If you find yourself interested in a property where the owner/Landlord cannot meet in person I have a few suggestions before you provide a deposit and any confidential information:
a) See if you can find the property using the â€œownersâ€ name at http://www.blockshopper.com
b) Until the adoption of California Government Code Section 6254.21; which, blocks all state and local agencies from providing home address (and other information) of an "elected or appointed official" you could easily check the Countyâ€™s online public tax records to confirm the property's ownership. Unfortunately, Alameda County is blocking ALL such information for ALL property owners. Nonetheless, you in fact can see the property tax information. Every homeowner is pretty aware of what their property tax payments are and this would be a good question to ask the "owner". Alameda County property assessments can be found at http://www.acgov.org/MS/prop/index.aspx
c) Drive by the property for clues regarding the propertyâ€™s habitation.
d) Contact a RealtorÂ® and ask if they can confirm any recent transaction history by the "owner".
If you do meet the "owner" in person ask to "take a quick peek" at their Driver's License to confirm identity (although, if they are a "Scammer" they might have fake one!)
In addition, you may want to also ask â€œa RealtorÂ® friendâ€ from above to research whether a Notice of Default or Trustee Sale has been recorded, which would indicate the owner may lose the property to foreclosure. Regarding this last point see, you would have some protections via:
CA's "Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act" - need to know info!
These sites may be of help in finding a rental:
These links might also prove useful in the future:
Finally, and most importantly, stay safe (always bring a friend if you can) and don't let the need for finding a rental overpower your gut intuition!
Best of luck with your search and subsequent move.