Los Angeles, California - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued a consumer alert urging Californians to make informed decisions and protect themselves from rental and moving scams. Summer is a popular time for traveling, vacations, and moves to new houses and apartments. Unfortunately, scammers are also aware of these summertime transitions and scams peak during this time of year as families move to new homes and students move in and out of new housing arrangements.
The Attorney General encourages consumers to be vigilant and ensure that rental listings are legitimate before leasing a rental property. Scam artists often advertise properties at incredibly low prices to lure unsuspecting renters. Once hooked, the consumer may learn that the rental property address is fictitious, the property is unavailable because it is owned by other people, or that the property is for sale or in foreclosure proceedings. Consumers should be wary of high-pressure tactics, especially when scammers urge them to wire money without viewing the property, reviewing the rental agreement, or meeting the prospective landlord. The Attorney General encourages consumers to fully research rental listings by visiting the premises and reviewing all the terms in a lease agreement before exchanging money to reserve a rental property.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
The Attorney General offers California consumers the following tips when renting properties and using moving companies:
- Be wary of circumstances in which a potential landlord requests an immediate wire transfer to reserve a rental property. Wiring money is like sending cash and once money is wired it likely cannot be recovered. When making a payment for a rental property, use a credit card or check. These forms of payment may provide some protections for victims of a rental scam and may enable the authorities to track down the scam artist.
- Allow plenty of time to research and make an informed decision to rent a property. Be wary of sending a rushed payment to a listing agent or individual in order to secure a home or rental that has not yet been viewed.
- Ensure that the advertised rental property is actually for rent and (if at all possible) visit the property to confirm that the information in the rental advertisement is accurate before sending any money.
- Obtain and review the rental agreement before sending money to a landlord or property manager. Make sure to fully understand how rent should be paid and how repairs should be handled.
- Be cautious of moving companies that provide a low initial price quote. Sometimes companies that give a low initial quote will refuse to complete delivery of all items until a larger sum of money is paid.
- If a moving company will be used, check the company’s references and ask for referrals. Be sure that the moving company has been registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) for interstate moves or with the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) for intrastate moves. Also make sure that the company has appropriate insurance. Inquire about the moving company’s liability for any damage that may occur to your property during the course of the move.
- Be wary of moving companies that require an agreement to an estimate of costs without or before an onsite inspection of the items to be moved. Also be cautious of moving companies that do not provide written estimates. Additionally, do not pay a moving company before it finishes delivering all belongings.
- For interstate moves, federal regulations require moving companies to provide customers with the booklet, Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move, as well as the FMCSA’s Ready to Move? brochure. Meanwhile, for intrastate moves, the CPUC requires that the booklet entitled Important Information For Persons Moving Household Goods (within California) be provided to consumers.
- If a moving company demands a sum of money that exceeds the agreed upon amount that is due before completing delivery of belongings, take the following steps: 1) send a written complaint to the moving company in order to document the situation; 2) contact your local law enforcement authority; and 3) contact and file a complaint with the FMCSA (for interstate moves) or the CPUC (for intrastate moves).
The Department of Consumer Affairs has provided a useful guide for renters entitled California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities.
The California Bureau of Real Estate provides information to consumers regarding renting properties.
The CPUC regulates moving companies that move goods within California and provides information about licensed moving companies. The CPUC also offers information about hiring a moving company.
The CPUC’s booklet provides guidelines on the use of moving companies.
The U.S. Department of Transportation provides information on the rights and responsibilities of both consumers and movers in a booklet entitled Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.
FMCSA’s regulations are designed to protect the interests of consumers. FMCSA’s website has information (including links to applicable federal regulations) regarding the use of moving companies. Additionally, the FMCSA’s Ready to Move? brochure also has helpful information.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF A RENTAL OR MOVING SCAM
The FMCSA investigates moving complaints and may provide recourse for consumers who have been victimized. If you are the victim of a moving scam, please contact the FMCSA.
The California Public Utilities Commission also regulates privately owned transportation companies and handles consumer complaints regarding moving scams.
California district attorneys are available to assist with circumstances in which consumers are victimized by moving companies that are engaged in criminal conduct. If you are taken advantage of by such a moving company, you may locate and contact your local district attorney.
The California Department of Justice protects the rights of consumers and collects complaints on rental and moving scams to identify patterns of wrongful activity. To submit a complaint to the California Department of Justice regarding a rental or moving scam, please use one of the following complaint forms: