Is That A Rental Scam? 10 Tips For The NYC Renter

Is there any sort of pressure to put money down BEFORE you see the apartment?
DO NOT DO THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Please always make sure you, or someone you trust, physically sees the apartment before you put any money down.

Are you being asked for personal information too soon in the process?
Do NOT send the lister personal information before you even have a chance to see the apartment. The lister should not be asking you to apply for the apartment before you see it. The way the process usually works is that you (or someone you trust) should first try to see the apartment. Then if you decide you would like to move forward, you should ask the landlord what would be required to apply to the apartment. Only at that time after some trust has been formed and you have seen the apartment should you start filling out an application.

Is it a real address?
If the listing is a rental, is it in a rental building? Google the address! You can only do this if the real address is even provided. The best sites provide the real address: transparency is a sign of a legitimate property. But scammers will also use real addresses sometimes.

Does the price seem too good to be true?
If you are very new to the market, be EXTRA careful, because often these scams are targeting you: someone who may not be used to the high prices of rentals in Manhattan. A 2-bedroom on Park Avenue is not going to rent for $1500! If the price is too good to be true, it usually is. One common trick by scammers is to take high-end professional photos from very expensive-looking apartments and use them to fake a listing for a “great deal”.

Who Listed the Apartment? An Agent, Landlord, Owner, or Tenant?
If an apartment listing says that a "tenant" listed the property, and you are suddenly engaging with an "agent" or a "landlord" instead of the "tenant" (especially with no explanation) that could be a red flag. The role of the person who listed the property (agent, tenant, landlord, owner) should be the same as the person who is engaging with you. Of course, sometimes there are legitimate reasons for the process to be handed off to a person who has a different "role" - like when you visit the apartment with the tenant and the tenant puts you in touch with the landlord for approval - but you should be extra diligent when this happens.

If a real estate agent is showing you a property, how do you know he or she is really an agent?
Make sure they email you from their company email address (i.e. be very leery of personal email addresses like gmail email addresses). Try to see where else their properties are listed. Real agents should be listed across the web and should be very easy to find. You can search the New York state database of real estate agents to make sure they are real estate agents, and that their license is up-to-date. Keep in mind that sometimes they may go by a different legal name or a different spelling; so, if you can’t find the agent, you can ask them directly what their official licensed name is.

If you are considering subletting from someone, do you know if this person is on the lease?
Ask them if they are on the lease! If they aren’t – in a roommate situation it is possible they aren’t – then you should request to see a copy of the lease. You can also see from the lease who the landlord is; you can try to confirm by doing a Google search that the landlord named on the lease indeed owns the building. However, the information is not always easy to find. Also, be aware that sometimes an LLC or Property Manager may be on the lease, so it can be a little tricky. That said, it is still something else that can give you greater security when deciding whether or not a listing is legitimate.

Has the landlord approved this transaction?
If the apartment is being subletted to you without the landlord's permission, you run the risk of getting evicted, which is never a pleasant experience! You should at least ask if the landlord has approved the transaction. Ideally, you should speak to the landlord directly to confirm, but this may be difficult to arrange.

What does the doorman say?
If it is a doorman building, you can ask the doorman about the current situation which has been presented to you, and see if it seems to jibe with his knowledge of the situation. These guys (and sometimes gals) know almost everything that is going on in the building. You can also try asking the super if it is not a doorman building.

Does everything feel on the up-and-up, or are there red flags?
Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition! While most listings you find are going to be 100% legit, there are scammers out there. If anything seems even remotely hinky – (i.e. "Hey, if anyone asks who you are why you’re there, you can just tell them you’re my cousin, okay?") – walk away and keep looking.

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