6 Red Flags to Avoid in Apartment Listings


While searching for your next apartment, it’s important to read a listing carefully and completely. Like the old saying warns, “It if seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Beyond this obvious realization, there are other red flags to be aware of while you’re shopping around for a rental. Read on to learn what to be aware of so you can ultimately pick a rental that will make you happy to come home to. 

No Photos in the Listing

If the listing provides an extended and descriptive commentary of the apartment, but lacks photos, there’s likely a reason. They say, “A picture tells a thousand words,” and without photos, you can guess what they’re not telling you. With the broad and accessible use of technology, there’s no reason why photos or videos shouldn’t be part of the listing. Be very careful if there aren’t photos. If you are really interested in the listing, email the landlord or property to ask if photos can privately be sent to you. If they continue to decline your request, move on to another property.

Expensive Application Fees and Hefty Credit Check Costs

If the listing provides a disclaimer that hefty fees are necessary in the application process, step back and be careful. Certainly, fees are acceptable for credit checks, and nominal fees for applying to be a tenant are fine, but when the fees become vague, expensive and beyond the normal range of what the industry calls for, this is a red flag a rental scam could be on the horizon. Property managers and landlords who are not above board and who charge pricey fees without any basis should be avoided. 

The Rent is Less than Comparable Units

While reading the listing, is the rent significantly less than other apartments in the building or neighborhood? Are the specifications for the apartment similar, like square footage, number of bedrooms and a higher floor? If you notice the rent is much less than other comparable apartments, this is a red flag that something isn’t exactly right. The scam may be to lure you to a building – the landlord may say that apartment has been rented, but there’s another unit just like it, but the catch is the rent is higher. Again, if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. 

Fees and Deposits can Only be Wired

The wire scam is a red flag that prospective tenants should be aware of. The industry standard is to use a credit card for fees or a personal check, and if the landlord asks you to use Western Union and wire funds to a cryptic destination, this is not the norm. This cloak and dagger approach is a clear indication trouble is awaiting you. Move on to another listing.

The Same Vague Listing Continues to be Advertised

It can take several weeks or even months to find an apartment. Some prospective tenants begin their search well before the date they need to take occupancy. If you continue to see the same listing advertised over and over, with few details about the apartment, this may be a red flag. Understand that shady landlords or property managers can list a “phantom apartment” to lure in interest.  This can be a waste of your time. If you do like what you are reading in the listing, and the photos, call or email the landlord and ask to see updated photos and see if they will schedule a showing of that exact unit. If they give you the runaround, steer clear. 

Little Information About the Apartment’s Actual Location

While reading the listing, is the language a bit vague about the actual location? Are phrases like “an ideal location” or “great building” or “stunning views” mentioned without an actual address or intersection? This could be a red flag. Sometimes, landlords create a listing to blend several properties they are trying to rent. This bundling approach is deceptive and the listing should be avoided.

Bonus: Check reviews got gain more perspective

Online reviews can be a valuable resource during your apartment search. Most reviewers have good intentions; they want to share their experiences and help you narrow down your search for a good place to live and a fair landlord.  It’s important to decipher reviews if some language seems misleading. For example, if the reviewer says a trash truck wakes them up on Sunday mornings, this isn’t the type of feedback that is constructive. However, if they share laundry facilities continue to be out of order, or if the walls are so thin you can hear your neighbor’s TV. Above all, read the reviews carefully to gain insight on prospective apartments. 

Be an Informed Renter

Before you sign on the dotted line of your rental application, read between the lines of an apartment listing. There could be red flags in the listing you should be aware that could lead to losing money or dealing with a shady landlord. If the language is vague, if there are no photos, if there are hefty fees and if they require you to wire-transfer fees, be very careful. Also, be astute to see if recycled listings keep appearing on real estate platforms or portals or in local apartment listings. 

Above all, one of the clearest indicators that trouble is looming is if the apartment is significantly less rent than other comparable units. You have to stop and ask yourself, ‘why’? The reasons are likely it’s a rental scam, a bait and switch scam, or just a flat-out lie. Use your common sense. There are so many legitimate and honest landlords and property managers out there. Do your homework, trust your intuition, and you will avoid rental scams. You can and likely will find the right home, just do it carefully.