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BBB: Watch out when signing a lease or rental agreement

From the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia:

in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s more important than ever for renters to make informed decisions before choosing an apartment or other rental property.

In 2020, 7,593 complaints were filed through BBB against apartment complexes and real estate rentals with the majority of the issues revolving around their services, billing and companies repairs. Before signing a lease or rental agreement, take time to research the landlord or property management company to ensure they are trustworthy.

BBB offers the following tips for those who are looking for rental properties:

  • Do your homework. To help focus your search, have an idea of the amount of rent you can afford, the desired location, and number of bedrooms before you look. Go to to check out apartment complexes and property managers you are considering. BBB Business Profiles show a company’s rating, consumer reviews, a history of complaints, as well as an overview of the company’s track record.
  • Get everything in writing. Before signing the lease, make sure you read and understand the rental terms and your responsibilities as a tenant. Do not sign any contract containing blank spaces. Keep a copy for your records.
  • Ask Questions.  When is rent due? Who pays for utilities? Are pets allowed? How accessible is the landlord? Do they have an emergency or cell number?
  • Do a walk-through. Before moving in, look over the condition of the apartment in person and document all flaws and defects in both writing and with photos. Keep a copy for yourself.
  • Who is responsible for upkeep? Find out how maintenance and repair concerns are handled and within what time frame.
  • Know your rights. Remember that you have certain rights when it comes to a livable space, such as heat, water, electricity and clean, safe surroundings. Visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at for information on landlord-tenant rights.

BBB also warns potential renters of the following:

  • Never wire money or use a prepaid debit card. If you are asked to pay a security deposit or first month’s rent by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, it is very likely a scam. Remember, once the money has been sent, there is no way to get it back.
  • Never send money overseas. Keep in mind, scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.
  • Search for duplicate listings. If you find the same ad listed in other cities – that’s a huge red flag – steer clear.

If the “deal” sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for low rent and great amenities that are not being offered by similar properties.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please report it on BBB ScamTracker.

About BBB: BBB serving Central Virginia serves Richmond, the Tri-Cities, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg, as well as 42 surrounding counties from Fauquier to Mecklenburg and Northumberland to Amherst. The nonprofit organization was established in 1954 to advance responsible, honest, and ethical business practices and to promote customer confidence through self-regulation of business. Core services of BBB include business profiles, dispute resolution, truth-in advertising, scam warnings, consumer and business education, and charity review.

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