Educational Consumer Tips
Better Business Bureau
When looking for a new rental, a pre-paid rental listing service (PRLS) may seem attractive. These services charge varying fees for lists of rentals. Paying a small fee to avoid the hassle of sifting through hundreds of ads displayed online seems to be a good deal on the surface. However, it is important to be aware of common problems associated with this industry. Common Issues Better Business Bureau receives complaints against PRLS's each year for advertising issues, refund problems and more. In some cases, potential renters find that the properties featured in listings are not for rent, have already been rented to someone or flat-out do not exist. In some cases, the landlord may actually be renting out the space, but may be unaware that his or her property is featured through this service. This means that you may end up paying for a credit check, application fee and other services twice. A company may also compile listings from newspapers, online classified sites and real estate websites with no regard to whether the property is still available, if the price has changed or if the details are factual. Other consumers may find that the listing service cannot provide properties that meet their desired rental qualities after they have paid fees for the service. To avoid these common properties, familiarize yourself with the requirements of pre-paid rental listing services and your rights as a consumer. Licensing Anyone conducting business as a PRLS in California must be licensed through the California Department of Real Estate and must maintain a $10,000 bond. Checking the company out through the DRE's website before doing business with the company adds some assurance that the company is legitimate and monitored by an overseeing agency. If the company isn't licensed, find an alternative option to your rental hunt. Contracts To avoid untrustworthy businesses, read your contract carefully. Before any PRLS accepts a fee for rental listings, they must provide a contract stating the amount of the fee and specify what services will be performed in exchange for the fee. Even if the contract is signed electronically, you can still request a printed copy of the form. This must bet be provided with five working days of your request. Also ensure the contract specifies what sort of rental listings will be provided. Are you looking for a specific number of bedrooms, a maximum rent amount or listings in a specific area? This must be written into the contract. If the company fails to provide the specified features, there are added assurances of receiving a refund. The contract must also state an expiration date of no more than 90 days from the date it is signed. Review the refund section of the contract carefully. In some cases, you may only be eligible for partial refunds. In other cases, there may be two separate contracts. Understand why you are paying a fee and what rights you have should you request a refund. The company must also disclose small claims court remedies available to you should any issues arise. Refunds California law entitles customers of PRRLS services certain rights regarding refunds. Within five days If you have not received three available rental listings meeting all property specifications listed in your contract within five days of signing a contract, you are entitled to a full refund. To receive the refund, deliver or send via certified mail a written request within ten days after the five-day period expires. Within the term of your contract If the service does not locate a rental for you or if you find housing on your own within the time-frame of your contract, you are entitled to a refund of all fees paid except for $50. To obtain a refund under these circumstances, submit your request for a refund within ten days of the expiration date of your contract through certified mail or in-person. If the service failed to provide you housing, enclose documentation proving you still reside at the same address. If you found housing without the services of the PRRLS, include documentation of your new address. If you cannot provide documentation, you can provide a statement of the facts. If the refund is not issued A court of law can award up to $1,000 for damages. Alternatives Should you wish to pursue other avenues when seeking a new rental, consider the following services: 1. Real Estate Brokers A licensed realtor may know of properties currently for rent until they can be sold. As with any real estate service, check the license of the individual before doing business. 2. Property Management Companies Property management companies are often hired by home owners to manage homes and commercial properties up for rent. These companies may often manage several sites, making it convenient to view listings of different sizes, prices and locations through one single individual. These companies must also be licensed through the Department of Real Estate. No matter the route, Better Business Bureau always encourages consumers to research companies thoroughly before doing business. Check out the companies BBB Business Review, request references and get all agreements in writing.