Being a novice New Yorker, and my lease coming to an end, I was in search of an affordable apartment, in a decent neighborhood. I know, almost an impossible feat in NYC.
Being a novice New Yorker, and my lease coming to an end, I was in search of an affordable apartment, in a decent neighborhood. I know, almost an impossible feat in NYC. Well after sifting through countless Craiglist ads, I came across an apartment in a semi-respectable neighborhood with an adorable and welcoming ambiance, at an incredibly cheap rate. I was ecstatic, finally my hard work had paid off and I found the place I was going to live.
I decided I would pay my security deposit immediately so I wouldn’t lose the apartment. After I hesitantly handed *Tom my security deposit in the form of a money order (he initially told me he wouldn’t accept a personal check) he dangled my new keys and casually placed them in my hands, reassuring me that the following week I could start moving my stuff in and meet my new roommates.
I was skeptical at first because he told me the money order would be going to the leaseholder and he told me to make it out to him instead, but I figured if I have the keys to the place then this arrangement had to be legitimate. My paranoia diminished as I tested the keys to “make sure, they weren’t defective” and when they unlocked both doors I was more than pleased.
A satisfied grin never left my face as I politely thanked the young man and walked down the steps to my new building.
My positive attitude quickly faded when I received an unsettling email almost a week later from my “new roommates.” The girl in the email courteously informed that at the end of the month, she and the other tenant would be moving out, I clearly remember her using the phrase “I hope this doesn’t come as surprise to you.”
“What?" Shocked was more a like it! If they move out, how am I going to afford a three bedroom apartment all by myself?! I quickly emailed her with an urgent message to call me ASAP. From there I hastily threw on clothes, grabbed my metrocard and headed uptown to my supposed new residence. While walking, I called Tom repeatedly but of course there was no answer.
When I entered the apartment, I frantically shouted out “hello, is anyone here,” before I opened the doors to the three rooms. I opened Tom’s first and glanced around to a vacant bedroom, clearly he had moved out. I could feel tears brimming and my hand began to shake as I clenched onto my phone to call my mother. Gulping back sobs I opened the doors to the other two rooms, and they were also empty. I sat down on the couch, unsure of what to do, all I could think of was how naïve I had been trusting this guy before consulting with the other roommates first. In a daze I walk out of the apartment and begin my commute to work.
As soon as I get there,* Jessica, Tom’s roommate calls me. I tell her my situation and the security deposit I had already paid Tom. “What,” she gasped. “He made you pay a security deposit? That’s strange because none of us had to pay anything before moving in; the lease isn’t even in any of our names.”
Once again I could feel the nausea permeate throughout my body. Apparently the leaseholder was a girl whom none of them had ever met; quite unusual but not impossible, after all this is NYC.
Frantic and completely irrational by this point I ask her if she can give me any information in regards to Tom’s whereabouts. She knew nothing except that he recently got a new job at a “German restaurant on Chambers Street.” I hung up the phone immediately and quickly jumped to the computer. Being an avid Googler, I typed in a number of search requests before I came across a few possible restaurants that Tom could be working at. I was in luck, the first one I called was his employer and I actually got the chance to talk to him. Obviously surprised that my acute research skills led me to his new restaurant, I indignantly asked what the heck was going on. Muttering nonsensical phrases, he quickly told me his manager was present and he couldn’t talk, that he would call me when he got off work at four, and then he hung up.
That was all I needed to figure out what I was going to do next. I quickly hop-stopped the directions to his restaurant and immediately left work; this native Floridian was not getting swindled by some fraudulent New Yorker, not this time. When I walked into the small establishment, he recognized me immediately and I could sense his panic, he obviously thought I would create a screaming bout in his new place of employment and embarrass him in front of his coworkers.
Instead I casually waved and told him I would be waiting for him at the bar. He provided me with “his story” which was seedier than the one he initially gave me over the phone and told me that he was “definitely going to call me this week to inform me of the rental complications.” Hmm, yeah right.
But once again I apathetically shrugged my shoulders and condescendingly told him; his story is of no interest to me, that I’m simply here for my deposit. Leaving the restaurant, I suddenly felt much relief that the streets of NYC are almost always flooded with people, it was unlikely that my safety would be compromised with this many witnesses present. After he handed me my deposit, he nervously asked me if I wouldn’t tell his old roommates of his new whereabouts, apparently they were also victims of his attempted thievery.
I grabbed my cash, shook my head and walked away. Even though I was satisfied that my hound dog search engine capabilities paid off, I definitely learned valuable lessons throughout this fiasco that I feel obligated to share with other struggling New Yorkers, simply hoping to catch a break.
*Names have been changed to maintain my integrity, because I would like nothing more than to expose this person
• If you’re subleasing from a tenant and he asks for any type of monetary compensation, make sure you consult with the leaseholder first. If the leaseholder cannot be reached (as in my situation), move on with your search.
• Never, ever pay anything in cash. A personal check is your best bet. If they will only accept cash, don’t trust it. There are too many apartments waiting to be rented in NYC, this one’s not worth it.
• Always make sure you have something on paper. Sometimes this is difficult when subleasing but type up your own written agreement and make sure the person you’re renting from signs it.
• Communication is key. If you’re renting a room from someone, talk to the other roommates first to make sure of what their future plans are (by far my biggest mistake).
• Also, try to get as much information in regards to your renter’s future whereabouts. Even if it seems irrelevant and useless, you never know when you’re going to have to Google “German restaurants on Chambers Street.”
• Last but not least, never, ever trust a stranger. I know this last piece of advice may sound juvenile, but you’d be surprised at how often our better judgment goes out the window when you’re desperate for something. If you can, try to find an apartment with somebody you know, or at least a person that someone close to you trust. In other words be cautious of Craigslist.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.