Tips for signing a lease in Manhattan?
July 22, 2011 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to sign a lease in New York. What can I do to avoid getting scammed?

My girlfriend and I will sign a lease this afternoon for a great one-bedroom a few blocks from NYU. We found the place with help from a small-time broker, and we're paying first month rent, one month security, and one month as a broker's fee.

GF and I have both signed leases before, but never in such a contentious real estate market. Aside from the usual steps (copy of lease, leave with keys in hand, copy all certified checks), what else can we do to protect ourselves from getting ripped off?

Note: I know NY/Manhattan questions pop up frequently, but I'm interested specifically in the shady, fraud/scam side of Manhattan real estate and what someone can do to protect themselves. Thanks MeFites!
posted by achompas to Law & Government (6 answers total)
Photo-document everything "wrong" (cracks, leaks, broken fixtures) with the apartment before you move in, even if you don't need to get it fixed, lest it come out of your security deposit on your way out.
posted by griphus at 7:30 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

What exactly are you worried about? That you'll sign a lease and not wind up with a property? Use the New York Public License Search so ensure that your guy is actually a real broker. If he's not licensed, that's kind of a red flag. As in, don't go through with it. But if he is, you're probably good, because leasing a property to which he does not have the rights would cost him his license.

Other than that, your biggest risk is that the property isn't exactly as it appears to be. This is a lot harder to work against, and a lot of it doesn't really constitute fraud in the strictest sense. Say you move in and find that the place is infested with mold. The broker probably never really had a duty to disclose that, so while he certainly failed to do so, nailing him for fraud is tough, because you can still technically live there. Same thing goes for any other maintenance problem, i.e. you've probably got enforceable rights, particularly in tenant-friendly jurisdictions like NYC, but we aren't talking about fraud per se.

All you can really do by way of prevention is sort of kick the tires of the apartment before you move in, e.g. run the water, check the lights, turn on the appliances, see that the AC works, etc. Talk to the neighbors/other tenants too. They'll be able to give you a decent picture of how the landlord runs things, if they have a mind to.
posted by valkyryn at 7:35 AM on July 22, 2011

Talk to the neighbors/other tenants too.

Specifically, see if you can talk to the people who live in adjacent apartments, and one apartment below and above. If there's an noise issue (stereo, dog, etc.) one of them should be able to tell you about it.
posted by griphus at 7:39 AM on July 22, 2011

Yeah, it's hard to answer this question without knowing what you're worried about, other than a vague concern about being "ripped off".

If you have concerns about tenants' rights and other related questions a good place to start is 311.
posted by dfriedman at 7:52 AM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, the worry is not that you'll get your money stolen, more the worry is that you'll move in and...uh-oh! Shit is broken/horrible, or things that were supposed to be fixed before move-in are not fixed. Absolute worst apartment was in Queens, the walls were literally falling off because of water leaks that they would simply plaster and paint over before the next tenant moved in. That's very hard to screen for ahead of time and requires completely amoral management/landlord/broker.

Don't assume anything that the broker verbally promised you like "oh, they'll totally be refinishing the floors!" is actually going to happen. Don't assume it's not going to happen, either. Just know that a verbal promise is not enforceable in any way and every lease I've signed has said that the apartment will be rented as-is.

That said, between my partner and I we've lived in 9 apartments in NYC, and only once have we ever been seriously surprised after signing the lease. Even in that place the landlord let us break the lease with no penalty and allowed us to move into another unit in the building on a month-to-month basis. So take a few deep breaths and relax a little bit.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:06 AM on July 22, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone! Lease signing went without a hitch. Things around the apartment work, so that's not a problem right now.
posted by achompas at 5:46 PM on July 22, 2011

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