If you are looking for a place to rent in Prague (be it a flat or a house), make sure you do not make the below mistakes since they can cost you a lot of money and serious headaches.
1. Falling for rental scams in the Czech Republic
One would think that people in 2024 have been warned enough and have heard enough stories to not fall for any rental scams anymore. Sadly, they still do. Let us explain the most common scamming schemes and red flags when looking for a flat to rent in Prague, along with the conditions leading to people still falling for scams.
Let’s start with the main factors contributing to scams still being around in 2024.
The main factor is the situation on the Czech rental market. For many reasons, there are more people looking for apartments than available apartments on the market. This means that unless your budget is very much about average, you compete tens of people for every single apartment you see online.
Landlords generally receive tens or even hundreds of replies to their apartment listings which means they can choose whom they invite to see the flat. In some cases this means you will never heard from the landlord (or the realtor) simply because there have been tens of other people interested in the same flat.
Even if you get invited to see the flat, you are one of many so even if you like the apartment and want to rent it, it does not mean that the landlord will choose you as a tenant – there might be someone the landlord like more for whatever reason.
A thing connected to this is that landlord generally want to go the “path of least resistance” – if they can choose between a Czech speaker and a non-Czech speaker, they are more likely to go for a Czech speaker since it makes all dealing easier. Same with other factors such as being here to see the flat in person vs trying to arrange a virtual viewing when still in your home country, pets vs no pets etc.
All the above mentioned factors lead to the situation where people might be looking for flats for weeks, contacting tens of agents and landlords, getting 5% replies just to not being chosen as a tenant at the end.
This might lead to a desperation which is the main reason why people fall for scams.
Say you have been looking for a flat in Prague for 4 weeks, you have to move in next week but still have no solid leads and then one “landlord” tells you that they really like you and want you as a tenant, they are just not in the Czech Republic at the moment so they can not really show you the flat. They can send you the keys though using a courier though if you pay a small fee to cover the shipping or reservation deposit etc.
It sounds like a saviour in your dark hour and even though you might not normally consider paying for something you have not seen, you do now. Needless to say you never see the money, nor the apartment.
Most common rental scam schemes in Prague, main red flags when renting a place to live in Prague
There are obviously many ways you can get scammed, mislead or taken advantage of when looking for a flat to rent, We’re focusing mainly on say the worst scenario – where you lose money and get no apartment.
Years ago, scams very pretty easy to recognize but they have developed since then. Often scammers exchange couple emails with you, are kind of patient explaining everything to you and even send you “their” IDs to verify their identity.
So, often scams do not seem like scams but like normal real conversations.
There are still some pretty easy ways to determine if someone is trying to scam you.
A. They can not show you the apartment – there are many different stories and explanations why they can not show you the place but as long as you can not see the flat before you are asked to pay something, it is a scam.
B. They send you “their” ID – this is actually the best thing that can happen! Some IDs we have seen were obviously fake (i.e. the names were visibly changed in photoshop) some of them looked real (most likely stolen from someone who fall for their scam before and sent their ID for “preparation of the contract”) but as soon as you have their ID and the address of the flat, you can easily check the ownership of the flat. If they send you and ID of a “Peter Smith”, you check the land register and see there is no “Peter Smith” owning anything in the building, you can be sure this is a scam.
2. Lease agreement related problems in the Czech Republic
Let’s say you have successfully navigated through the scam traps and you are at the point where you have seen a place, you like it and you want to rent it. Just one simple step, right? Actually, not really. Well, it can be simple if you deal with a great landlord and/or a great real estate agent. We have seen cases like that where people found a flat on their own (even through a direct owner), rented it and everything was perfect.
We have also seen quite a lot of the opposite outcomes though.
A bit of context – Move To Prague is a relocation and immigration agency in the Czech Republic which means that we help foreigners moving to the Czech Republic with various tasks – from getting them a visa to finding them a place to live to setting up a business for them.
Some people do everything with us, some people do only parts of the processes with us.
So, sometimes it happens the way that we for example take care of someone’s visa process but they look for a flat to rent on their own. That is completely fine with us, we just ask our clients to send us a draft of the lease agreement before they sign it so we can make sure everything is fine there and it will work for the immigration.
Problems only occur if we do not have the chance to check the lease in advance. Say a client hires us to help with their partnership visa, brings us the lease they signed with their partner and then we find out they can not really use the lease for any official purposes since there are smaller or bigger problems with the lease.
And what are the two most common problems with lease agreements in the Czech Republic we encounter in our daily practice?
Problematic ownership of the apartment
There are many types of apartment ownership in the Czech Republic or renting structures, so let us explain the two most problematic scenarios.
A) Not dealing directly with the owner –
B) The owner being a housing cooperative (“Družstvo”) –
Flat not officially being a flat
This might be a bit difficult to understand if you are not familiar with the Czech housing system but simply said, there is a central database of everything that has ever been built in the Czech Republic. Every flat, house, cottage, office building etc. is listed in this database and is labeled based on the intended use. Each intended use must meet some requirements in terms of the amount of light coming in, thickness of walls, temperature and noise insulation etc.
If you want to use a lease agreement for most of the official purposes (especially including immigration), you can only live in a “flat” or a “family house”. You can not live in a cottage, office space, business space etc.
The problem is that quite a few “flat looking” places are not officially labeled as flats but as something else. That often happens when people convert attic spaces or basements into apartments. In some newly built apartment buildings this happens since the city for example demanded 20% of the building to be “commercial space” so the developers labeled some flats as “business space” to (on paper) satisfy this requirement.
The thing is that you can not use a lease for a basement or an office space to prove your accommodation.