The summer travel planning season has started, and it may be the busiest one in years for vacation rentals. George Genel, CEO of the rental screening service MySmartRenter.com, expects a record number of rental scams as people try to cash in on surging demand for post-pandemic travel. He says Americans are far too trusting when it comes to renting a home or apartment. Here’s our interview.
What do people not know about renting that they should?
Quite a bit. As demand increases, rental scams increase.
Scammers are smart, they know renters feel they need to pull the trigger quickly for fear of missing out, and they play on that emotion.
A bad rental decision will ruin your vacation, cost you a lot of money and could leave you stranded in a strange place.
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How to you avoid a negative experience as a renter?
Researching a vacation rental takes time. You have to read the reviews. Read the negative reviews, because they tell you more. Read reviews on other listing sites, since most people list their properties on multiple sites.
Google the property or do an image search to verify it exists. You don’t want to find out that you actually rented a vacant teardown or an empty lot. It happens. Use the street view and look around the area for your safety and peace of mind.
I’ve always thought it was kind of unfair that one side — the vacation rental does all the security checks, but you never know who you’re renting from. You’re trying to tip the scales back in the consumer’s favor.
There’s an assumption that property owners take all the risk because a tenant may default on the rent or cause property damage insurance would cover the damage and the concentration is on tenant screening.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the tenant who takes more of a risk.
Think about it. We’re constantly being warned to not disclose personal information to guard against ID theft. Yet, when it comes to renting — poof, it all goes out the window.
It goes like this: The renter meets with the landlord or realtor for about 30 minutes to view the rental or it’s all done online. Without a second thought, a renter will disclose all their personal information — social security number, bank accounts, driver’s license, date of birth, employment, income — on an application and may pay a deposit to a stranger.
On a vacation rental, they disclose information to the listing service. It’s the main reason why everyone either has had or knows someone who’s had a rental horror story.
Why do tenants need to screen their landlords?
The same reason landlords screen tenants: to guard against rental scams and nefarious landlords. They want to know the owner is indeed the owner, and not a scam. They want to know the landlord doesn’t have any legal issues that could affect their safety and peace of mind as the landlord does have the key. Wouldn’t you want to know who you may rent from before disclosing your personal information? When it comes to safety, prevention is the best protection.
So what does MySmartRenter.com know that you can’t find with a simple internet search?
MySmartRenter.com lets you instantly, confidentially screen and see the property owner’s background in a detailed easy to read report.
Wouldn’t you want to know who you may rent from to avoid rental scams, a landlord with a criminal history or who is a sex offender? Or someone whose properties are in foreclosure, or has a bankruptcy, liens, judgements?
Renters deserve to really know the background of who they may rent from first for their families’ safety. Tenants get hurt.
Who uses the site now?
Anyone who rents. It can be either a vacation rental or long-term. We have off-campus students and parents, housing advocates who are helping secure safe housing for victims of abuse, and seniors. Schools offer us to their off-campus students, Realtors use us to screen new clients before meeting with them as a safety precaution.
What kinds of scams have you been able to prevent?
One client used SmartRenter when her goddaughter was moving to San Francisco. Once she started using SmartRenter, she was able to spot the scams immediately. In the end, she found her goddaughter a great place.
Another client whose husband was relocated to Los Angeles use MySmartRenter.com to identify questionable landlords. In one case, someone was trying to rent out someone else’s home.
How does it work for vacation rentals like Vrbo and Airbnb?
It works the same as for long-term rentals. You just need an address.
But not all vacation rentals will give you an address. Is there a workaround?
There is. Though, it’s a huge red flag. I would be very skeptical if an address isn’t provided. My first thought is, what are they hiding? Most people are proud of their rental and want to show it off. Why would anyone rent a place not knowing where it is? It’s a recipe for disaster. The best work around would be to google the person’s name and city which should provide the address, then use MySmartRenter.com to run the report for safety.
If you could give summer travelers one piece of advice — other than to use your service — what would it be?
Try and leave your emotions out of selecting a rental and use logic and and common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Read the history of the reviews, they’re subjective and some could e fake. Research the neighborhood.