Protect against apartment rental scam
July 21, 2007 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How can I protect myself from a scam when I can't check out the apartment in person?

I live in Boston and am about to rent a place in D.C. The place I found on craigslist seems good--they're offering the short-term lease length we need, the building is in the area we want, the rent is acceptable, we've seen lots of photos (although we can't verify that the photos are actually of the place in question), etc. We'd be renting a condo from the person who owns it (that's what he says, anyway).

I would go down there and meet the person face to face if I could, but I can't. I asked the person if he would accept a Paypal transaction for the security deposit so that I could pay with a credit card and later dispute the transaction if necessary. But then I realized that would require the condo owner to pay fees--and that's not something he wants to do, I'm sure.

If I pay cash from my Paypal account, I'll be on my own. Any other ideas?
posted by lilybeane to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think an escrow arrangement would be best, but I'm not sure how you would go about it.
posted by zerokey at 10:30 AM on July 21, 2007

How about you offer to cover the Paypal fees? Seems like a fair deal to me if you pay the extra, because it's for your convenience, not his.
posted by nursegracer at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

You could take out a new Jobs posting that offers some small compensation to anyone in DC willing to swing by the place and verify for you. If you're willing to drop a few extra bucks to be sure, I think it's a good course of action. MeFites have a good track record for that sort of thing.
posted by carsonb at 11:23 AM on July 21, 2007

Call a local rental agent and ask how much he/she would charge to check the place out.
posted by Gungho at 11:43 AM on July 21, 2007

Get somethig in writing to the effect that "these photo represent the current state of the rental which is owned by person x and address Y" etc and list the appliances, their condition, any stains, cracks or chips and you both sign it before you hand over the money. There's probably a template for this kind of agreement available on the web or from a renters rights place.

That way you can take him to small claims court and win if there's a problem.
posted by fshgrl at 12:43 PM on July 21, 2007

If you're worried about whether the guy actually owns the property you can check on the D.C. tax rolls, even for individual condos. If it is, I would stop worrying about the photos being a picture of some other place (although they may not accurately show the present condition, and hiring someone to go by is still a good idea). If it's really his property he has too much to lose by scamming you.

If I had real property to rent out, I would never accept PayPal payment for it, even if someone else paid the fees. Mail a check to the address you're renting, which is another way of verifying that it is his address.
posted by grouse at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2007

Dang, you guys are smart. Or I'm a little dumb. Or both.

I didn't even think of checking the tax records, which is so obvious now that I'm sorry I bothered you guys in the first place. Thanks for the tip (and for the offer to check the place out!). He does indeed own the property.
posted by lilybeane at 8:41 PM on July 21, 2007

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