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July 19, 2018

Rental fraud report finds scam listings common in Philly

Housing Apartments
 West philly Rowhomes Rowhouses  Thom Carroll /PhillyVoice

Rowhomes in West Philadelphia.

Searching for an apartment can be among life's most frustrating and stressful undertakings, particularly in big cities where the competition is rabid and affordability is hard to match with location and quality.

The last thing anyone needs to deal with is a slumlord or some other variation of a dishonest property owner. Unfortunately, it's a common experience for apartment hunters.

For the first time, Apartment List conducted a nationwide survey on the prevalence of rental fraud, which encompasses everything from identity theft and credit card fraud to misleading advertisements and outright theft.

Nationwide, an estimated 43.1 percent of renters have encountered a listing they suspected was fraudulent. More than 5.2 million Americans have actually lost money on such scams, according to the report.

The survey results reflect responses from 1,126 renters in big cities across the United States. While 85.2 percent of those who encountered scams were able to identify them and avoid the hassle before losing money, the survey found that millennials aged 19 to 29 were most likely to be duped. That's in contrast to most telemarketing and health insurance scams that focus on exploiting seniors.

Among large U.S. cities, Philadelphia came in 28th for frequency of fraud encounters. A full 20 percent of Philadelphia metro renters reported seeing listings they deemed likely to be fraudulent, but just 4.4 percent of renters actually lost money on them.

How does that compare with the rest of the country? Nationally, the average is 43.1 percent encountering fraud  and 6.4 percent losing money. Here's a breakdown of the 10 worst cities for rental fraud encounters:

City   Encountered fraud listing (%) Lost money (%)
San Francisco 47.8%< 1.0% 
Los Angeles46.7%
San Diego 41.3%
 Denver 37.8%
 New York37.2%
 Chicago 36.2%2.1%

Most scammers are quick to lie about the presence of in-unit laundry, followed by heat/AC and outdoor space.

The most common scams involve a bait-and-switch, where the landlord advertises a different property than the rental that's actually available. Phantom rentals advertise apartments that don't even exist and hijacked rentals duplicate advertisements for legitimate properties. In some cases, landlords will even attempt to collect deposits for properties they've already leased.

The good news in the report is that the vast majority of people who lost money on rental scams — a painful median of $400 — actively changed the way they went about searching for properties and following through with due diligence.

Philadelphia renters who suspect foul play have recourse to make their case to the city's Fair Housing Commission, which settles disputes with landlords about housing conditions, leasing compliance and financial entanglements that have reached an impasse.

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