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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2014 > How to Avoid Off-Campus Rental Scams

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How to Avoid Off-Campus Rental Scams

College students in search of off-campus housing options have a lot to consider, including location, condition, square footage, parking, and price. In addition to checking online advertisements and bulletin boards on and near campus, apartment hunters should be sure to visit the properties they’re considering and, if possible, talk with current residents about the apartment and their experiences with the landlord.

Here are things students typically come across when choosing a rental property:
  • Application fee — Students may be asked to complete an application and pay a related fee for the landlord to check their credit and criminal background.
  • Lease — A lease is a legally binding agreement between a student and the landlord defining the resident’s relationship to the landlord and allowing use of the property. Students should review the lease carefully before signing it and make sure that any verbal agreements with the landlord are put into the lease before it is signed. Students need to keep a copy of the lease for their records.
  • Security deposits — A deposit serves to ensure the landlord receives all the due rent and that the property is in the same condition when students move out as when they moved in except for normal wear and tear. Be sure to photograph the property when moving in and moving out to document its condition. The landlord typically has one month to refund the security deposit and provide a written, itemized explanation for any deductions taken from the amount students originally paid. 
Additionally, college students should beware of various rental listing scams, especially when a rental seems too good to be true.
In a typical scenario, a scammer obtains the address and picture of a house posted online and reposts it on another website as a house for rent. The rent is often low, and scammers may claim they had to leave the country quickly. In order to secure the rental, the potential renter must send hundreds or thousands of dollars, typically via wire transfer. Beware! Any money sent will be lost.
When browsing for apartments, college students should follow these tips:
  • Be skeptical of ads offering below-market rental rates.
  • Be leery of potential “landlords” who say they had to leave the country quickly or claim they are missionaries in another country.
  • Don’t send money until you’ve had a face-to-face transaction, including actually viewing the property.
  • Beware of requests for wire transfers or prepaid money cards as payment methods.
  • Use a search engine to do a search by image to determine where else an image has appeared online.
  • Follow the scam prevention tips provided by any websites you use.
  • Search the county auditor’s website for a record of who owns the property.
Spring and summer is also a time when some college students try to sublease their rental property until they return for school in the fall. These students should be wary of overpayment scams. In this ploy, a con artist poses as a potential new tenant, sends the landlord (or in the case of a student, the person subleasing his apartment) a counterfeit check for more than the asking price of the deposit or rent, and asks the landlord or original tenant to send the difference back to the con artist. The check later will be returned as counterfeit, and any money the landlord or person subleasing sends will be lost.

Consumers should report potential scams and deceptive business practices to the Ohio Attorney General's Office by visiting or calling 800-282-0515.