I know exactly where you are right now. How do I know? Well, because I’ve been there too. I’ll never forget when I first set out to find a place to live in LA. Having never been through this process, I was a bunch of nerves.
“What if I can’t find the right place?”
“What if I don’t qualify for the apartment?”
“What if all the places are too expensive?”
And worst of all, “What if I get scammed?”
These are all the questions I had when I first moved to LA in search of a new life, and I’m sure you might be having a lot of these questions too. Since scamming seems to be a big issue for those moving to a large city as this is when we’re most vulnerable to scams (since we’re new to the city, and on a time crunch to find a place to live), I’ve decided I want to help you stay safe with my tips for avoiding being “had”, because like I said, I’ve been in your shoes.
The great thing about these tips is that a lot of them can still be applied if you’re moving to any large city. So, without further ado, here are 6 tips to avoid being scammed when apartment hunting in a new city:
1) Avoid apartment ads with no pictures
We’ve all seen it before, plenty of ads offering an apartment or room that sounds great, but unfortunately it doesn’t look so great. The reason being? There aren’t any pictures to look at! Unfortunately in cases like this, the saying, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t really apply. Often at times, the landlord has intentionally done this to hide how terrible the place is. In order to avoid wasting your time or even meeting some shady people along the way, it’s better to play it safe. Only seek out places that have pictures posted…plus, isn’t it more fun when you can first see awesome pictures of your potential new pad anyway??
2) Only apply to places that go through proper building management
It’s important that you only apply to live at places that have an official application form, and property management. Before you panic and say, “But what if I don’t have a job? It’s really difficult to get a place like this when you’re unemployed,” I have actually already experienced this scenario as I was someone who also had no job when I first moved to LA, and know exactly how you might be feeling. Well, good news! Even if you are subletting, or looking for a month-to-month arrangement, you can still find out the property management information from the person you are renting from. You might be thinking, “Why is this necessary in the first place?” Well, if you don’t want to end up “renting” from a fake renter who then runs away with your deposit, you should definitely follow this tip. Yup, believe it or not, people will use a friend’s apartment to pretend they’re the landlord renting out the place, and then after you give them your first and last month’s rent, they’re suddenly nowhere to be found. No keys, no apartment, and worst of all, an emotional feeling of defeat that could send you running all the way back home!
3) Get reviews from other residents in the building
If you don’t want to end up in a place that has bed bugs, cockroaches, or even rats, then it’s best you get some reviews from the residents who live at the current building. One of the best ways to do this is simply through using Yelp. Although Yelp is often used for restaurants, stores, and services, believe it or not, you’ll actually find a lot of reviews of residential apartments as well. The great thing about Yelp is that people are brutally honest! If you’re fortunate enough, you might even walk by some of the building residents in the foyers, or walkways. Don’t be shy to strike up a conversation about the building! It’ll be worth it if you can get the real skinny on life in that building, and best of all, avoid a future headache.
4) NEVER live in a “sober living” house
No matter how desperate you are, avoid sober living homes at all costs! These places are typically not so sober after all. In fact, they are filled with many who have violated the rules and are never penalized because owners simply want their cash…quite the opposite of how these advertisements usually stress how much of a safe haven these places are. Also, because of the fact that these type of living situations constantly have people coming in and out, often at times these places are filled with bed bugs. The last thing you need when moving to a new city is to have all of your belongings infested with bed bugs, especially when you’re starting a new job, or need to dress to impress for potential job interviews.
5) Use trustworthy websites
Yes, Craigslist can be a place of great things, it can also be a place of not-so-great things. In fact, it can be downright scary with the amount of scams on there! If you’re not experienced at maneuvering through the spam, your best bet is to choose a credible website, such as westsiderentals.com, roomster.com, and zillow.com.Yes these websites might seem like a bit of a disappoint at first because they charge a fee, they are actually better than a site like craigslist because they are safer. Just like how these sites turn off apartment seekers because they have fees, they also turn people off who are scammers because these people don’t typically want to pay money for their scam. Therefore, your odds of being scammed decrease greatly when you use these sites.
6) Never send funds to anyone you’ve never met before
Although many people have caught on to this scam, you’d be surprised how many people are still victims of these scams in hopes that they can secure an apartment remotely. Well, I hate to break it to you, but very rarely are people ever able to secure an apartment without visiting the location and landlord first. This is for the several reasons…One, just like how I’m saying you shouldn’t send funds remotely, landlords also don’t trust people who are not in town, so you’ll waste time trying to compete for apartments you have a low chance of getting anyway. Two, again, you can end up sending first and last month’s rent to a random who can disappear with your money.
The bottom line is, no matter how desperate you are for an apartment or room to live in, these situations are not worth the risk.
Stay safe, and happy apartment hunting!