Hot Apartment Rental Market Breeds Scams - NBC New York

Hot Apartment Rental Market Breeds Scams



    Rent scammers look to take advantage of apartment hunters. Find out how to protect yourself. (Published Wednesday, July 20, 2011)

    Living in Manhattan has never been cheap, but sky high rents are causing an increasing in rental scams. 

    As deal-hungry home seekers get priced out of the market, real estate brokers say more apartment shoppers are falling prey to bait and switch scams.

    According to market data from Citi-Habitats, Manhattan rents are up 10 percent in the last 12 months, and there is little sign renters will see a decline any time soon.

    “It makes them desperate.  It makes them almost willing to do anything, to sign anything,” said Christopher James, a senior associate with Citi-Habitats.

    NBC New York recently exposed one rip-off that targets not only apartment shoppers, but also condominium owners. 

    In the scam, a person posing as an owner places a fraudulent online ad for an apartment offered below market rent. The phantom owner tells prospective renters the apartment cannot be shown because there is currently another renter occupying the unit, however if the victim sends a cash deposit he or she will be rewarded with cheap monthly rent.

    Zachary Gage, a computer game designer from Chelsea, was surprised to find out his 11th floor apartment was the subject of a rental ad placed by an anonymous con artist.  He said he has no intention of renting the unit.

    “I guess I can see how this is possible on the Internet.  It’s pretty creepy,” he said.

    It is not clear how many apartment shoppers have lost deposits to phantom landlords. Personnel working the front desk of a condo building on West 42nd Street told NBC New York several victims have arrived in the last year claiming they wired deposits for short-term rentals that never existed. 

    The workers, who were not authorized by their building management to speak, said they sent the victims to the closest NYPD precinct. 

    Real estate brokers say home shoppers should never deposit money on an apartment which they have not seen and deposits should never be sent through a money wiring service.

    “If it looks too good to be true it is too good to be true,” said James.

    “This is Midtown Manhattan. If it says $2,000 dollars for a two-bedroom/two-bath with a doorman and swimming pool, it doesn’t exist.”