Note: This is happening in Germany so the relevant document is in German. Translations to English are my own.
TLDR: After visiting a place the landlord and I signed a document "Protokoll des Mietgesprächs" (my translation: Protocol of rental call/talk/discussion). It states that I am expected to transfer deposit and first rent before signing the lease agreement. This seems to be a huge red flag. Is this signed "Protokoll des Mietgesprächs" (Protocol of rental call/talk/discussion) a sufficient written confirmation or might I be short before never seeing my money again?
Details about the protocol:
Besides stating the lease costs it also says:
„Es ist beabsichtigt ab 1.12.2020 ein Mietverhältnis zu beginnen“
„Voraussetzung für das Zustandekommen des Mietverhältnisses bzw. des Mietvertrages, ist zunächst die Zahlung der Kauton von XXXX € bis zum 15.11.2020 auf das Kautionskonto XXX und die Gesamtmiete für den Monat Dezember in Höhe von XXX€ auf das Mietkonto YYY.“
"It is intended to start a tenancy from December 1st, 2020"
"The prerequisite for the conclusion of the tenancy or the rental contract is first of all the payment of the deposit of XXXX € to the deposit account XXX by November 15, 2020 and the total rent for the month of December in the amount of XXX € to the rental account YYY."
So they expect me to send rent deposit and the rent for the first month before signing the lease agreement and receiving the keys. My benefit would that I could move in as soon as I transfer the money.
Why I don't think this is a scam:
- I visited the place in person and met the landlord
- I have this written agreement which, as it signed from both parties, should be a binding contract. It is not a lease agreement, more like stating the intend to lease.
- The money should be transferred to a local bank account, not cash, not Western Union.
Why I am still concerned:
- Transferring the rent and deposit before signing the rental agreement (only this protocol stating the intend is signed so far) seems to be pretty unusual and is generally not advised.
I see to ways how this might play out:
Faking Identity: The landlord is not who he pretends to be and is nowhere to be found after I sent the money. As I transfer the money to a local bank account and landlord has their office next to the place I am renting (no big sign, but name on doorbell checks out) this seems unlikely. Information in the web about him is rare, but he seems to be in his seventies so that might be not too surprising. The few information I found checks out. He knows the other renters in the building. For example: When we went up he told me about a family with a newborn, living in a certain flat. Later, when going down a again, a family with a young child just left that flat. Of course this could just have been observed earlier.
The lease is not concluded and my money is gone: I transfer the money but after that the lease is never concluded and I never receive the key. The landlord denies that we had any agreement and keeps my money. This seems unlikely as we have this written agreement and it is transferred to a local bank account which should be enough documenting the money transfer.
Conclusion and Questions:
My gut feeling tells me that everything should be fine. The rent might be a good offer, but far from being excessively cheap.
But considering this question Have there been any “Is this a scam?” questions that the answer was “No”? I prefer being safe then sorry and would gladly add another example to the linked question.
So my questions are:
Am I being scammed?
What steps can I take to remove any last doubts?
EDIT (22.11.2020) I called the landlord and told them that I will not transfer the money before the rental agreement is signed. They agreed and we met to sign the contract. Afterwards I transferred the first rent and deposit, then I received the keys. So definitely no scam, just landlords trying to be more cautious at the expense of the tenant. But, as GS - Apologise to Monica♦ pointed out, not seeing the contract before is an issue.