CLEVELAND (WJW) — A Cleveland councilperson and consumer advocates are warning renters about an increase in scams targeting people seeking affordable rental properties.
It is a growing problem amid a housing market that is squeezing out affordable rentals.
“Rents are rising. You don’t find anything less than $1,000 right now in the area that I serve,” Ward 14 Councilperson Jasmin Santana said.
Santana said her 78-year-old mother, who receives Section 8 vouchers, is desperate to find an affordable house rental. The family was excited when it found a listing on Facebook for a house for rent on the city’s west side.
“It looked legit. The house and pictures were legit when my sister went to see the house,” Santana said.
After the family paid a $100 application fee, Santana said the supposed property manager stopped responding. It was a scam.
“People will do anything to make some money, and they could easily scam these vulnerable families,” Santana said.
The Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland said rental scams are on the rise locally, with scammers listing properties for rent that they don’t actually own, then collecting deposits and disappearing.
“The demand for rental properties has increased, and as a result, more victims have been led to scammers,” said Sue McConnell, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Greater Cleveland.
McConnell said scammers steal photos of houses listed for sale online and then post them as an available rental property.
“If you see a listing for a rental property, you want to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate listing,” McConnell said.
The BBB recommends prospective renters research the property management company online and also search the property’s address to see if it’s actually listed for sale.
The Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research in Cleveland suggests renters look up the property on their county auditor’s web site. There, they can see the name of the property owner and if the property is registered as a rental, because there will be an “N” value next to “Owner Occupancy Credit” on the tax bill page.
The BBB said red flags include a rental price that’s well below comparable rentals, a for sale sign in front of the property and a landlord that refuses to show the home before demanding payment.
“Really research it carefully, or you may waste your time and your money, and you’ll still not have a house that you desperately need to rent,” McConnell said, noting renters should not simply take a rental listing with photos at face value.
Santana is warning others so they aren’t scammed like her mom was.
“I know they’re desperate looking for something, and I just want to make sure no families are taken advantage as my mom was,” she said.