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I responded to an ad on Facebook Marketplace for an apartment. The ad said that they weren't the landlord, but were looking to move out before their lease was up. When I contacted them for a showing they suggested two times to see it; after I picked one they said they couldn't be there at that time but would send their boyfriend instead. Odd that they couldn't be there at a time they suggested, but whatever.

The boyfriend who met me at the place for the tour gave me a copy of a rental application afterwards. He said that I was supposed to mail it - along with a nonrefundable application fee - to that apartment and not the landlord, because the landlord was out of town, and that they'd forward it to the landlord.

Isn't it a bit weird to mail a document with some sensitive information (SSN, current/past addresses, credit reference, which bank I use, etc), plus a payment, to someone who isn't the landlord? Doesn't that put me at risk for identity theft (not to mention a more mundane theft of the fee?) Also, the application contains language saying that I agree to sign the lease if approved, but I haven't seen the lease. How can I agree to sign something I haven't seen?

Is this legitimate? Is it a scam? Even if it's not a scam, is it just a bad idea to further engage with this?

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    It sounds quite questionable. The occupant can try to sublet the apartment to you (if their own rental agreement permits it), but such an agreement would expire with their lease. Them using the rental agreement for their own use (and trying to collect their own security deposit) pushes this towards scam territory. – chepner Sep 29 at 20:57
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    Oh, application fee. Not sure how I read that as security deposit. – chepner Sep 30 at 11:55
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    Is a non-refundable "application fee" even legal? Where is this? - To me, every mutual transaction, where you are supposed to pay up front to even be considered, screams SCAM! – I'm with Monica Sep 30 at 13:43
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    @AzorAhai--hehim Well, in Germany it would be part of the scammy part. - So in the US you have to pay the prospective landlords for a service they are using for their benefit to determine if they want to lease to you? - But maybe I misunderstand: Does "non-refundable" just mean "no (cash) money back"? Will those 40/400/4000 bucks be credited towards your lease? – I'm with Monica Sep 30 at 13:55
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    Please tag your question with the relevant country (and possibly state). Some aspects of the question could scream scam in some places while being perfectly normal in others. – jcaron Sep 30 at 15:33
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You're right, at best this is very strange and at worst they are trying to scam or steal from you. I can not think of a single reason why a landlord would tell the current renters to collect applications and fees from potential tenants. Sometimes a landlord will waive any lease-breaking fees if the current tenant finds someone to replace them immediately after the move out. But even then, the landlord will handle all the applications and fees.

I also don't understand the excuse of the "landlord being out of town." Seems like if the property is already rented and they most likely aren't going to be gone for over a month they wouldn't need to ask the current tenants to do this.

I see a few possible scams from this:

  1. There is no tenant or landlord. The "boyfriend" is a scammer who found an unoccupied/abandoned home and is fleecing potential renters. (Google this for other stories, JBentley's answer also gives a possibility).
  2. They actually own (or know who owns) the property, but are going to take your money/info, and just decline your application. They keep the application fee and can sell/use your personal info as they choose.
  3. They try to force you into signing a terrible and expensive lease because

the application contains language saying that I agree to sign the lease if approved

I doubt this is even legal or an enforceable clause of the contract, but it might work on less informed people.

Bottom line, stay away!

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    At best, the tenant has just seriously misunderstood what the landlord asked them to do to get a new tenant ... so might not be fruitful anyway – Azor Ahai -- he him Sep 30 at 5:29
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    @AzorAhai--hehim I agree, it could also just be a really pathetic, misinformed, but ultimately earnest effort to sublet the apartment, but even in that case it would probably be for the best to walk away and find a place where you can deal with the landlord directly. – Steve-O Sep 30 at 13:14
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I've personally encountered a scam with these kind of features, twice. Both times it happened to a friend - one was a tenant applicant and the other was a landlord.

The scammer rents a property for a week or two e.g. on AirBnB. They advertise the property as a long-term rental, claiming to be the landlord or representing the landlord. They take as many viewings as possible, and "rent" the property to as many applicants as they can convince. It's easy to prepare contracts and copy sets of keys so that everything appears to be legitimate.

The "tenants" typically discover the scam when they attempt to move in to the property and discover that there are already other people moving in.

I would advise that you do not go along with this. In this case the reason why you shouldn't be able to interact directly with the real landlord does not seem convincing. Furthermore, given the suspicious facts, I wouldn't proceed without verifying the identify of the landlord and their status as the property owner. In the UK that would be via a £3 Land Registry search; I'm not sure about other jurisdictions.

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    There is no plausible reason why you shouldn't be able to interact directly with the real landlord — that's not universally true. The landlord may legitimately use a legitimate letting agent. That's clearly not the case in the OPs situation, but interacting through a letting agent does not imply there is a scam going on. – gerrit Sep 30 at 15:44
  • @gerrit Thanks, I edited that – JBentley Sep 30 at 16:06
  • If it was an AirBnB situation, then would they get access to the mail, though? It was a 4-plex, not a house. – D M Oct 1 at 3:15
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If it's in the United States tell him to mail you the application then it's a fraud if they FedEx it to you or UPS it it's not. And I would never give that information out to anybody but the landlord and you can check with the county see who owns it if it's ever in question

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