Renting a room from a stranger can be a scary decision to make, and it puts you in a very vulnerable position, one where you can be scammed and end up homeless.
It’s a choice most of us would rather not make. However, in today’s housing market and job economy, it’s almost a necessity for most residents in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But the risk of Craigslist scams is real. For instance, one could offer you a room, collect your deposit, and then run into problems with their landlord and them not being able to sublet or rent to you. By the time that’s all happened, good luck getting your money back.
One thing you should be aware of is when it comes to finding a roommate on Craigslist. A scam could be your least problem. So we will also give you a list of essential questions to screen your potential housemate.
Here are some serious questions that you should ask before moving in with a new roommate.
Do they have permission to rent a room or sublease to you?
This one is really important. As a tenant, they signed an agreement with their landlord, and they may or may not allow for them to rent a room out. You’re going to want to see a lease of theirs to be sure they are allowed to rent to you. In some cases, they may have just hit financial hardship and need you in there for a month or two to keep them afloat and think they can get away with it in hopes that the landlord does not find out. But when they do, it could be a mess. For you.
Ask to see their lease.
If they are sketchy about showing you their lease, chances are they are not allowed to rent to you or are going to be charging you a ridiculous amount of rent to cover their own half. Which may be illegal depending on the city(such as Berkeley). You’ll want to look that up for the city you’re renting in. Generally, you should only pay half if you are allowed half the space. If you have an agreement that bars you from the living room or kitchen, then you would pay even less.
The bottom line is if they are a good person looking for an equal roommate in the long run, then they will happily show you their lease.
Have they had roommates before?
This is an important question. Maybe they themselves don’t know how to act in a roommate situation or even know the local laws.
You’re going to want to ask them how long they have been doing it, why did the last roommate move out, and maybe even for “references.”
They themselves are usually asking you for references. It’s a 2-way street. Maybe the last roommate will say they were crazy or never cleaned up or, even worse, scammed them.
If it is the first time they’ve ever rented out a room, be prepared to be the test subject and hope for the best. They may regret giving up their private home soon after.
Also, work up a roommate contract.
Can they charge you for a credit check/background check/application fee?
Maybe. But this is where a lot of scams do come into play. A landlord is allowed to collect up to $30 in California for a credit fee. However, to be sure they are not scamming you, you have the right to proof of receipt that they actually used that money to do the check and for a free copy of the credit report when they run it. If you demand these things up front, the chances of them moving forward, taking your $30, and not doing it are much smaller.
But it is a scam. People offer rooms they do not have simply to bank on application fees. And that is how they pay their own rent. 5 applicants a day could be very profitable.
Are Non refundable deposits legal?
No, they are not. All deposits must be refundable, no matter what they call them. Some call it a security deposit. Some call it last month rent, and some even a cleaning deposit. But they must be refunded when you move out. There is no such thing as a $500 non-refundable deposit.
Make sure you’re compatible roommates!
You really want to make sure you can live with this person. You thought going on a first date could be awkward? Well, at least you can walk away from that. Imagine moving in with someone only to find out it was a nightmare of a choice. Some basic stuff like, will they allow you to cook meat in their kitchen or judge you for drinking. Are you allowed to bring guests over, or are you banned to eternal loneliness in some stranger weirdos’ house?
Are you allowed to be there when they are?
A lot of people have this idea that they will get a roommate, and they will always be gone and never cross paths. Some even say things like “must not work from home” or “no home bodies” because they need the extra income but don’t want to actually have a person in their home. I’d stay away from those who don’t even want you there in the first place because, ultimately, it can only end with them wishing you were not there, no matter how cool of a person you are.
Ask about storage.
A lot of Craigslist ads say “spacious” or “large”, and you think you can fit all of your belongings in the room, but ultimately, they are usually pretty small rooms with small closets and minimal storage. They have likely filled all other closest in the home already, leaving you with nowhere to store your personal belongings. So do be sure to ask about personal storage or be prepared to rent a storage space. This is important because going from your own living space to a roommate situation can leave you more crammed than you think.
Choose your new roommates wisely!
Starting with the Craigslist room for rent ad, you can already tell a lot about someone. How thorough was the ad? Were there photos? Did they include basic information? Neighborhood amenities? etc.
Some ads are so basic you can tell they are not very intelligent people. It has nothing to do with how computer-literate they are. Anyone listing can type more information. Some don’t even include the rental price, location, room size, transportation options, etc. Someone listing an ad like this is highly likely to be a poor roommate choice. An ad can tell a lot about someone.
How much are utilities?
Many people simply do not give this information, so be sure to ask. A room renting for $700 could turn out to be $900. Who knows? Do they run the heater nonstop? Are they expecting you to help pay for their $150 cable TV package you want nothing to do with and would never purchase on your own? Do they have electric or gas heaters/ovens? Do they pay for water and garbage? Are they trying to get you to pay $50 for “wifi”(I hate when they don’t realize it’s internet and wifi is just a connection option) when the total is only $60 a month? All of these add up really fast, so be sure to have this part set in stone from the get-go. Splitting the utility bills can make or break a good-priced room.
Limit your lease!
Do not start off by signing a 1-year lease with some stranger from Craigslist that you know nothing about. If you can, go for a 6-month or even month-to-month lease. It would be such a shame to get stuck for a year with a terrible person.
Don’t sign up for another site.
I’ve found a ton of rooms that looks pretty good, lower than average but not too good to be true. Just good enough to get you to be interested. The problem is that once you email these people, they send you a link to another site that asks you to sign up or log in with your Facebook in order to view details on the rental. This is a scam. If they were really interested in obtaining you as a housemate, they would have a full ad on Craigslist and not demand you go sign up for some other site. These sites either want to steal your information or are paying per sign-up. Don’t do it.
If you yourself are offering a room for rent, you also have to watch out for scammers. The biggest one would be Nigerians pretending to be international students looking to rent a room from you. What they do is send you fake money orders above the amount you’re asking for and ask you to send the difference back to them in cash. Duh, this is obviously a fake scam, but it works, and that’s why they keep doing it. So just don’t even deal with them.
If you have a story about being scammed on Craigslist while renting a room or apartment, please comment below to make others aware and share this article.
The worst thing for either a landlord or tenant is for the other party to be home all the time. You want your own space. Right now I am annoyed, as renter, that my landlord hangs out ALL THE TIME in the common area, watching TV, talking, entertaining family and friends as it limits my freedom and privacy. Walking past them becomes a bit deal as I am observed, asked questions of, interfered with. It’s not done maliciously — but imagine in your own home, you could come and go as you pleased. Now you have an audience. Feels like living in a fish bowl.
I rented a room from a person in. Las Vegas,Nevada, by the name of Nicole Kyles.
She advertised the room for 400 dollars a month. I met with her and looked at the room, which was nice, but did notice her demeanor was slightly odd. I attributed it to the fact I was a stranger that she had never seen before. We shared some background of each others lives and she was to contact me in a couple of days. The only thing we discussed was the rent monthly cost. Never did she say anything about utilities, nor a deposit. She did call me back and we agreed on a move in date, or so I thought. The first red flag was the move in day. There was a contentious phone call because I told her I would move in on that next Wednesday. She said I had told her that it was on Monday. I explained as nicely as I could that she must have misunderstood what I said, because I don’t get paid until that Wednesday, I would never have said that. We moved on from that. Then the next issue was she was so busy, with appointments, she would not be available for several days. Again I overlooked another red flag. The move in day arrived and I arrived to sign the lease and move, she had added now a deposit, and now I was to pay half of the utilities. She only wanted to be paid in cash, another red flag. I signed the lease, and the nightmare began. She was so horrible and cold, I was afraid to touch a thing in the condo. I put three apples in a fruit bowl to go find them taken out and placed to the side. I asked about the light in the closet and was talked to very unkindly. Then there was the TV that if I was sitting at the only chair I sat in at her dining table, she would just get up and turn it off even if I was sitting there. Finally I had enough and gave her a 10 day notice, that was placed in the lease by her. She got very mad, after I had to change the move out date in order to give 10 days notice. She called up her family and told me I could get out that night. She even called my brother a criminal and refused to let him come in the house, after she had her family there. It was just weird and disturbing that she was just such a messy individual. Oh I forgot that when I would come back to the condo the main door was locked and I had no key. This woman Nicole Kyles is really a con artist. Don’t rent from her. She never listed herself as the landlord, because she is renting herself and is subletting the room. Beware of her ad. I am grateful that I was able to escape and was wise enough to stand my ground and get my monies back.
That is exactly what we’re talking about.
Total nightmare roommate.
Don’t rent from Vinnie Tallman, you will be without electricity, he will try and keep your deposit, lived there several months, done without electricity for about a month altogether, check the electric company and you will see what I am talking about. Paid him on the 15th of the month, the electric was cut off a week later, now taking him to court to get my deposit back.
A lot of people say “no work from home” because people who are home 24/7:
– Use a lot of utilities, so it’s not far for the “all bills paid” landlord.
– Never leave the house. Ever.
– Don’t really have a job at all, just claim they do.
– Run a sketchy work from home business and bring their clients over all the time (more traffic, noise, and packages).
“Drama-free” sometimes really means drama free, and usually means they’ve had a bad roommate in the past.
Asking “am I allowed to be there when you are” just sounds weird. No one would ever rent to someone who asks them that.
As a “work from home” person, I highly disagree.
Our types tend to make more money than those who slave 8 hours for a stranger(boss) in an office which is why they’re jealous.
Most of us do not have “clients” because we work for ourselves.
Maybe one can say we “use more electricity,” but it is minimal to have one room with lights on during the day.