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Avoiding renter scams in San Francisco

SF neighborhoodsOne of the pitfalls of our crazed San Francisco rental housing market has been the rise of scams targeting struggling apartment seekers. If you are looking for a place to live, beware of these efforts to prey on your desperation during a vulnerable time.

The basic rule of thumb when rooting out rental scams is that if something seems too good to be true – well, guess what – it probably is. But there are also some common scam practices that everyone should be aware of. Circumstances similar to these should be approached with extreme caution – or avoided altogether.

In San Francisco, there are a couple basic rules of thumb to follow:

First, the price point. If there is a studio advertised for less than $1500 (in a nice neighborhood) or less than $1000 (in a not so nice neighborhood), it is either in awful shape, or a scam.

Be wary of sublease situations. While they can be perfectly legit, most landlords don’t like them and often won’t allow them. If you are considering renting a sublease, get proof that the landlord has been informed and everything is on the up and up.

If the landlord/person responsible for the apartment claims to be out of the country or unable to meet with you in person for any kind of mysterious reason/excuse, this is should also pique your attention.

A few scams that are a bit harder to identify immediately include the following:

A rental where the landlord is collecting a rental fee with each application submitted, but isn’t actually going to rent the property. There may even be a legitimate open house for such a scam. Each time, the “landlord” collects a stack of cash from prospective “applicants” – none of whom will ever have the opportunity to move into their nice new place. Unfortunately, the only way to root this out is word of mouth or to see the listing reappear on a website a second time.

Social security number theft. Landlords are asking for your social security number when you fill out a rental application, and it’s their right to do this so that they can check your credit report. If you’re nervous about protecting your social data, provide your own credit report with an application. This won’t always work and could count against you if you are in competition for a unit, but it gives you the opportunity to redact (a fancy word for cross out) any information you don’t want to share.

People trying to rent houses that don’t even belong to them. Most common with foreclosed units, the tipoffs would be any excuse-giving that keeps you from getting inside the house or apartment to see it. Also, the scammer will probably be asking for some type of payment/deposit advance from you right up front. Don’t do it.

Have you encountered any scams while looking for housing in San Francisco? What were they and what did you do?

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