How To Know If A Subletting Offer Is A Scam?
January 25, 2008 11:23 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to find out who owns an apartment in New York City? A relative of mine has been offered a sublet, but the circumstances seem very shady.

I think my relative (who will be completely new to the "big city") is being scammed. I don't think the "owner" of the apartment is truly the owner. How does one go about finding out who owns property in NYC in regard to apartments? The apartment is in a well-known building in a high-end Manhattan neighborhood, which most likely has celebrity residents, so I don't know if that complicates things. Any help would be appreciated, as my relative is a complete novice at things like this, and I don't have any experience with it either, and I'd like to be able to give good advice.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Go the New York City Register and look at the title.
posted by bigmusic at 11:45 PM on January 25, 2008

Sorry that link should have gone here.
posted by bigmusic at 11:47 PM on January 25, 2008

(I hope it goes without saying that your relative shouldn't hand over money or sign anything until actually seeing the place.)
posted by lorimer at 2:41 AM on January 26, 2008

You can also use ACRIS (middle of the page) to search by name as well as parcel.
posted by kimdog at 5:30 AM on January 26, 2008

If it's a co-op, it will require board approval, which in a way is a very good assurance that the deal is legit (of couse, the bastard can stage a mock board meeting).

If it's a condo, then maybe get in contact with the condo board president (or another ranking member), or at the very least, the building superintendent.
posted by sd at 5:40 AM on January 26, 2008

You are right to be skeptical, as there is a history of sublet scams in NYC. One common scam is for the "owner" to sublet an apartment to multiple people, each of whom gives the him a deposit. When the day comes to move in, twenty people show up with keys, and the "owner" is long gone with their cash.

Is the deal too good to be true?
Does he want the deposit in cash (or some form quickly convertible into cash)?
Act now in order to live next to celebrities?

When I lived in the East Village, there was a very famous case of a woman who had run this scam, then skipped out of the country. The kicker in that case was that the scammer had use of the apt. because a friend of hers (the real owner) had let her stay there while she (the owner) was traveling. The friend spent the entire month collecting deposits on the apartment. When the owner got back from her trip there was a long line of VERY angry people expecting to move into her home.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:00 AM on January 26, 2008

Copied and pasted from an answer I gave a while ago in this thread:

My advice to any tenants seeking housing in New York City is to, at the minimum, always check the following two websites before you agree to rent: ACRIS, which is the Online City Register and will give you relatively uptodate information about ownership of property, and the Division of Housing and Community Renewal website, which provides prospective renters with a wealth of information about the unit they're thinking of moving into.

The order in which you should do this is to check the DHCR website first. After you put in the building address, take a look first at the history of violations in the unit you're thinking of renting, as well as in the building as a whole -- this will give you a sense of the structural integrity of the unit (pay attention to the difference between 'A', 'B', and 'C' violations) as well as how responsive the landlord is to tenant complaints, although it is not a completely accurate guide, since DHCR might take longer than normal to acknowledge repairs that have been completed. You can also be doubly diligent and search your building on the Department of Buildings website, where you can revel in such geeky documents as the Certificate of Occupancy and boiler and elevator inspection records.

After you're done with this part of your research, note the Tax Block and Tax Lot numbers for the building from the DHCR website. Next, go to ACRIS and input these two numbers when you're prompted to (to get started on ACRIS, choose the "Search Property Records" option, and then select "Parcel Identifier (Borough, Block, Lot)" option). This will then give you information about ownership, including who holds the mortgage on the building, and you can look at the original deed that was filed with the city.

Finally, if the unit you're thinking of moving into is rent stabilized (you should ask the landlord or realtor who shows you the place) you could always try to get a copy of the unit's Rent Regulation report from DHCR. This requires you to actually go to one of the DHCR offices, and you're not guaranteed to get it, because only tenants actually living in the unit are entitled to the report, but it's a wonderful way to make sure that you are not being overcharged before you even move in.*

I hope this is helpful to you and all other people hunting for housing in New York. Good luck in your search.

*Usual disclaimer -- I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your or any other Mefi member's lawyer. The above is not legal advice, nor does this post create a lawyer-client relationship between me and anybody who reads it.
posted by lassie at 6:01 AM on January 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

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