City Living: Our Narrow Avoidance of a Rental Scam

By Maggie Reimherr

I have this bad habit of scrolling through Zillow to look at “aspirational” apartments. While our friends in the South are buying 4 bedroom houses, I try to rationalize absurd rental costs. Just thinking about the budget I have to set for a 2 bedroom apartment in a reasonable location that’s 900+ square feet with washer/dryer hookups makes me hate myself a little bit. In Boston, tenant expectations and standards for housing are horrifically low, yet the prices are horrifically high. It’s a vicious cycle. I don’t want to talk about it.

One day during an aspirational scroll, I stumbled upon an apartment that actually met our criteria: reasonable price, nice area, good size. It even had a washer and dryer (!!!). We weren’t planning to move, but when a promising apartment appears on the Boston rental market, people do irrational things. I clicked on the listing, and it was perfect. The location was a dream for our commutes and in one of our favorite parts of Boston. Derek and I felt that this precious gift was there on the rental market just for us. 

This is the actual kitchen from the listing. All heart eye emojis for this beauty in the city.

This is the actual kitchen from the listing. All heart eye emojis for this beauty in the city.

We quickly contacted the landlord, answered his rental application questions, and were told that we were the best candidates for the apartment. He sent over a lease with a catch: “You must sign this lease and send over ____ sum of money, and you may not see the apartment until the current tenant moves out. If you don’t find it to your liking after you see it, you get your money back.”

Wait, what?

Apparently this is a somewhat common practice, known as a good faith deposit, but I was suspicious. The lease included information to send money straight to someone’s bank account. That didn't seem right.

Cue me doing ALL of the Google research over the next few days.

I found out that rental scams where people make off with your deposit money are fairly common in Boston, even warned about by the Cambridge police and the city government of Boston.

The price of the apartment was also too good to be true. It was in a building with an HOA fee that really should have made the rent about a grand higher than the supposed landlord was asking.

Conversations in our household sounded somewhat like this over the next few days…

Me: This seems too good to be true.
Derek: I think you’re being a little paranoid. It’s a common real estate practice.
Me: *rolls eyes* I don’t think so. I’m going to Google more!

My Google searches finally lead me to the city of Boston’s public records, and I found out the name of the owner of the apartment. Like any good millennial, what did I do? I found and messaged her on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Derek sent a long list of questions to the “landlord” to see if his answers would lead us to answers on whether or not this was a scam. What are the condo association regulations? Are you associated with a rental company? How long has the owner owned the place? Where is the parking space located? And so on.

While we never heard back from the “landlord”, I got a Facebook message back from the owner. Turns out, she owned and occupied the apartment. It was never on the rental market to begin with.

First reaction: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Second reaction: IN YOUR FACE, HUSBAND!!! I mean...Love you, told you so!
Third reaction: I’m an amazing Googler. Someone should probably hire me for this.

While our hip, city-living dreams were crushed, we avoided losing a lot of money. The moral of this story? Suspicion is your friend, and my husband now knows to never call me paranoid again. Other moral of this story? Apartment hunting in a big city is the worst, and I recommend avoiding it at all costs.

Have you ever had a bad experience with renting? Commiserate with us in the comments!

Read more lessons on #MillennialMarriage:

Measure Once, Buy Once: A Furniture Shopping Story
10 Lessons Learned in 3 Months of Marriage
Budget Basics: Where Did All My Money Go?