Local rental referral business under scrutiny by state investigators

Between low vacancy rates and rising rents, finding affordable rental housing can test your last nerve. So a local man hoped he'd have better luck with a rental referral company he found online. But Ramon Barrientes told the Problem Solvers he didn't get the help he was promised- and he's not the only one crying foul.

Barrientes says he put his hopes, and his cash, $350, on a 60-day rental referral contract with RentPad NW, in Seattle. The company's contract says it provides listings and information on currently advertised rental properties. Once a client finds a property they're interested in, RentPad coordinators are supposed to make an appointment with the landlord and schedule a walk-through.

But Barrientes says he never got the twice weekly listings he was promised. And the listings he did get never panned out. Even more frustrating, he says many listings were listings he could have found without paying money.

"When you Google addresses, some of them would pop up on Craigslist! It would be one of the first things that would be popping up."

Barrientes says he eventually ended up finding a place on his own. Citing the contract, he asked RentPadNW for a refund. According to Barrientes' contract, the RentPad clause regarding refunds reads as follows:

"If, within sixty (60) days, customer has not located a suitable rental property from the referrals and leads provided to customer, despite obtaining weekly updates at least twice a week, NORTHWEST RENTPAD,LLC will refund $300 of your fee."

But Barrientes says owner Chad Hurn denied him a refund, claiming he didn't meet the conditions of the contract.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Barrientes is not the only one to complain. The BBB report we found online gives RentPad NW an F rating the worst possible.

When I went to the company's address on 65th and Roosevelt there was no answer to my knock on the door. A printed 8 by 11 sign was posted on the door of what appears to be a duplex turned business, stating RentPad is no longer in business. I called the phone number written on back of a RentPad N W business card and got Hurn's voice mail. Shortly after leaving a message, as our camera faced a different direction at the top of the stairs, a man, later confirmed to be Hurn, suddenly emerged from a downstairs door, and quickly got in a car parked in the driveway and took off.

Later in the afternoon, Hurn returned my call. When asked why he wouldn't answer the door, nor stop when I tried to get his attention in the car, he explained he saw me and the SUV with antennas parked in front of the building, but didn't know it was the news media there for him. He said he didn't realize I was trying to get his attention. As for the complaints about lack of service difficulty getting refunds, Hurn told me has refunded four clients. And most people who were denied refunds did not meet the specific qualifications. He says Barrientes failed to obtain updated listings twice a week as instructed and it was Barrientes' responsibility to make the requests.

According to Hurn, the key word in the contract is "obtain."

"To obtain means to come into possession of, or get or acquire or procure through an effort or by request, I mean that's the definition of it," said Hurn, reading from a dictionary to support his claim that it wasn't enough for customers to simply wait for the updated listings to come to them twice a week.

"They can email and request a updated listing. When they come to the office, they're told to come every Friday and every Tuesday and please be on top of it, because things change quickly and places get rented out very quickly so they need to be on that," Hurn said.

"If they qualified for a refund I want to give their money back. If they met the contractual terms for the refund policy, it's clearly outlined, then we issue a refund. We just abide by whatever contractual terms are set forth." Hurn continued.

Hurn insists RentPAd NW has helped hundreds of people find rental homes. When asked for specifics, Hurn offered an estimate of as many as 70 percent of the roughly 400 clients who signed up since RentPad NW started doing business in last year. Records at the State Department of Revenue show the company's business account with the state was opened December 1, 2011. The Better Business Bureau shows the first complaint to the BBB was resolved with the agency's assistance in February of this year. Two subsequent consumer complaints were resolved with BBB assistance in March, and another was resolved in June.

Hurn acknowledged the complaints, and also revealed that RentPad Northwest has even caught the attention of the state Attorney General.

"They just asked me to stop that business model, and there were too many complaints and this and that, and they just said please stop, so that's what I did. " Hurn explained.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Steele says investigators did not order Hurn to shut down his business, but did call him in for a face to face meeting last month. Steele confirms the state is investigating RentPad NW because of numerous complaints. She asks anyone who has issue with RentPad NW to contact the AG's office.

As for people who still feel they are owed a refund from RentPad, Hurn says contact him by email and he'll review the files.

"They can just use and I will be responding accordingly to those. I will also be giving people access to everything online to utilize, so they don't have to rely on the lists and deal with that. They'll be able to go on and automatically be updated right then and there and they can run reports and schedule walk-throughs." Hurn said, emphasizing that while the brick and mortar RentPad operation has shut down, he is still offering services to existing customers online.