Landlords Beware: Common Tenant “Scams”

Last Updated: March 7, 2024By

By Sasha Struthers, Esq., Struthers Legal, APC

On an episode of the television program, “The People’s Court,” it featured a tenant “scam” that started out like one I had seen before but it became even crazier. I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the episode, so checkout my reaction videos on YouTube. That episode is the inspiration for this article: “common tenant scams.”

Fake Paystubs and References

During the COVID pandemic, I saw countless videos of people making a living photoshoping fake paystubs for people looking to rent an apartment that did not have the credit history or were unemployed. These fake paystubs were very convincing, and people commented that they successfully got an apartment with them.

Beware! Any rental application can have a phone number of a current landlord or employer reference that goes directly to a friend or family member. It is good to do an internet search on the company or even a search of the phone number being provided itself. Never accept given references at face value. Also, always check bank statements to make sure (i) the paystubs given correspond to a direct deposit or check deposit of the same amount around the same date as the paystub and (ii) you receive proof that any applicant is currently paying rent which usually can be evidence by a withdrawal from the applicant’s same bank account.

Fake Landlord Leasing Your Vacant Units

A scammer knows when there is a vacant unit at a property. The property may be a small one with no resident manager or one that an owner or property manager does not frequent often. The scammer pretends to be the owner or property manager and posts advertisements on Craigslist, VRBO, AirBNB, Facebook, or other similar social media sites promoting the availability of your vacant unit. The scammer then changes the locks on the vacant unit, collects a deposit and gives keys out to someone totally unknown to the owner or property manager.

The way that owners find out is usually when they go to the property to do a showing to a prospective tenant, and the unit has a stranger living inside. The stranger in the unit is often under the impression the scammer was the owner or property manager, or that they were subleasing the unit with authorization from the property owners or manager. Usually the people who have leased a rental unit in these circumstances do not qualify for an apartment and are desperate. The advertisements used by the scammers are too good to be true, yet people are desperate for a place to live and often fall for them. Another typical “red flag” is the “rental agreement” in these situations are in a text message and payments are made by the scammer’s victim through Venmo or Zelle.

When you find someone living in your unit under these circumstances, removing them can be time consuming and expensive because you may go through an eviction process to remove the occupant squatter from your unit. If you find yourself in this situation you should call the police right away.

The Tenant Who Disappears: Leasing and Moving Out

I have seen issues where a tenant is not paying rent or seems to be missing. The owner or property manager in this situation then posts an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. A stranger, who is likely living in the unit since your tenant is “M.I.A.” then comes forward saying it is not possible to get an eviction notice because the person (owner or property manager) does not own the property and the stranger is paying rent. Proof of payment by the stranger living in your unit is then typically provided by the stranger through Venmo or Zelle screenshots.

Your tenant may even hold themselves out to be the owner or property manager, which the stranger usually does not question. Your tenant gets paid the rent money by the stranger every month, and of course, your tenant doesn’t live in the unit, and doesn’t pay rent to the actual owner or property manager. It may take several months before the owner or property manager is able to serve an eviction notice in these types of situations.

Tenants leasing, subleasing or otherwise holding themselves out as the owner or property manager occurred frequently during the COVID pandemic because evictions were severely restricted due to moratoriums. Tenants could easily take advantage and cash in by collecting rent from unsuspecting strangers, and then not pay the rent owed to the owner, and in some cases, even apply for and receive rental assistance all while not even living in the unit any longer.

Tenants who committed fraud like this did not face recourse because they often never met the stranger they moved in. Very often, these tenant fraudsters would send a friend to do their dirty work, or just leave a key under a mat. Even if the tenant perpetrator did meet their subleasing “mark,” they would be long gone before anyone became the wiser.

If you take anything away from this article (besides a new nightmare and declining hope in humanity), it is that vetting applications and routine visits to your property can go a long way in preventing these types of frauds from being perpetrated on you. For those apartment hunting, if an advertisement looks too good to be true and requires no rental application, it may very likely be a scam.

Sasha Struthers is a California licensed Attorney and Real Estate Broker with a law practice that focuses on ‘Cash for Keys’/ tenant buyouts and government agency complaints such as REAP, CRD, and Orders to Comply. Sasha’s experience managing a 15-building real estate portfolio, including five apartments subject to LARSO has allowed her to help landlords strategically reposition their portfolios, maximize income, and reduce management stress. You can check out her law practice at


Email Subscription

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Apartment News Publications. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact