The Craigslist era has made it easy to conduct an apartment search without meeting anyone in person or even seeing the apartment. But such convenience has also increased opportunity for scammers to rip off unwary would-be renters. In the expensive and competitive New York City rental market, prospective renters need to be even more vigilant, particularly if they are conducting their search from out of town.
The main two things to remember are (1) if something looks too good to be true, it probably is, and (2) do not give anyone any money before actually getting the apartment. A typical scam involves seeing an offer that is so appealing that you may let down your guard and wire money to a stranger to secure the apparent great deal.
Phony listings for short-term rentals in NYC
One type of scam involves stealing apartment specs and photos from a reputable site, then posting the same apartment at a greatly reduced price. The scammer explains that the owner is out of town, which is why you cannot visit the apartment. Perhaps the superintendent is also “on vacation.”
People coming to New York on short-term business assignments may be particularly vulnerable to scams. They may have limited time to find a short-term rental in New York City and do not have the option of visiting it first. Even if they are aware that reputable landlords and rental agencies don’t ask for money in advance, they may have less of a sense of what constitutes a deal that is too good to be true.
If you find what looks like a great deal, don’t stop looking. Continue searching for apartments with similar specs. If all the other one bedrooms you find in that neighborhood are 50% more expensive, that should tell you something. If all the other apartments you find in that neighborhood for the same price are for a bedroom in a share that should raise a red flag.
Searching on similar specs can also help you discover if the apartment is already listed on a reputable site under its actual price.
Hidden or unexpected fees
Another way to avoid scammers is to deal with a rental agency that is licensed in New York State. Companies such as KG Furnished of New York City and Churchill will not only have listings of apartments that are legitimately for rent, but can protect you from scams such as hidden or unexpected fees.
A short-term rental in New York City of a furnished apartment will typically include charges for utilities – electricity, phone, Internet and cable TV. A rental agency can offer utility packages with set rates so you don’t have to worry about incurring unexpected charges. They may also offer set rates for housekeeping, another area in which scammers can hide additional fees.
Non-New Yorkers may not be familiar with many NYC neighborhoods, so they may fixate on living in a particular area, particularly if it is close to where they will be working. A rental agency with multiple listings can offer alternatives to initial choices that are safe and convenient via mass transit.
If you are dealing with someone who insists on being paid in cash, there will be no paper trail in case there is a problem. Rental agencies will accept credit cards or checks and you will also be able to get receipts and copies of all relevant documents.
This is a guest post by Jon Lewin a native New Yorker. He blogs about real estate and sports.