants will be far more protected if they pay attention to the warning signs. It is vital for tenants to deal with rental agents from a reputable agency that they know and trust."