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How to avoid rental scams in Austria

How to avoid rental scams in Austria
Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash
Finding a new place to live in Austria can be a stressful and costly task so the last thing international residents want to do is fall victim to scams and fraudsters. Here's some help in how to avoid them.

Finding a place to live is an important task when moving to a new country but international residents can be vulnerable to scams and fraud.

Despite strict rules when renting a property in Austria, there are people that will take advantage of foreigners who might not be fully aware of their rights.

A recent case in Vienna highlighted how international residents can be scammed when trying to rent a property – and how others can avoid falling into the same trap.

A fraudster, known as Nikola B., conned 130 prospective tenants at an apartment complex and pocketed more than €600,000 in deposits, commission and advanced rent payments.

The victims even included refugees from Afghanistan who had saved money for years to get their own apartment.

How did it happen? By sub-letting a small number of apartments out to many different people at the same time.

In a nutshell, allowing people to pay for apartments that were never available in the first place.

The rental property scam

According to reports, Nikola B. posed as a business man and rented out several apartments in the building, claiming they were for staff. 

The apartments were then advertised on social media and sub-let to new tenants (without informing the landlord). 

When the landlord didn’t receive any rent for the additional apartments, the alarm was raised. But it was too late for the cheated tenants who had already paid deposits and rent. 

This has left many victims with nowhere to live and, in some cases, no money left to secure a new home. Some of the people impacted had even paid one year of rent in advance.

Vienna’s Mieterhilfe (Tenant Help) is now helping the victims but the case is a stark warning to others searching for an apartment – particularly for those not from Austria.

How can tenants protect themselves?

Norbert Kessler, Team Leader at Mieterhilfe, offered some advice to international residents in Austria searching for a home to rent.

First and foremost, make sure a property is legitimately available before signing anything and handing over cash.

He said: “Unfortunately, apartment scammers often present themselves very convincingly and inventively in order to feign their right of disposal over the offered apartment.

“Hands off or take extreme caution if payments are demanded before viewing the apartment and before signing the rental contract.”

Kessler said warning signs of a rental scam (Mietbetrug) are online-only advertisements without the possibility to view a property and claims that the landlord is overseas or not available.

Other red flags are agents or businesses without an office or a business licence.

If in doubt, always do some research and check the credentials of the person or business that is advertising the property.

Kessler said: “[Make an] inquiry with the owner or property management [to find out] whether the dwelling may be rented out.”

In recent years, both the City of Vienna and Mieterhilfe have issued warnings about the advertisement of fake apartments online.

International students have also been targeted with reports of fake Airbnb listings and demands for the transfer of expensive deposits before handing over keys.

What should you do if they suspect a rental scam in Austria?

If an offer sounds too good to be true then it probably is.

Kessler advises tenants to do background checks on a provider or agent.

Alternatively, checks can be made by searching for the land register information Grundbuch.

A search will cost around €12 – small change compared to what you might have to pay if you get scammed. 

If you come across suspicious behaviour when searching for a property and think it could be a scam, it should be reported to the police.

It’s also a good idea to keep hold of any emails, text messages or screen shots of communications with the “landlord”.

Finally, contact Mieterhilfe for help and advice by visiting mieterhilfe.at.


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