State officials are warning consumers to be wary of apartment rental scams across the state, in which perpetrators deceive consumers with false promises to secure rental apartments while illegally charging up-front fees, commissions and deposits.
So far this year, the state Division of Consumer Protection has received more than 211 complaints about deceitful real estate agents and apartment information vendors. Of those, 121 were in the New York City area, and the rest were elsewhere in the state.
Officials are monitoring those cases carefully, particularly in areas with a high concentration of potential victims. The state said the scam takes advantage of immigrants and other first-time residents.
Any illegal activities should be reported to the agency at (800) 697-1220, and licensing investigators will be sent out to target certain geographic regions, the agency said in a news release.
“If you feel you have been victimized, we urge you to contact the state’s Division of Consumer Protection to report any impropriety from an apartment broker,” said Marcos Vigil, New York’s deputy secretary of state for business services and consumer protection.
To avoid being victimized, the state urges consumers to:
• Check if the real estate agent or information vendor is licensed in the state, either by calling (518)474-4429 or by going online to https://appext20.dos.ny.gov/nydos/selSearchType.do. All real estate professionals in New York must be licensed and must renew every two years.
• Make sure the property you want is actually for rent.
• Refuse to pay any up-front fee or other money before getting an apartment. Nonrefundable commission deposits are also not allowed, and agents earn commissions only after helping a landlord and tenant reach agreement on a rental. Commissions are also negotiable, not fixed or mandatory.
• Get a receipt for any deposit or payment that you make, and avoid making payments with cash to ensure a paper trail. A deposit or first month’s rent must be kept separate from the agent’s own money, and must be either put into an escrow account to be turned over to the landlord when the transaction closes or must be returned to the renter.
• Ask for copies of all documents related to the rental, and keep them.