How to not get scammed when renting a house?
April 27, 2014 10:56 AM   Subscribe

We're moving in a month or so and beginning to look at rental houses in Seattle. I'm a bit rusty, but what is the general procedure for establishing the person you're speaking with is the actual home owner and everything is on the up-and-up?

What paperwork should I ask for before signing a lease and writing somebody a large check? Questions I need to ask? Any other tips are appreciated!
posted by lattiboy to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Craigslist scams you're talking about tend to be apparent, if you're looking for them, within an email exchange or two with the purported owners -- if they're out of the country indefinitely (often for either medical or humanitarian reasons), ask for a deposit before they'll give you a key, have the property listed below market rate, and encourage you to walk by the place without being able to go in, it's likely a scam.

I found that googling iffy emails often turned up word-for-word equivalents online, which helped.
posted by jaguar at 12:01 PM on April 27, 2014

The scam you're referencing (which I have seen on the Seattle Craigslist) will always have very below-market rent and will either give lots of pictures or encourage you to drive by. Sometimes these posts will have incredibly high-quality real estate photos (if the photos have been lifted from Redfin).

Are you planning to view the house before you rent it? If so, you shouldn't have a problem with this (though if anything seems off to you in your interaction with the landlord, you can always poke around online or chat with neighbors).

If you're not planning to see the house before you rent (which I wouldn't recommend), I wouldn't say that up front. Exchange a few emails with the landlord where you just ask questions. That way, if it's the scam mentioned above, they'll spin out some story about being out of the country and unable to show you the house before they find out you don't want to see it.

Good luck with your search - the Seattle rental market's a bit crazy these days.
posted by leitmotif at 12:07 PM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't give anyone more than a reasonable amount of application money* until you see a lease. It's people who want significant money from you with nothing behind it that are scamming. Like most cons, they'll try to convince you they're doing you a favor or offering you some kind of under-the-table deal, in order to make you more accepting of the shadiness.

*And there are services now where the landlord sends you an invitation to do a background/credit check and you pay the service provider when you fill out the application, so you may not give the landlord any money until you sign the lease.

If you're going to rent sight unseen, you might want to get a Realtor to represent you in Seattle. It'll limit your opportunities a little bit but it's worth it to have someone who's contracted to be your representative on the ground.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:02 PM on April 27, 2014

thanks all, it is indeed a terrible time to be renting in Seattle.
posted by lattiboy at 2:09 PM on April 27, 2014

I'm also renting an apartment sight-unseen; it's nerve wracking! A few things that have helped:

- Google the address. The most convincing scam I ran into lifted pictures from the MLS service.

- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is (i.e. a listing for a nice two bedroom house for less than the average listing for a one-bedroom apartment).

- Consider going through a large management company. In the city where I'm renting the apartment, there's one mega company that controls a huge portion of the inventory. Anti-monopoly sentiments aside, it was a pretty safe bet to go with one of their listings, which is what we ended up doing. We were able to apply online which was very convenient.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:41 PM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tell any suspicious sounding "landlords" you're sending a Seattle friend to look at the apartment for you. That'll weed out the scammers.
posted by Elsie at 4:57 PM on April 27, 2014

Consider going through a property management company.
posted by michellenoel at 5:14 PM on April 27, 2014

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