4 Ways to Avoid Rental Scams in NYC

Rental scams are the dark side to renting apartments in New York City. This article explores some of the most common rental scams, and it gives prospective NYC renters tips on how best to steer clear of them.

We’ve all seen the horror stories about rental scams. They usually go something like this: Eager renters find a great deal on a fabulous apartment. They’re told by the person offering the apartment that if they want the space, they have to move quickly because there are several other interested parties.The renters, not wanting to miss out on the deal of a lifetime, hand over several months’ worth of rent, deposit, and security, often in cash. When they show up at the apartment later to get the keys, they’re met by several other confused people who’ve also handed over tons of money for the very same apartment, with the perpetrator of the fraud nowhere to be found. Worst of all, even when the scam artists are caught, the money they stole is often long gone.

When you’re hunting for an apartment in NYC, take these precautions to help ensure that you don’t fall victim to one of these rental scams.

1. If a rental deal sounds too good to be true, put on your Sherlock gear

There’s nothing wrong — and everything right — about being overly cautious when it comes to handing over thousands of dollars of your hard-earned cash. Trust your instincts and listen to your inner skeptic. If the person offering the apartment seems unusually eager to give you the place, be astute enough to wonder why. A responsible landlord will most certainly do a background check on you; it’s in your best interests to do a background check on the landlord. Confirm property ownership and property financial status records at the county courthouse to confirm that the landlord is on the up and up.

2. Beware of highjacked ads

Some scammers take legitimate real estate ads, copy the information, and create duplicate ads where they themselves offer an apartment for rent. Some scammers will gain access to the apartment by approaching the real broker under the guise of wanting apartment for themselves, then bring you in and pretend to show you around. Again, they’ll probably ask you to pay right away, and we can all guess what happens when you show up for your keys. Don’t hand over any money until it’s backed up by official documentation, and never pay with cash. Only pay by certified check or bank transfer. Those payment methods ensure you a measure of protection if the rental offer turns out to be a scam.

3. Watch out for sublet scammers

This is a particularly odious scam. You see an ad for an apartment. You show up and meet the person you’ll be renting the apartment from. You love it, and realize that it’s a deal you can’t miss out on. You hand over your deposit, and you might even receive the keys to the place. But when you show up on moving day, you meet the real renter or owner of the apartment. The person you made arrangements with somehow gained access to the apartment (possibly through a brief sublet situation), pretended that they owned or were renting the apartment, and now they’ve disappeared with your cash. In these instances, all you can do is file a police report; chances are, you’ll never see that money again.

4. Work with a realtor

Sometimes people avoid working wth realtors in order to save themselves a fee, but can be a short-sighted solution. Not only do established realtors have access to the best apartments, but they also help ensure safe and legal financial transactions.

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