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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:

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.“

My Translation:

"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.

My Considerations:

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

  1. Am I being scammed?

  2. 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.

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  • At one point you say "I have this written agreement which, as it signed from both parties, should be a binding contract" but then you talk about "Transferring the rent and deposit before signing the rental agreement" - so I'm confused about the timing of the signature. Or are there two agreements, one before the transfer and one after? – GS - Apologise to Monica Nov 8 '20 at 18:09
  • The agreement I signed has the subject "Protokoll des Mietgesprächs" ( Protocol of rental call/talk/discussion). It states the intend to rent place under the condition that security deposit and first rent will be transferred. But this is not a proper lease agreement. The proper lease agreement will be signed after I transferred deposit and first rent. I try to clarify in the question. – whattodo Nov 8 '20 at 18:18
  • So yes, there are two agreements, one I already signed (which is not a proper rental agreement as it is lacking some important details and only states the intend) and one (the formal rental agreement) which will be signed after the money has been transferred. – whattodo Nov 8 '20 at 18:24
  • What exactly does the document you have signed cover? – glibdud Nov 8 '20 at 18:34
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    @whattodo but what if the lease agreement adds some conditions you don't like, e.g. "you must get the carpets cleaned every 6 months at your own expense"? (or anything really) – GS - Apologise to Monica Nov 8 '20 at 20:02
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It certainly is an uncommon arrangement, but I don't think it is a scam: In Germany, he cannot open a bank account without identifying himself (Government-issued ID card or Passport), so the bank account number you have will lead to him, and the police would get him through that (and he would know that). In other words, he has little chance to run with that money. Worst case, you have to go through the process of going to the police and reporting him, and suing him to get it back. He would be extraordinarily stupid to try that, as it's hopeless for him.

Do not pay cash though, as there is no way to get him through that.

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  • From how it played out this assessment is completely correct. – whattodo Nov 22 '20 at 9:49

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