Rental Scams 2.0

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Property Managers across the country are reporting an uptick in rental scams. These scammers or “fake landlords” are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods, and are taking advantage of a robust rental market, and renters’ sense of urgency in the face of housing shortages in many markets.

 

In previous years, one of the more common scams involved pirating a rental ad (typically on Craigslist), copying the photos and basic text of the ad, changing the contact information, and pricing the property at well-below market rental value to generate leads. Then, when the unsuspecting renter called, the scammer would tell them the property could be shown in a few days, but to send money to secure the rental now. It worked. Many renters were taken advantage of in this manner. We property managers caught on to that rather quickly, and started watermarking our property photos. This simple step seemed to eliminate much of the fraud associated with “fake ads.”

 

That is, until recently…

Today, the scammers are increasingly savvy to the widespread use of electronic lockbox systems for showing vacant rental homes. The newer scams go something like this:

  • The scammer creates a fake listing on Craigslist, Trulia, HotPads, Zillow, or some other online rental site.
  • Unsuspecting renters contact the scammer in response to the listing.
  • Meanwhile, the scammer registers through your system to view the property as though he/she were an actual prospect, obtaining an access code to view the home.
  • The scammer talks to the victims using a VoIP number like Google Voice and tells the victims they are the owner of the property.
  • While a victim is at the door to the property and on the phone with the scammer, the scammer provides his fraudulently-obtained access code to the victim, and the victim is able to enter the property.
  • In some cases where a photo ID is required the scammer uses a fake ID. In others he gets the victim to text him their ID and then uploads that to satisfy the requirement.
  • After the victim has viewed the property, the scammer then requests the victim wire the deposit to the scammer to secure the rental.
  • The first the property manager learns of this is when the renter comes to your office to pick up keys to the home…

 

What can we do, as professional property managers, to protect the renting public, our companies that bear the burden of dealing with unauthorized tenancies, and our owner/clients who depend on us to reasonably secure their properties?

 

  • Check your vacant properties frequently! If it’s vacant, whether or not you’ve had showings on the home, you need to check the property at least weekly.
  • Conduct a periodic Google search using your vacant property’s address. Does it show up as listed for rent on any site/s other than the ones you’re using? Look at the ads.
  • Flag and report any unauthorized advertisements.

 

Get the word out!

  • Tell your prospective renters to be wary of rental scams.
    • Beware of owner/landlords who are “out of town.”
    • Beware of rental rates that seem ‘too good to be true.’ They probably are.
    • Beware of a “landlord’s” urgency to obtain money or personal information from you.
    • Don’t wire money to ANYONE, unless you’ve verified that they are actually the owner, or the owner’s authorized agent.

 

Wherever there are housing shortages and anxious consumers, there will be a criminal element. Criminals prey on the most vulnerable of us. As professional property managers, we have to take this seriously, and be proactive in our efforts to prevent rental scams.

 

What additional methods of rental scam prevention do you use?

 

 

 

 

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Safety First!

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In our business as property managers, we recognize the importance of providing our tenants with a safe property in which to live or do business. If it’s within our control and area of responsibility, we eliminate obvious safety hazards, as an important aspect of our overall risk-management strategy.

 

Yet, how often do we consider our own safety?

 

The times I have felt most vulnerable as a property manager were when I was showing a vacant home or commercial space. Taking advice from experts in the field, I realized the necessity of developing a pre-screening checklist. That checklist gives me the opportunity to not only eliminate the prospects who are clearly unqualified to rent the home (or lease the space), but to learn a bit about these callers, before arranging a showing. My checklist includes such questions such as, “How soon do you need to move (or relocate your business)?” “How long have you lived here (or how long in business)?” and “Do you have any credit issues of which we should be aware?” These questions help set the stage for a successful first meeting.

 

Do you confirm the identity of the person you are meeting, before you meet?

 

Just about every article available on this topic speaks to the importance of meeting a prospect at your office, first. Do you actually do that? Or, is it more likely, you meet at the vacant property? At minimum, please get the prospect’s photo identification before you meet. With the ease of today’s technology, asking a prospect to text you a photo of his/her driver’s license is not a burdensome request.

 

Alternatively, you might wish to employ a widely-popular method of showing vacant properties – an access-controlled (self-showing) lockbox system. Companies such as Rently and ShowMojo can verify your prospects’ identity, schedule controlled self-guided showings, and follow up immediately on calls and inquiries. These systems relieve you of not only the safety risk, but the hassle of no-shows, and lost time in the showing process. Of course, not all properties lend themselves to using such a system.

 

A few tips for your safety, outside the showing process…

 

  • Accept your rent payments electronically, rather than by personal delivery. And, “no cash” is a wise policy to adopt.
  • Make sure lines of communication with your clients and customers are wide open, and potential conflicts are resolved in a swift, calm manner.
  • You may, as I often do, work from your home. That’s great – it allows for a much more flexible wardrobe! Just be sure to never provide your home address to owners, tenants, or vendors. Use a P.O. Box for your mail, or the physical address of your office.
  • Got speed dial? Use it. Make sure it includes at least 1 member of your office staff, a family member, and police or fire departments.
  • Watch what you share on social media. Just because your Facebook page is set for optimum privacy, doesn’t mean it’s private. Think before you post, and limit the amount of personal information you share.

 

There are so many more great tips out there for those of us who work in this industry. Perhaps, you have some tips you’d like to share? If so, please comment on this post, or email me! judy@judycook.biz. We may include them in a future article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Can you get a bid on that?” (How to handle owner requests for bids on small jobs)

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little-builderAs a Nevada Property Manager, you know how challenging it can be to find and retain qualified vendors to do the myriad small jobs for the rental homes you manage. Now that we’re working against The Tesla Effect,” it’s becomming even more difficult to find vendors who are willing to take on those small jobs at fair prices. Many of us expect this trend to continue, for at least the next 3-5 years.

 

Enter the conscientious landlord. This may be his first foray into rental property ownership; perhaps he once lived in the home. Although she hired a professional property manager, which was a savvy decision on her part as a new investor/landlord, she still wants to know what’s going on, especially when repairs are needed. “Can you get a bid on that?” We hear it all the time, don’t we? As property managers, we know what a losing proposition it can be to seek bids for small projects. But, how do we effectively communicate this to our owner-clients?  Continue reading ““Can you get a bid on that?” (How to handle owner requests for bids on small jobs)”

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Converting Rentals to 55+ Status (HOPA)

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seniorsThe Reader’s Digest version of this post, for those who prefer that kind of thing, is “No.” Just no. Only in very rare cases, can you convert an existing rental property from a traditional residential rental (welcoming families with children), to a 55+ property, under the exemptions contained in the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA).

A property manager recently asked me whether her client could declare the client’s duplex a “55+ Community,” ‘since it’s a multifamily property.’

First, I suggested he talk to his lawyer, or Silver State Fair Housing Council. Then, “A duplex isn’t a ‘multifamily’ property. That term generally applies to 4+ units. Since this property is not part of a larger ‘association’ of similar properties who’ve formed an association… and, since there are no governing documents for your client’s property that address any kind of HOPA exemption, no. No, your client can’t do that.”  Continue reading “Converting Rentals to 55+ Status (HOPA)”

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Marketing Property Management Services

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FanfareIf you’ve been in this business for a while, you’ve probably noticed how competitive property management has become! It seems that everyone is a Property Manager! It’s a much bigger challenge than it used to be, to attract and keep a good client base. A solid marketing campaign, consistently applied, will set you apart from your competition.

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Here are a few proven tips…

Continue reading “Marketing Property Management Services”

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Assistance Animal Fair Housing Case in Reno Nevada

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BassetHot off the presses! The U.S. Department of Justice just announced a settlement with a Reno, NV apartment complex regarding the management’s treatment of residents with assistance animals. From the DOJ’s press release:

“The department’s complaint had alleged that the owners, employees and management company of Rosewood Park Apartments violated the Fair Housing Act by limiting individuals with certain assistance animals to a particular section of Rosewood Park Apartments; subjecting such individuals to pet fees; requiring assistance animals to be licensed or certified; and barring companion or uncertified service dogs altogether.”

The settlement in this case was $127,500, payable to a family who was denied housing (because of their assistance animal), Continue reading “Assistance Animal Fair Housing Case in Reno Nevada”

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Tenant Death – The Property Manager’s Guide

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This is a revival of a post from a few years ago. I’ve had a couple of emails recently from property managers across the U.S. who are dealing with this issue right now, and they’re looking for answers. So, what does the property manager need to know (and do) when a tenant of ours dies in one of our rental units?  

Yes, I know. This is a rather depressing topic. Not something we ordinarily want to discuss. Yet, if you’re in this business long enough, eventually, someone’s going to die in one of your rental units. It happens. In my 30+ years as a property manager, I’ve had three deaths. The first was a drug overdose; the second a “peaceful” death, and the third was suicide.

No matter the circumstances, there isn’t anything much more disturbing than to find a dead body in an apartment or rental house you manage. The event can haunt you for months. At the moment you discover the death, it’s easy to make critical mistakes – confusion takes hold, and we don’t always think clearly about what we should be doing.

 

Following are a few guidelines to help you deal appropriately with a death in one of your rental units:   Continue reading “Tenant Death – The Property Manager’s Guide”

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Collecting Bad Debts Fairly

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Property managers often ask me how I handle pursuing tenants who move out owing sums in excess of their deposit.  Owners so frequently expect the property manager to act as a collection agency, and many of our contracts do not address the manager’s responsibility for those activities.  Furthermore, federal law strictly regulates the property manager’s efforts in collecting tenant debt.  What should the property manager do in these cases?

 

Make sure your owners know your policies.  Communicate those policies in writing.  Your management contract should specifically spell out what you will and will not do in the event of “bad debts” by tenants.  Should the situation arise, remind your owners of those policies and any associated charges.

 

Your records speak for themselves.  Prove it or lose it!  If you are unable to prove a debt, you will be unable to collect it. Continue reading “Collecting Bad Debts Fairly”

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Property Management Burnout

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As I prepare to head to Las Vegas next week to facilitate a session on abandoned property, my thoughts focus on my fellow property managers.

Yes, handling tenants’ abandoned property is a challenge and a trigger for stress. But, it’s simply one of many situations a property manager may encounter on any given day. So many aspects of the daily business of property management can create stress:

  • Marketing for new accounts – being competitive without giving your services away
  • Securing qualified tenants for vacant properties – the owner wants it rented NOW, but may blame you if the deal goes bad, later
  • Enforcing lease terms – “I’m sorry you lost your job, but the rent still has to be paid.”
  • And, my all-time favorite, the midnight maintenance call. (Did you know that water heaters are predesigned to fail on holidays, weekends, and after dark?)

 

Over many years in this business, I’ve observed a significant pattern in the life-cycle of many a property management career – that of burnout and re-entry. Continue reading “Property Management Burnout”

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Clearing the Confusion: Trust Accounts in Nevada

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Within the last week, I have had no fewer than 4 Nevada Property Managers ask me the same question.

 

“How do we maintain a contingency fund for our owners, if the Trust Account has to be zeroed out every month?”

 

It seems there may be some misinformation floating around out there. Let’s clear it up!

 

First things first… the “operating” Trust Account – the account where you hold the property management owners’ money – does not have to be “zeroed out” at all – everContinue reading “Clearing the Confusion: Trust Accounts in Nevada”

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