I'm considering renting a particular apartment in the Pittsburgh area and the landlord is asking for the security deposit of one month's rent to be submitted along with the rental application, before giving me a lease to sign. (There is no rental agency involved here, the landlord/owner is managing the rental directly.) Is this actually a common practice? Or is it at all likely to be a scam? I am from elsewhere in the US and have not encountered this before.
How can I protect myself from potential scams or headaches trying to recover my deposit if my application is not accepted? There is no language in the rental application describing the terms under which the security deposit would be returned. Would it be better to suggest to the landlord what I would consider to be a more normal scheme of paying a nonrefundable application fee (not deposit), then paying the security deposit and first month's rent when I sign the lease?
Added in response to comments: Everything up to this point seemed perfectly normal: I was shown around the apartment; a lot of improvements (painting, new tiles, etc.) were apparently in progress, although there was no work being done during my visit, presumably because it occurred on a weekend.