Joys and woes of renting

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With rents on the rise and fake rental ads on the internet, it's necessary for those in the market to become familiar with legitimate properties before falling victim to scams and unsafe housing.

"Unfortunately, (the internet) has made it easier for scammers to create fake ads on sites like Craigslist, which attract victims with promises of low rent, only to take their security deposits and leave them on the outside looking in," said Susan Adams Loyd, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

Rents are also on the rise. Minnesota reported a current median rent of $888 in 2015 with the U.S. at $959, according to Department of Numbers. Some landlords actually require tenants to spend no more than a quarter of their pre-tax income on rent.

"The further you move from this benchmark upward, the more difficult it will be to meet your other monthly expenses," said Randal Hemmerlin, executive director of Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority. "Once you have your budget, now you know what you can search for in terms of a rental cost per month."

When looking at costs, make sure to check the utilities before moving in. This is part of the bill each month, and if the heat or the air conditioners don't work, it's your right to know. Take the time to inspect each apartment you walk through; whether it be turning on the bathroom fan (all bathrooms are legally required to have a fan or a window), turning on the heat to see if it works and checking the air ducts to see if they have been cleaned. Don't be afraid to ask why the previous tenant moved out, either.

Money aside, renters should also understand the potential downfalls after signing a lease. Here are a few tips from BBB before putting pen to paper:

• Follow the first rule of real estate: Location, location, location. Does the apartment's location make sense in terms of your day-to-day life? Consider the commute to work, school, grocery stores, shopping and restaurants.

• Visit different rental units in person and research their backgrounds by visiting www.bbb.org. Customer Reviews are also available through BBB and other online sites.

• Read the lease. Read it again. You'll want to know if a notice is required to vacate the premises at the end of your lease. The standard is 30 to 60 days.

Say you've found your apartment soul-mate. Before you decide to agree, here are a few things to be wary of from the BBB:

• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often times list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced and if the prospective rental is suspiciously low — walk away.

• Be on the lookout for grammatical or spelling errors, this can be a sign the ad may have been created by overseas scammers not familiar with the English language.

• Whenever the question of wiring money comes on, or if the deposit or rent needs to be paid with a prepaid debit card, this can be a red flag. It can be difficult to track these payments and even harder to get your money back.

• The rental requires a security deposit or first month payment without meeting the landlord, inspecting the property or signing a lise. It is not a good idea to send money to someone you have never met.

Start saving early, do the homework and check every resource. It may be dangerous to use the internet in terms of rental scams, but it can also prove to be a strong resource for looking up where and where not to rent.

"Please take entering into a lease seriously," Hemmerlin said. "Your future leasing or buying a home is affected by your actions while in a lease because past references are checked. Strive for stability in your living expenses and income. Lease terminations, evictions, unpaid damage costs and other negative actions will affect your future ability to obtain a lease."