Renting a home in Arizona
April 19, 2005 6:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to rent a home and things have gotten weird.

We are looking for a house to rent in Arizona, where we currently reside. We found a great place for a great price, but I'm a little leery of the way in which this is being handled by the owner's representative. The rental application has the standard stuff - employment, former landlord, et cetera - but it also requests bank account information. I sent the representative this letter:

This is [Optimus Chyme]; [Mrs. Chyme] and I met you this weekend regarding the rental property at XXXXX N. Fakestreet Lane. We're ready to send you the rental application; however, before doing so, I was hoping you could send me your contact information, as well as that of the property owners. If the property owners will not have access to our banking information, you may omit that step.

I trust you can understand our caution in this matter, and we look forward to hearing from you. Please give me a call if you need anything.

I received this in response:

"I do not mind giving you my contact information but the owners prefer not to divulge theirs. I do understand your concern regarding the bank account numbers, especially in this day in age. They are, however, necessary to run the credit check and act as a safeguard for the owners in case rent is not paid. I assure you, I will not have access to the accounts and the owners will access them only if absolutely necessary."

His contact information is his name, address, and phone number. No realty company, no license number, nothing else.

Is this standard operating procedure for a residential rental? What does "only if absolutely necessary" mean? If we're a day late with rent? If they are short on cash and feel like it? How can I possibly give my account information to persons unknown? Presumably we'd be writing checks to someone, but I'd like to know to whom before I start handing out our banking information. What Arizona laws cover these transactions, and would we be subject to the law in the state the owners reside? Does this seem really weird to anyone else?

Thanks in advance for your help. This is the best subdomain on the Internet.
posted by Optimus Chyme to Law & Government (23 answers total)
I'm not comfortable with any third party, an entirely unknown party at that, having access to my accounts. Me, I wouldn't do it.

Out of curiosity... Are they collecting a first, last and security too?
posted by jerseygirl at 6:45 PM on April 19, 2005

i've never had to give account information to anyone in 8 years of renting apartments (and am now on a commercial lease that did not require account information either). Social security number? Sure. Bank account information? No.
posted by fishfucker at 6:49 PM on April 19, 2005

I think it seems weird, though I've seen rental applications that request the same information. My mom was asked to give that info when she co-signed my brother's lease (in Wisconsin); she declined, and it ultimately did not cause any problems.

I've had credit checks run without bank account numbers, and I assume "absolutely necessary" could mean if the rent is a day late (basically whatever late is as defined in the lease). But can someone really just take money out of your account if they know the numbers? Short of check fraud, I would assume you have to authorize the access in some way.

If they really want a safeguard against late rent, you could offer to give a higher security deposit. Another question: are you supposed to send requests for maintenance and repairs through the rental agent? If not, I'd be a bit worried about the owners as potential landlords--they may not be accessible when you need them. Is the rental market really tight? If not, you might want to keep looking (which might give you a chance to compare policies among owners).
posted by handful of rain at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2005

It does seem a little shifty, mostly because of the representative. I just rented an apartment, and had to provide my bank account number and routing number; however, my realtor was obviously legitimate, associated with a company, etc. IANAL, but I believe it is in case you default on your rent long enough that they can put a lien on your account. The terms of when the lien becomes effective should be in your lease.
posted by kalimac at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2005

Go to tell you, this sounds like a con to me.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:53 PM on April 19, 2005

I had to give bank account information on my last rental application. However, I knew this to be a real management company. I would not give my info to some random person if I were unsure about their identity, as you seem to be.
posted by duck at 7:08 PM on April 19, 2005

But can someone really just take money out of your account if they know the numbers? Short of check fraud, I would assume you have to authorize the access in some way.

Fraud via unauthorized withdrawal is exactly the issue - the Nigerian 419 scam works that way. No "authorization" is needed.

If you were dealing directly with the owners (who, by the way, you should be able to identify by looking at public records, probably at the county level), it might be one thing. But a third party?

Providing a bank account number is NOT necessary to do a credit check. And if it really provides little protection for the owner - if you were a fraudster (or wanted to skip out on rent), you could simply close the account (or leave a very small amount in it).

In short, I'm with everyone else here - decline politely. And maybe contact the owners to see if the property really is for rent and the third party you're dealing with is really authorized to rent it.
posted by WestCoaster at 7:11 PM on April 19, 2005

Go to your bank (or even another bank altogether) and open a second account with a small amount of money in it. That is, if you insist on dealing with these circumstances. I personally wouldn't, since it doesn't seem to make much sense for them to not deal with you on a professional level if they're going to be doing business with you... and not giving someone your proper contact information is definitely unprofessional in my book.
posted by odinsdream at 7:23 PM on April 19, 2005

Realize though, that once you hand over a check, you hand over all that information anyway.
posted by mischief at 7:43 PM on April 19, 2005

I've often been asked at which banks I've had accounts and for how long, but never for the account numbers.
posted by hootch at 8:19 PM on April 19, 2005

God, I love you guys.

I realize, of course, mischief, that once someone gets their hands on one of my checks that information is out there for good, but that's why I don't hand them to strangers on the street. I will check the Maricopa County records on the property and contact the owner directly.

To answer your question, jerseygirl, they would be collecting first and last; the last, I assume, would serve as the security deposit.

Now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, when we arrived, there was no For Rent sign anywhere on the property. I asked the representative how long the house had been on the market and he told me a month, and that other potential renters had fallen through because of employment history irregularities.

Oh, man. Jesus, the guy didn't even give us a business card and the email address he gave us was a gmail address.

Goddamn it, we love that house too.

I will update with additional information as soon as it comes.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:21 PM on April 19, 2005

Good advice here. One other thing - there must be some local register of business names - look up the intermediary to see if they exist.
I would decline on principal but I would ask them to produce some proof that bank account details are needed. In addition to what mischief says, if you hand the account details over - they'll have ample access to your signatures from agreements and the like. That's where potential fraud lies I'd think - without ATM access codes.

on preview....still could be a kosher property. Maybe they want to stay below the radar for tax/illegal alien etc reasons
posted by peacay at 8:29 PM on April 19, 2005

I've been asked for my account numbers for a pre-rental screening, but it was in NYC, and by a very large property management company. It seemed a little strange, but if anything went wrong there was someone that I could sue.
posted by bshort at 9:13 PM on April 19, 2005

Be aware county records are not always up to date. In California, I once was unhappy with the management company, and got the owner's details from the county records. That person had not owned the property for some time.

In your situation I would suggest you contact a different realtor who manages rentals and ask them about regulations and even your specific situation. The information provided to you is strange. And most places, you are legally entitled to know your landlords details.
posted by Goofyy at 9:28 PM on April 19, 2005

Yeah, be suspicious if the agent does not want you to know who the owners are. When my dad went to college, he and his buddy showed up at their new apartment to discover that someone else had already moved in. Later, somebody else showed up to move in, too. Turns out somebody had rented the apartment, then pretended to "rent" it out several times over. By the time they figured it out, these folks had cashed all the checks (first/last/security for several tenants) and skipped town.
posted by MrZero at 9:32 PM on April 19, 2005

Yeah, it seems like the real concern here is not the bank account numbers, but whether this person is actually able to legally rent the property.
posted by trevyn at 9:58 PM on April 19, 2005

This question is obnoxious as fuck, but it's fairly standard -- I filled out a rental application just a few days ago which asked this. I wrote 'none' (which is accurate; I don't have a bank account) and afterwards, when I spoke to the rental agent, he seemed to have no problem renting the apartment to me and didn't mention it. I don't know if he ran a credit check.

This was through an agency, but my parents, who rent out two houses without an intermediary, told me that many of the standard lease applications (the kind you buy at OfficeMax, etc.) have this question.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:30 PM on April 19, 2005

Can't you look up who the real owners are on the tax rolls?
posted by grouse at 12:07 AM on April 20, 2005

Grouse is right: in my jurisdiction, it's public knowledge who owns what property. You can go down to the Land Registry Office at the local courthouse and look it up. I imagine your county commissioner or similar would information on the owners.
posted by bonehead at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2005

Mrs. Chyme is an internet superstar and found the parcel number and other information pretty much instantaneously late last night. It appears that the representative is their son. The fact that he wouldn't just tell us something when we asked is a pretty clear indication that honesty isn't a big concern of theirs, which really bums me out.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:51 AM on April 20, 2005

Bank account numbers aren't necessary for this sort of thing. Bear in mind that if you pay your rent by personal check, though, the prospectives will have your number anyway - it's on the check.

I know a landlord who uses her tenants' banks' phone access line, in conjunction with their bank account numbers and SSN, to find out whether their rent checks are likely to bounce before she deposits them. I don't believe this is legal, but it certainly helps both parties - the only winners when a check bounces are the banks.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:01 AM on April 20, 2005

I know a landlord who uses her tenants' banks' phone access line, in conjunction with their bank account numbers and SSN, to find out whether their rent checks are likely to bounce before she deposits them. I don't believe this is legal, but it certainly helps both parties - the only winners when a check bounces are the banks.

I'd say it's totally legal - when I was working for Fleet a few years ago we did this all the time and didn't even need a SSN to do it. Just give the account number and the amount of the check, and the helpful customer service rep would tell you if there was enough in the account to cover a check based on the available balance at that time. You're not getting any account info really, unless you call back multiple times to try to get a rough idea how much is in there.

This deal does sound a bit sketchy to me. Every place I've rented has asked for my SSN for credit checks, but I've never been asked for account numbers. the rental application for the place I've been in for the last 4 years was a photocopied single sheet of paper asking for my last 2 landlords, job info, whether I smoked or drank, and nothing else, and is the best I've ever had.
posted by chickygrrl at 8:25 AM on April 20, 2005

This one fails the smell test. Walk away. Maybe with regret, but walk away.
posted by redfisch at 11:43 AM on April 20, 2005

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