The top rule of apartment renting in New York City is that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. A place’s price is generally commensurate with its quality, size, and location. So if you think you’ve found a unicorn apartment, be very cautious — it could be a trick. Here are some tips on how to avoid NYC rental scams.

 1485 Fifth Avenue #25D - nyc rental scams

From an authentic listing for a real rental. (485 Fifth Ave. #25D)

1. Expect an Exact Street Address

Some rental websites will post listings without exact street addresses. This is a huge red flag. People posing as legitimate brokers often create scam listings by taking images of other apartments, creating an enticing rental advertisement, and then posting without including the precise location. Take note of this information and use it to do some fact-finding reconnaissance. 

2. Do Your Own Apartment Sleuthing

When it comes to rental scams in NYC, How do you know what’s real and what’s not? Do some DIY sleuthing by performing a basic search for the apartment on StreetEasy. For example, if you know the apartment is on Sterling Place in Crown Heights, simply search for “Sterling Place” on StreetEasy. On the search results page, you’ll find a list of buildings on Sterling Place organized by neighborhood. Each building address will indicate the number of available listings and their respective prices. If none match the listing you found, that’s a red flag. If you find one that does, click over to the building page to verify if the building and unit descriptions align with what you found. Pay close attention to the number of bedrooms, price, photos, and listed amenities.

Brooklyn Rentals Under $2,500 on StreetEasy Article continues below

3. Cross Reference the Apartment’s Address

As a further precaution, cross-reference the address on Google Street View to see if the building on StreetEasy matches what you see in the photos on the map. If, for example, the building and listing description indicates that the apartment is in an elevator building, look for buildings on the block that are over six stories tall. Again, if the broker fails to provide an exact street address, that’s a major red flag.

4. Even Listings With Addresses Can Be NYC Rental Scams

When a listing identifies an address and unit number, it’s typically a sign that the landlord has selected a specific rental agent or brokerage to represent the unit. This is called an exclusive listing. Some rental brokers, however, will manipulate the system and advertise the apartment as their own without having the explicit right from the landlord to do so. You can use the same techniques listed above (i.e., searching StreetEasy for the address and then cross-referencing it with Google Street View) to verify whether a NYC rental scam is at play.

Once you find the listing on StreetEasy, verify the price, amenities, and photos. Also, be sure to verify the rental broker. Does the rental agent identified on the rental listing on StreetEasy match the rental agent on the listing you found? If there’s a discrepancy, proceed with caution.

5. Approach Luxury Apartment Listings With Caution

For some large, luxury rental buildings, the building’s management company handles advertising and leasing apartments — not individual brokers. Individual brokers, however, sometimes advertise these listings as their own as a ploy to attract prospective renters. Don’t fall for this! Instead, go directly to the building’s onsite leasing office and work directly with the team there. Often, working directly with the building’s leasing agent can yield major concessions, including a waived broker’s fee, security deposit, or even a month or more of free rent.

You can use StreetEasy’s building page to cross-reference any listings you find on other sites. If the listing indicates an address in a large, luxury rental complex, check the building or complex page on StreetEasy to see who handles leasing. If there’s an onsite leasing office, call or visit it directly. 

Manhattan Rentals Under $2,500 on StreetEasy Article continues below

6. If Renting a Place Sight Unseen, Do Your Homework

Renting an apartment without first seeing it in person used to be unthinkable. Creating a fabricated “apartment” with photos, links, even a Facebook profile, was once one of the most prevalent NYC rental scams out there.

Then came COVID-19. Nowadays, thanks to social distancing, virtual tours are commonplace, and remote apartment hunting is an everyday occurrence. However, you should still keep your guard up. If you’re unable to see a place in person before pulling the trigger on a lease, don’t be shy about asking questions. And make sure the real estate agent or landlord answers each one to your satisfaction. Many agents will virtually walk you through the apartment via FaceTime, showing you the views out windows, the insides of closets, and anything else you might want to see (or hear!).

7. The Biggest NYC Rental Scam? Avoid All-Cash Deals

If the real estate agent or landlord asks for cash up front to secure a place, that’s a reason to think twice. It’s a classic NYC rental scam. If you do not have a signed lease yet, getting a cashier’s check or money order is always the way to go.

8. Be Wary of Subletting Scams

If you’re subletting, do your due diligence. It is common for people to sublet their apartments for a month, six months, or a year. If you are subletting, get a copy of their lease and confirm it with the landlord. And make sure the person is the landlord and not some scammer who is posing as the landlord. Also, people have been bilked out of thousands because the subletter is behind on their rent and about to get evicted, or the landlord never approved the unit for subletting, to begin with.

Queens Rentals Under $2,500 on StreetEasy Article continues below

9. If You Think You See a Scam on StreetEasy

We work hard to make sure all the listings on StreetEasy are accurate and trustworthy. So if you think you see something inaccurate, or just plain odd, we want to know about it. It’s easy to report a questionable listing to us via our “report a problem” link, which you’ll find on every StreetEasy listing, and we will immediately investigate.

nyc rental scams

Suspect something is off about a StreetEasy listing? Click the link (outlined in red above) to report it to us, and we’ll investigate.

If you see or experience a possible scam or fraud, don’t forget to also report it to the authorities. You can report NYC rental scams to one of New York’s consumer protection agencies, or to local law enforcement. And if you have concerns about your landlord, there are lots of tenants’ rights organizations that can help.

Whether you’re looking to rent or to buy, find your next NYC apartment on StreetEasy.