Tenant Beware - Landlord Beware

Rental ScamYes, Virginia, scammers can take advantage of tenants and home owners in Southwest Florida and the Bonita Springs real estate market is ripe for the picking.

Although you and I don't think with criminal minds there are other people that do. The real estate market has brought on swift and confusing changes. There are vacant homes, foreclosures, short sales and rentals galore. Bonita Springs, Florida has always been the land of absentee owners. We have even more now with the excessive inventory on the market. The market conditions breed all sorts of scams.

Nation wide rental scams are starting to pop up which homeowners, tenants and consumers need to be aware of. It hadn't really occurred to me how easy it would be to take advantage of someone looking for a home to rent until now. There are even scammers that rent homes with the intent to show and rent the home to other tenants. They get the security, first, last or whatever monies they can get and then they leave town. In some circumstances they have written dozens of leases to dozens of tenants and skip town with a boat load of cash.

Sometimes the scammers just act as though they work on behalf of the home owner, as the homeowner is out of town, out of the country, ill, hospitalized, etc. The victim pays the money and the person who rented them the home disappears. They later learn the house or apartment was not for rent. Of course, their wallets are lighter when they find out.

What can you do to protect yourself if you are a tenant looking for a home or condominium to rent in the Bonita Springs area? There are a few ways to check to make sure the person who says they own the property actually owns the property.

  • Ask to see identification of the "landlord".
  • You can search the property address at the Lee County Tax Collector website LeeTC.com or even LeePA.org the Lee County Property Appraiser's site. Find the owners name and make sure it matches the ID.  Most of Bonita Springs is in Lee County.  A small portion near the beach is in Collier County
  • Ask a real estate agent for help leasing property.
  • Call the property management company that manages the condominium or community. They will have a list of all homeowner's names and contact. You can request that the management company verify that the home owner is renting their home.
  • Sunbiz.org lists the management company for each community. You should also find that contact info in a building lobby or posted in a common area, such as the swimming pool cabana area or clubhouse.
  • If you are leasing in a gated community or a condominium, rental applications are almost always required. If the landlord doesn't have them or doesn't know how to get them it may be a bad sign.
  • Google the property address, land lord's phone number, land lord's name, etc. Other ads may pop up with details that are fishy.
  • Don't be too embarrassed to ask if the landlord is current on his mortgage payments. Some distressed homes could be placed for rent even if they are on their way to foreclosure. Tenants get a knock on the door and an invitation to find a new home when the bank takes over. Read Also: For Sale While For Rent

Most recently I spoke with a young lady who was waiting for her check to clear before the landlord would give her keys. My heart sank. It all sounded so fishy. She'd found the rental on Craigslist, given a hefty security and first month rent and several days went by. It actually all turned out ok for her, but that scenario was ripe for the picking. She hadn't done a lick of homework to verify if the owner was, in fact, the owner. She could have easily lost thousands of dollars to a scammer.

If you're a Bonita Springs home owner with a home for rent or a home that is sitting vacant make sure you protect your property.

  • Keep an eye on your home. If you're not in the area, consider hiring a home watch service to periodically check the home for odd activity.
  • If you've not changed the locks or others could have keys to the home, consider changing the locks and dead bolts. That's an easy fix under $100 in most cases.
  • Require references from potential tenants and actually check those references.
  • Contact the tenant's employer to verify employment.
  • Consider using a property manager who can run a credit check on your tenant.
  • Never accept more money than the payment you requested. If you refund the difference the check usually bounces and you're out the refunded amount.
  • Google the tenant name, phone number, prior address and check the county police records. Most records are now public.

An ounce of prevention goes a long way. Make sure you take the necessary precautions so you don't end up getting ripped off.