New York Apartment-Hunting Scams, Ranked

by Brendan O’Connor

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3–23 St Nicholas Ave #202
$1100 per month
Studio / 1 bathroom
Nearest subway stop: L/M at Myrtle Avenue-Wyckoff Avenue

3. On the website Padmapper, which aggregates and maps apartment listings on sites like Craigslist, Airbnb, and ApartmentFinder, I recently found an enormous studio for rent in Ridgewood for a very reasonable price. (Ridgewood, also known as Quooklyn in some less reputable publications, is the new East Williamsburg, which is now the old Williamsburg.) According to the listing, rent is eleven hundred dollars per month; there’s no broker fee; it’s large and sunny; and cats are allowed. It’s a perfect apartment:

This enormous loft features hardwood floors, exposed brick, vaulted ceilings, tons of sun-light, full bath & renovated kitchen. Located in a converted loft building on a quiet block just 1 block from the Myrtle Wyckoff L/M trains! Centrally located on the Ridgewood/Bushwick border just 1 block from the Myrtle/Wyckoff L & M Stop! Only 15 minutes to the city on either line!

In fact, this apartment is so perfect that I began fantasizing about living there. (I’m not even looking to move out; I like my roommates. It’s just that great.) I clicked “Check Availability,” filled out the form, submitted, and received no response. I sent an email to the anonymous address listed on the page. No response.

Eventually, I looked up other listings in the building and got in touch with Lourdes Castro, a real estate agent who, until a few weeks ago, actually lived in this building. (She moved elsewhere in Ridgewood to an apartment with more space.) She’d lived in this building for five years, and had an agreement with the landlord that she could exclusively show apartments for rent there.

This particular apartment was rented in September, Castro told me. She had listed it at just under two thousand dollars per month. (Five years ago, it rented for thirteen hundred dollars, she said.) Someone had taken the photos she’d used, cropped out her firm’s watermark, and posted it at the reduced price of eleven hundred dollars per month. “They’re trying to be crafty,” Castro said. “But that’s not even the right price. That’s a crazy price.”

I never heard back from the person who posted the listing, and the name associated with the post appears to be fake. Castro tried to figure out who was behind it, too, but to no avail. Legitimate agents and brokers sometimes use fake listings as a kind of bait-and-switch: “They’ll post ghost listings to get leads for other listings,” Castro said. She’s had other agents take photos and information from listings she had exclusively, post them online to lure people in and then redirect prospective clients to listings they were actually contracted for. “They’ll take the listing to try to attract clients and show them something else. As an agent, and as a person, it’s annoying.” Of course, this is only a slightly less obnoxious version of brokers or landlords saying that an apartment is in one neighborhood when really it is in another in order to charge more for rent.

The post advertising the apartment on PadLister still hasn’t been removed.

34 Berry Street
$740 per month
1 bedroom / 1 bathroom
500 square feet
Nearest subway stop: L at Bedford Avenue

2. According to Streeteasy, there are three studios available for rent at 34 Berry Street — one of those enormous luxury buildings looming over McCarren Park — one at $2,495, one at $2,595, and $2,695 (no fee, though!). No surprise, then, that this Craigslist post for a “1BR/1BA Studio” got flagged for removal and taken down within twenty-four hours of being posting.

388 Manhattan Avenue
$720 per month
1 bedroom / 1 bathroom
500 square feet
Nearest subway stop: L at Graham Avenue

1. In East Williamsburg, a couple miles to the west, a one-bedroom apartment was listed earlier this month for $720/month. If the studio loft in Ridgewood was tempting, this apartment — in this location, at this price — was a siren song. I emailed the person who had listed the apartment and waited. The next day, one “Adrian Post” responded:

I am very happy to inform you that the apartment is still very much available for rent, my intention is to give out the apartment to a Reliable and Responsible person that would be able to take proper care of the apartment…

I would like you to know that i am giving this apartment out for rent because i relocated to West Africa for work,i am an oil rig engineer with Chevron Oil and it will last for couple of years before i will be done with my assignment here,this is not a sub lease,i own the apartment.

Post also sent an application form. I was going to fill it out, but in the meantime, the original Craiglist post had been “flagged for removal.” I emailed Post to ask why that might have happened. He answered:

After going through your email, my wife and I have finally concluded to rent the House to you… We strongly believe that you are a respectable and responsible person… Make the deposit by WESTERN UNION. I understand that you may be unwilling to make any payment without seeing the apartment first,hence this option.

At Western Union,when you send money, the receiver (IN THIS CASE MYSELF) is required to show a valid form of identification (either a drivers license or an international passport) showing that the money was indeed sent in his/her name before the money can be paid out,therefore in a bid to ensure that your money is safe and i can not get it until you receive the keys and view the apartment,instead of putting the deposit in my name as the receiver,put it in the name of either your relative or a friend to my address in Nigeria below so that when i call the western union Nigeria i will be able to confirm the money is there,and i will go ahead and send the keys,once again not that i will be unable to get the money since it is not in my name,therefore when you get the keys and see the apartment,if you like it and move in,you can then go and change the receivers name into my name and i can get the money.

This sounds an awful lot like an online rental scam that the FBI identified in 2009. According to the FBI, “The criminals search websites that list homes for sale. They take the information in those ads — lock, stock, and barrel — and post it, with their own e-mail address, in an ad on Craigslist (without Craigslist’s consent or knowledge) under the housing rentals category. To sweeten the pot, the houses are almost always listed with below-market rental rates.”

I called the number Post included in his email, but it didn’t connect. I e-mailed again to say the number wasn’t working; yesterday, he replied to say he was off-shore and only available by email. I asked Post again last night why the post had been flagged for removal, and sent him a link to the FBI’s story about rental scams this morning; he still hasn’t responded.

Two weeks ago, another studio in the same building was listed at around two thousand dollars per month.