Be careful when renting directly from the owner

Dear reader and user,

As the economy has struggled and property prices dropped, the scammers and corner-cutters have appeared. While renting directly from the owner of a condo usually is legitimate, we want to make you aware of some scams and frauds that could ruin your vacation.

1/ Rental postings on Craig's List or other free sites

You see a beautiful Gulf-front 2/2 condo advertised on Craig's List for peak season. It rents for just $1,500, taxes and cleaning included. You think "what a deal" and send a check. The owner sends you keys. But when you get to that unit 3 weeks or 3 months later, the keys don't work, the unit is occupied by somebody else and the "owner" doesn't return your calls.

This scam requires a free ad service like Craig's List, where no credit card or other traceable instrument is used. You can determine who cashed the check, but the check may have been made out to some bum on the street who was paid $50 to act as the scapegoat in this case. The real culprits, and your money, are long gone and untraceable. Locking up the bum isn't going to get your money back.

We love Craig's List and use it all the time. We love free services. But protect yourself: you just have to do some research when responding to free ads. Search the county property records: does the person offering the unit actually own the unit? If you want to be completely safe, use a vacation rental agency.

2/ Fraud by owners

In this economy, many owners are failing to remit sales tax (7%), tourist development tax (3%-5%, depending on the county) and probably also "forgetting" to declare the income on their federal return. You might think this is a good thing because it gave you a lower rent. If you thought that, you thought wrong.

In reality, your wink and nod approach to your rental could mean your property has a lien placed on it. Florida Statutes 125.0104 (8) (c) says that the tourist development tax "shall constitute a lien on the property of the lessee, customer, or tenant". That would be your property. This provision is rarely enforced, but if you got a below market rate and no receipt itemizing taxes as a separate item, and are caught.....well, don't expect the tax man to believe that you acted in good faith. In such a case, expect to become liable for the taxes, interest and penalties.


We encourage you to be careful in your dealings with owners and pretend-owners (a.k.a. scammers). Buyer beware ! If you want to be certain that you will not have these kinds of problems with your vacation rental, use a properly licensed vacation rental agency.


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