Does this sound like a rental scam? Please help, need to sign lease

52 Replies

I've been searching for a rental home for a while now. Finally found one that fit all the criteria via Westside Rentals (I'm in SoCal). There were 2 numbers listed as contacts, for "Rob" or "Katy." Rob did not answer; Katy did. She set up for me to go look at the house, as the owner (Rob) lives in Florida.

I went to look at the house and was greeted by one of the current tenants (his wife was at work, baby was at home). He took me on a tour and seemed very friendly. They are obviously in the process of moving but there is still plenty of stuff everywhere--the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and outdoors are obviously lived-in and full of baby stuff but the bedrooms and living room looked scarce.

He answered all of my questions, explained that Rob lives in Florida but Katy lives here and is the property manager. He says she calls occasionally to make sure everything is okay but otherwise does not come by. He said his wife has taken a job out of state so they are moving, but it's a great house, etc.

I talk to Katy later, tell her I loved the house, and she asks for my email address to have Rob send me the rental application. He emails me later that night with the standard application and credit check forms. I submit with my credit card # to have my credit checked. I didn't even think about how strange this was that I hadn't met the owner or the manager yet, just the tenant. Anyway, Rob has emailed me back today that my credit/application is approved. He will be sending me the lease to fill out and once I send him my check, he will remove the listing and the house is mine. Come October 1st (in one month), he will fly up here to give me keys, do the initial inspection with me, etc. once the current tenants have vacated completely and the property has been cleaned. 

Now, here's where I'm confused:

-There is still another whole month before I'm moving in. I feel weird handing over nearly $8,000 to someone who lives in Florida (via check) whom I've never met or spoken to and then sitting around for a month before I get my keys.

-Can't I just pay Rob come October 1st when we meet in person and inspect the house together? He sort of makes it sound like until he gets my security deposit, the house is still up for grabs. I have excellent credit and high income and have expressed that I am committed to this home; is that not good enough?

-Katy the property manager has not once offered to come show me the house or bring paperwork; everything has been with Rob through email. I have spoken to Katy now 4 times on the phone and she lives 5 minutes away (according to a Google search of her phone number).

Is this all sounding legitimate? I should note that the property is not priced at a bargain, nor is it a "too good to be true" scenario. My credit and income are excellent, so I am not surprised at them accepting me as a tenant either. Just concerned about this long distance setup. I have gone to look at 20+ homes in recent weeks and every one had either a realtor or the owner there to greet me.

I have also Googled Rob's full name, email address, and cell phone number. He does indeed appear to be who he claims he is, and I have seen his personal blog, Facebook account, and also several rental properties with good reviews on vacation home sites based in Florida. Katy's number comes back with 2 different women's names attached to it.

Please help--how do I go forward from here? I don't mean to sound paranoid, but Los Angeles is fraught with rental scams. Normally I'd just move on if I had any doubt, but I kind of have my heart set on this place. THANKS!

This sounds kind of scary to me. I would not send that much money to anyone I had not met. My advice is to start by calling the Los Angeles tax assessor and find out who owns the property. They might even have it online. Some counties do. 

If he checks out ok, the next step should be to go on the Dept of Real Estate's website and find out if Katy is a licensed real estate agent or broker. It is required in this state. If she checks out ok, then insist on meeting her and check her I.D. Make sure she is who she says she is. If none of these things check out, then keep looking. Absolutely do not send anyone any money.

@Lola C.  If you want to pm me the full names of these people and the property address, I'll try to help you get info. I do this all the time, because I always assume everyone is lying to me till I find out different. :)

If "Katy" lives 5 minutes away, she should be able to meet you in person.  I'm in WI and work with people who live in CA, but I ALWAYS meet prospective tenants at the house.  Letting the existing tenants show the property is just lazy or it's some type of scam.

$8000?!?! This must be an expensive rental. It is true that the house cannot be held without a holding deposit but it shouldn't have to be 8k; what is the monthly rent? Sounds like this guy has a property manager who doesn't meet potential tenants while he is out of state!?! If you are not comfortable, tell him that you don't feel comfortable renting the house without meeting Katy at the house and having her show you around and sending 8k in the mai. Maybe it's just laziness on her part of which he is not aware. If it's not in the contract he has with her for her to show the house, that's his problem, not yours, which he should be able to overcome by giving her a bonus or something to have her show you the house and make you comfortable. If they still refuse you may just go with your gut feeling and move on. You can also see if you can negotiate the 8k to maybe 4k now and something in cold hard cash the day of? If your credit/references are as stellar as you claim, they should want to work with you on making you comfortable.

Wow, thanks for all the quick replies! Sounds like I am rightfully concerned.

The assessor's office just closed for the day so I will definitely call tomorrow. I found the property on their website, but they don't give out the owner's name without a phone call.

I don't know Katy's last name, so I can't look her up either, but I will call her and ask tomorrow as well. Or really maybe just ask for more clarification about all of this.

Michelle L., I pm'd you. Thanks!

Dawn, I agree with you. Either very lazy or a scam. I should note that my current landlord of almost 6 years does things like that all the time, and is a 9/10 on the lazy meter, so maybe I have skewed expectations. She was, however, here to show me the house and sign paperwork.

Okay, I just spoke with Katy. I told her my concerns about sending a check for that much across the country. She now says she will meet me at the rental property and I can give her a cashier's check and she will mail it to Rob. I'm not sure how that makes things any better.

She said she is not a real estate agent, but she used to be. I told her I was having a hard time with this whole setup and that I am still not comfortable handing over that much money up front without going through a management company or agent or whatever. She said that isn't necessary, and lots of owners do it this way to cut out costs and middle men, etc. I told her I understand that, but my current landlord (owner of the house) was here to show me the house, sign paperwork, and hand me the keys as soon as I handed over a check.

I told her I will call her back tomorrow and just hung up the phone.

So where I am still confused is this: If you are renting a property that doesn't have a move-in date until a month later, how is the tenant ever assured that they won't be ripped off by handing over the deposit in the meantime??

@Lola C.   will you be signing a rental contract that you will be able to use to enforce your rights to the rental in a court of law?

Dawn, I have not seen the lease yet. Just a few hours ago did the owner tell me he approved my application. He said he'd be sending the lease tonight or tomorrow. I would obviously read it carefully before signing. 

There are just stories on the news here all the time of people paying thousands, signing leases, and getting keys to properties which either are not for rent or have been rented to multiple parties simultaneously. And they do not end up getting their money back. It scares me to think of this happening to me and I don't even want to have to deal with taking someone to court. 

Okay, one last update. Rob just emailed me a scathing and lengthy message about how I'm a "pain in the a**" for wasting his time as he's been spending "hours" typing up a lease for me to sign. He went on and on about how he has been renting homes for 25 years and owns dozens of properties, etc. etc. and how dare I ask if he is trying to scam me.

I should note I never said anything like that, just that I was uncomfortable sending that amount of money without ever having met the owner or property manager.

He also said he has had multiple offers on the rental today and if I don't take it, someone else will. He is still offering me the house and awaiting my reply.

Lol he obviously has a way with people. I think I will just be scratching this house off my list and monitoring my credit card carefully for fraudulent activity. Even if this is all legitimate, I don't think we are starting off well and I don't want to have a poor relationship with my landlord.

@Lola C.  

You sound smart... run, don't walk. No house is that nice. You made a very reasonable request prior to parting with a good amount of cash. Noone should have gotten that upset.

Yes, there would always be a holding deposit. Verify the parties involved and insure you have  a  lease as a contract given the deposit.  Few will hold a rental without some sort of deposit and if it is an expensive rental it is going to be an expensive deposit so only you can speak to the amount and what is too much.  Here legally you can only do one month security and I would not stop marketing a rental without a signed lease and security deposit, even if the rental is one month out. That being said if you really aren't comfortable you can keep looking and if it is still available in a month do the rental then.  If you can't get comfortable with the situation you don't want to be worried for the next month.  On the other hand you can first  try to see  if some of the checks people suggest here bring the situation into your comfort zone and verify you are dealing with a legitimate situation. worth it if you really like the place.

Landlord sounds like a hot head who may be trying to pressure you into bending to his will.  You could simply explain your situation and fears but judging from his last email, he's quick to fly off the handle.  Look elsewhere.

Generally when people turn like that and start going crazy and making threats that "you better do the deal or else", it's a scam and this is their last ditch effort to get your money.

I would probably get a new credit card too just to be safe.

If he's been renting properties for so long, why is he spending hours typing up a lease?

I think all tenants should vet landlord's like the landlords vet the tenants.

Joe Gore

@Joe Gore 

@Dawn Anastasi  

Joe how do you propose this potential tenant or any other tenant Vettes the landlord.

Dawn.. are you going to give a potential tenant any personal information about yourself?

So Joe please elaborate how you would accomplish this.

I agree with @Curtis N.   This guy wouldn't be spending hours typing up a lease if he does this all the time. It takes me 5 minutes to insert my new tenant's info into my leases. And if you were truly a pain in the ***, he would have said no to you and rented to one of the "multiple offers" he has received already. 

This one screams scam to me. Even if it turns out to be legit, you don't want to deal with a hothead like that.

I am at least on site to show the rental property and they do have my full name (it's on my business card) and contact info.

@Jay Hinrichs

I understand you don't like tenants vetting landlords. An honest landlord would be happy for a tenant to vet them. If I was a tenant, I would ask the landlord is your property in pre-foreclosure does your fix things that break do you answer your phone when someone calls are you the owner of the property if not who is if the landlord say an LLC and is your name on the LLC and do you have anything you can show me in writing to make me feel comfortable renting from you. An honest landlord will answer the questions provide what the tenant asks. Now Jay are you an honest landlord?

Joe Gore

@Joe Gore 

  and Joe the average landlord answers your questions to the affirmative and how is the average tenant going to verify these answers.. and how is the average tenant going to even know to ask them.. ?  I think your whistling Dixie here .. the onus is on landlords trying not to get screwed.. not the other way a around.. But I guess in a commercial setting IE your renting in a shopping mall or such you may be able to ascertain these answers through public medium but no way with the nature of the MOM and POP industry which is rental houses real estate are the average potential tenants going to be able to find this out.

Although I hear what your saying.. just take the sub 2 buyers that rent to unsuspecting tenants only to have the tenant wake one day to a foreclosure notice and they have paid this person there rent..

@Jay Hinrichs

You are right the average tenant might not know how to check anyone out, but you might get a professional tenant with the right connections.

Joe Gore

Originally posted by @Lola C.:

Okay, one last update. Rob just emailed me a scathing and lengthy message about how I'm a "pain in the a**" for wasting his time as he's been spending "hours" typing up a lease for me to sign. He went on and on about how he has been renting homes for 25 years and owns dozens of properties, etc. etc. and how dare I ask if he is trying to scam me.

 Boy that response is a red flag. It is not worth his time to type up a lease for $8,000? 

It is currently 2 AM his time (supposedly, if he does in fact live where he says he does) and he just sent me this email. I typed a very polite response to his last rant saying I was sorry for "wasting his time" as he put it, and that I was not comfortable with the arrangement and I wish him luck on finding a tenant soon. I did mention that Katy herself had told me she was NOT a licensed real estate agent, which I had previously thought to be the case. I didn't make a big deal of it, just thought his original ad was misleading.

Anyway, here's more entertainment for the night:

"katy is the most professional manager you will ever meet, you are completely wrong, she manages over $6 million dollars in property in the United States alone not including the international holdings (Jamaica, Belize, Bahamas). we run over 10 million dollars, way over your little dreams of a little scam bout across the country. laughable….

so gwan screwup your thing, were laughing at you now, katy is a licensed California Realtor, investor and everything your afraid of. all you did was lose the house."

This guy is nuts... should I be concerned that he has my social security #, personal info, etc. from my credit check?? He also has my credit card # but I already called my bank and they are totally aware of the situation and I have zero liability for fraud or theft.

Scam. Scam. Scam. Also, why did he need your credit card # to check your credit? I don't need that to pull credit report. You better be checking yours just in case.

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