If you're looking to rent a property in Korea, perhaps it is best to look at what can go wrong and how you can make sure it doesn't happen to you.
In South Korea, just like any country there are those that are less than honest and out to deceive people in order to make a quick buck. I'm not saying that all landlords or realtors are dishonest, but it pays to be careful. You can always use a professional English/Korean Speaking Realtor and details are available here.
If not, then here are a few things to watch out for when searching for an apartment to rent in Korea.
In South Korea when renting, whether you choose Jeonse (전세) or Wolse (월세) both situations require a large key deposit, most often minimally 5,000,000KRW ($5,000) for Wolse, and over 50,000,000KRW ($50,000) for Jeonse. Signing a contract and handing over a large sum of hard earned money does not come risk free. I'm not saying everybody is out to scam the foreigner, but simply the onus is on you to do your due diligence.
One of the big problems for expats renting in Korea is the language barrier. This is because the legal terminology of contracts is quite technical, and the level of spoken English by the realtor is often quite low. Most people take a Korean `friend with them' to help finalize the rental contract, but being able to speak English and Korean doesn't mean that the Korean `friend' knows what they are doing. It is best to have someone that has been through the process before and knows the potential problems to look out for. For complete comfort a professional English speaking realtor can help you through the whole process and answer all questions you may have. You can find details of a great one here, that we've used several times.
Doing Due Diligence
It is difficult to do the due diligence needed to make sure that your key deposit money is safe as a foreigner. A good realtor should do these things for you and tell you if there are any problems with the landlord and house, etc. However, the realtor may not be as thorough as they should be and merely skip that step in order to get their commission from you signing the contract. It is best to be careful and choose a trustworthy realtor with a good reputation like RE/MAX to help with the background checks of the landlord and the property before signing anything.
Also while legally the realtor should tell you these things, often an innocent seeming sentence is placed into the contract that basically says that the realtor is not to blame for any problems that may occur. This legally gets them off the hook from anything that arises from them having not done the job properly. If a Korean `friend' doesn't know to check for this sentence, then it appears innocent and they will probably not mention it to you.
Another thing to be wary of when renting in Korea is whether the rooftop apartment is actually legal. Often the owner of a building may build an additional apartment on the flat roof of their building and rent it out to gain extra income. These are usually not built using brick but from flimsier materials. Not all of these are built legally. To save money and time and avoid the risk of the local government denying a building permit, they build and hope that no local government official finds out about it.
If the government does find out, the action is swift. The building owner not only has to pay a fine, but also has to demolish the extension immediately. In this situation there is no legal recourse for the renter since it was up to them and their realtor to do the necessary checks to see if the building had the relevant permits. This means a loss of the key deposit and an immediate loss of somewhere to live.
Registering Your Key Deposit
Whichever system you choose (Jeonse or Wolse) you need to register your key deposit with the local government at the Jumin center (주민센터). This then enacts the governments power to protect your key deposit assuming that everything has been done correctly by a professional realtor. The form needed is called a Gyay-yak-suh (계약서).