When looking for rental homes, Service members are pretty savvy customers. Most will tell you that they know to visit the neighborhood at different times of day, to look up local crime statistics and to do their research regarding school districts. However, Service members in the rental market may not know how to identify other red flags or scams.
One scam takes advantage of renters not being in the local area when looking for homes directly impacts Service members. Rental listings are posted on free classified sites by someone that does not have the authority to rent the premises. These scammers require some money up front and pocket it and run. Sometimes, they gain access to the property, and the renters move in, not realizing they have not rented the home from the proper agent.
While numbers suggest that foreclosures are in decline (http://www.realtytrac.com/statsandtrends/foreclosuretrends), there are still some areas in the US seeing large numbers of foreclosures. Some owners are already in foreclosure and do not disclose their status to new tenants. State and local laws may offer renters some protections. However, renters can find themselves being evicted once the foreclosure goes through.
Steps You Can Take:
Military OneSource offers Service members tips for avoiding rental and moving scams.
You can also do your research to determine the real owner of the property by searching public records. Once you have confirmed the name of the owner of the property, you can search circuit court civil cases for the owner; this would include foreclosure proceedings. While this is probably more research than most renters do, it can provide an extra layer of certainty when renting.
There is always a level of risk taking when renting a home. However, the Navy Housing Service Center (HSC) and other Navy resources are available to assist in mitigating that risk. The HSC maintains a list of rental properties. Some HSCs offer the Rental Partnership Program (RPP) where the HSC approves landlords and inspects all RPP properties before being offered to Service members and their families.