Pay up to see this apartment
May 2, 2019 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Is it common for an apartment rental agency to request a completed application and fee upfront before letting you even view an apartment?

Due to our landlord retiring and selling our building, my wife and I have until the end of the month to vacate the apartment we've lived in for the past 9 years. The past week and half have been a nondescript blur of Craigslist/Hotpads/Zillow search alerts. Among them we found a place we liked on CL, and reached out to the poster to get back an email stating that they required a completed 5-page application and $30 nonrefundable application fee before they can even schedule a showing. The application fee needed to be sent to them via Paypal (actual quote from the email: "Please send as PERSON/FRIEND not BUSINESS which charges a fee").

This all feels just wrong enough, but in researching the company, they seem to be a legit local agency. It also seems different from the out and out scam postings I've seen (mostly of the "Please disregard the large FOR SALE sign outside the property" variety). I have no problem with the application and fee part of this, but the fact that they won't even show the place until that happens is setting off alarms in my head. The fact that we're trying not to be too desperate about this situation may also be compounding things.

Is this a reasonable thing that a rental agency on the up-and-up might do, or is my instinct to run screaming from this one the right move?
posted by anthom to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
Uh, no. Scam. Disengage and do not look back.
posted by Automocar at 1:22 PM on May 2, 2019 [40 favorites]

I would contemplate this if i was in the leasing office, inside the physical building already. And i was in a very hot, always rented day of market(The bay, Seattle, etc)

Online transfer, especially not as a "business" charge? Always a scam. 100%

And this is coming from someone who three places back to back scored the "sketchy", mis spelled listing with no photos as their current place. This is way over the line
posted by emptythought at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2019 [13 favorites]

Sounds like a scam. It would be pretty easy for them to impersonate a local agency on Craigslist. Don't fill out any applications asking for your Social Security Number until you've seen a place in person.
posted by mundo at 1:28 PM on May 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

This is almost totally a scam. One thing you may want to do is reach out to the actual agency and a. see if this is how they do business, because, whoa, or b. alert them that somebody is impersonating them.
posted by General Malaise at 1:33 PM on May 2, 2019 [9 favorites]

Yeah -- this is someone posing as a legit rental agency, which probably has a legit apartment to rent. My students -- all international students trying to find semi-affordable places to live in the Bay Area -- seem to be running into this type of scame more and more, and thank gods they think to wonder whether this is a thing in the US. Typically I show them how to Google snippets of the text from the ad, since you're almost certainly not encountering the only instance of it; you can probably turn up similar scams in other cities that use almost exactly the same wording.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:36 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Meh? This is not necessarily a scam. Are you in a tight rental market? Because an application and viewing fee are definitely increasingly routine in my rental market. I agree with the advice to ring the rental agency direct; confirm they have this listing, ask for a viewing, and see what they say about their procedure to view.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

It is not common. And, if not a scam, I would de-prioritize working with an owner or agency that is making things difficult before your relationship with them has even started.
posted by jander03 at 1:57 PM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

An application fee prior to viewing is not at all a common practice in NYC, notoriously one of the hottest rental markets. I would not pay anyone one solitary dime just to view an apartment. Now, if you want to proceed with an application after viewing, well, application fees are quite obnoxious but not always avoidable.
posted by praemunire at 1:59 PM on May 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

I like the idea of calling the office (and not using the number in the ad or its response of course) to verify, but ... it's routine for only qualified potential buyers to be able see properties for sale (qualifying = proof of funds for cash purchase/down payment and mortgage pre-approval) so it wouldn't surprise me to see that creeping into the rental market, with the pre-viewing fee covering the credit check and application review.
posted by MattD at 2:02 PM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is this a reasonable thing that a rental agency on the up-and-up might do, or is my instinct to run screaming from this one the right move?

No. If it's not a straight-up scam, then whoever got this bright idea at the rental agency needs to learn a lesson. I can totally see some jackass complaining that showing rentals costs too much of their agents' time, but that is literally the cost of doing business as a rental agency. Call the agency directly and if this is a thing they're actually trying to do, laugh scornfully, tell them no effing way, and point out that only scammers pull this shit.
posted by desuetude at 2:13 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Please send as PERSON/FRIEND not BUSINESS which charges a fee"

Any leasing office that can't afford to accept payments through a legitimate commercial means of accepting payments is not one that you want to be renting from, even if it's not a scam. It's one thing to want some sign of good faith interest in the property to avoid wasting time/money showing it, but it's a very different thing to be violating the TOS of a payment processor in order to save a couple dollars instead of actually setting your prices to account for your payment processing fees. (Why would they not just charge $35 instead?) Any legitimate place that was doing this would be the same kind of place that is going to cut corners on everything else, too.

There's a certain degree of chance that this is a scam, and an additional degree of chance that this is the sort of apartment complex that will, like, spend three months jerking the tenants around rather than pay for heat treatments if the building gets bedbugs, or leave you without air conditioning for weeks mid-summer, or try to steal your deposit when you move out. If they're showing signs of poor planning and a loose sense of ethics before you've even seen the apartment, this would be a place to avoid even if real.
posted by Sequence at 2:13 PM on May 2, 2019 [27 favorites]

Echoing the chorus of comments above saying this is a scam, but also want to add: If you're feeling peevish, inform PayPal of their scam.

If they're a business trying to cheat PayPal out of their fee, the banhammer will drop with satisfying force. (And, they may well lose prior payments into the bargain.)

PayPal are right bastards and make things nearly impossible for people trying to use them in legitimate ways. But here, let them be your agents of petty vengeance.
posted by sourcequench at 2:27 PM on May 2, 2019 [33 favorites]

We have a local apartment rental company, they own several buildings, and I was there in person, and got the application. Their policy was to fill out the application and pay the background check fee, and that would clear us for any and all apartments they had for rent, current and future. But I went there personally and asked (they also sold used appliances, so at the time I was buying a used washing machine).

I have also visited apartment complexes where they showed us the apartment first, then was asked to pay a background check fee, if we wanted to apply.

What I'd do first is look up reviews for this company/landlord, to see if you want them as your property management/landlord, before you consider them. Go to their website and call someone at the rental office to confirm their policies. Ask if they take checks, so you could download and print the application and mail it in if you choose.

Personally, what we did, was drive to the area we wanted to rent, and asked at a corner store, and drove around looking for "for rent" signs. Some people just put those out and don't even advertise (in Portland, Maine). It depends on your area and the customs. I probably wouldn't send money blind via PayPal from a Craigslist ad, tho'.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:36 PM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

What Sequence said. If it's not a scam, they're probably still scummy.
posted by MikeKD at 9:23 PM on May 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

DarlingBri: "This is not necessarily a scam. Are you in a tight rental market? Because an application and viewing fee are definitely increasingly routine in my rental market. "

As another data point, this is not at all accepted practice here in the madcap rental market that is DC, and is in fact a very common Craigslist scam here.
posted by capricorn at 5:42 AM on May 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree with capricorn, I've only ever seen this "pay up front" thing in too-good-to-be-true apartments. Because they're a scam. And I've lived in markets where apartments were nabbed the first day they hit the market.

I was apartment hunting last weekend (ugh). Places will make you pay an admin and application fee AFTER you've chosen to rent their apartment, and it's always much higher than $30. More like $99-300)
posted by Neekee at 11:49 AM on May 3, 2019

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