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I'm signing a lease on an apartment in another city, about three hours away. I've seen the place, but I'm not able to trek out there to sign the lease in person before our rental period begins (May 1).

The landcouple has asked us to mail them the check for the first month's rent and the deposit, and they'll email the lease to us on receipt of our payment.

Frankly, this sounds backward to me. Can they insist on collecting rent before signing the contract? (It really seems like the answer to that question should be no.)

The apartment is in Washington state.

  • The question seems backward to me. Are you asking if there is a law that forbids someone from asking you to send them money? (Personally, I wouldn't send someone money without a clear contract governing the counterparty's obligations, but I'm having trouble thinking of a case where it would be illegal for someone to ask for money.) – feetwet Apr 29 '16 at 16:10
  • It might be legal, but if it makes you uncomfortable, you should find other accommodations. I would. Perhaps you can negotiate a different agreement with them? – Patrick87 Apr 29 '16 at 20:27
  • @feetwet my question was more, if I sent them the first month's rent can they run off with it or by sending it does that make some sort of intention clear and form any sort of contract? At any rate, we talked further, and they sent us the lease upon receiving the check, but didn't actually deposit it until we had returned it signed. – Azor Ahai Apr 29 '16 at 20:32
  • We went online and saw they had owned the property for north of a decade and decided the risk was low, especially considering we were taking over a lease. – Azor Ahai Apr 29 '16 at 20:34
  • People can always run off with money. And the people who do that probably aren't going to be deterred from doing so by the presence of a contract saying that can't! – feetwet Apr 29 '16 at 21:27
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According to RCW 59.18.253, they may not charge a deposit to put you on a waiting list (and it doesn't sound like they are). They may require a deposit to hold the unit once it has been offered to you, and they have to put in writing the conditions under which they get to keep that deposit. The question is whether they have offered the unit to you (an offer is distinct from and prior to signing the lease). If so, this is directly allowed by law, but it is different from a security deposit. There is no legal prohibition against requiring a person to first hand over the security deposit, with your and their signature on the lease following (since the landlord is required by law to provide a copy of the lease to the tenant, the landlord needs to be the last one to sign). It is possible, but not highly likely, that there is a relevant municipal ordinance in Seattle.

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