Q: I am moving to New York and need to look for an apartment. A friend told me to watch out for scams. What am I supposed to watch out for and how would I know if a listing is problematic?
A: The market is flush with inventory as rents continue to fall, creating conditions where it can be hard to tell a good deal from an absurd one. “It’s no secret that rental prices are down now,” said Pamela Liebman, the president of Corcoran. “It’s easy to get excited about a good value, but if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
Here’s what to watch for:
Bait and switch. You see a listing, show up at the building and the broker tells you that the apartment is no longer available, then leads you to another apartment down the street that’s nothing like what you saw online. If this happens, walk away.
Signing sight unseen. You should be able to see an apartment before you rent it. If a broker tells you otherwise, and expects a deposit for a space you cannot tour, do not pay.
The embellished listing. An advertisement shouldn’t describe two bedrooms when there is only one. Before scheduling a tour, look closely at photographs and floor plans, and pepper the broker with questions. “Is there a photograph of every room, or is it just one room shot from 15 different angles?” said Lynne Allaker, senior director of customer support at StreetEasy.
Check credentials. Brokers are licensed with the state. If you are concerned about a broker, check their credentials online. Look for reviews of the broker and the building.
Illegal fees. Brokers can charge renters a broker fee, typically 12 to 15 percent of the annual rent, but they cannot charge an application fee. Credit-check fees are capped at $20. You should not be charged any additional fees.
Teaser rent. Many landlords, struggling to fill vacancies, are offering a month or two of free rent, with the savings spread over the term. Sometimes the rent listed on the advertisement reflects this lower monthly payment, not the actual rent on your lease. So when the lease comes up for renewal, you will be charged a much higher rent, with any increase based on that higher sum. So ask the broker to tell you the gross rent, not the net effective rent.
Too good to be true. Rents are lower than they’ve been for a long time, but apartments in New York are still expensive. If a rent looks suspiciously low, check comparable listings in the building and neighborhood to get a better understanding of the market. Check the apartment’s rental history, too, to see what it rented for in the past. If you cannot find any rental history, that could be a red flag, too.
Take your time, do your homework and, as Ms. Liebman said, “Don’t let your emotions override your common sense.”
Read More: Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them