Scammers target apartment hunters

October 14, 2008 5:39:58 PM PDT
Hurricane Ike has made finding an apartment nearly impossible in some places in our area. Now the difficulty in finding a place is being complicated by predators looking to make a fast buck. Seven Riverway is about as upscale as an apartment community can be. The Galleria area building has units available for more than $3,000 a month, according to officials at the Houston Apartment Association. So when an ad popped up on Craigslist offering to rent a unit for just $1,000 a month, something seemed odd. Add to that the fact that potential renters can't see the unit before moving in, and experts say there are major problems.

David Jones with the Houston Apartment Association explained, "They should always have the opportunity to tour the actual apartment they are going to be renting prior to signing a lease. It may not be available the day they fill out an application, but certainly before signing an application they should tour the apartment."

In the ad, the owner claims to be in London and wants potential renters to send a deposit by Western Union -- another red flag according to apartment managers.

"It certainly would be unusual," Jones admitted. "I would certainly be suspicious of that."

The appearance of questionable apartment ads does not surprise those in the business. After all, Hurricane Ike displaced thousands of people from Galveston Island and beyond. Those people are now trying to find places to live during the road to recovery.

"The market has definitely tightened up for rental properties since Hurricane Ike. A lot of people are temporarily displaced that were homeowners and never were renters prior and need temporary housing," Jones said.

Renters we spoke with say it is possible to find places, but those searching for an apartment need to use caution.

Renter Charles Robinson said, "That is just low down. A lot of people got hurt by the storm and pockets are hurting and something like that happens, it makes it worse, so you have to watch out."

The Houston Apartment Association does have a list of resources available for apartment hunters, including the rental agreement most complexes use.

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