Apartment for Rent With a New Unit Number Legal

Q: I live in a rental building on the Upper West Side and follow the building’s listings on StreetEasy. Like many buildings, it has had multiple listings that have been up for a long time. I now see that the brokers have changed the letters of the apartments so that they appear as new listings. For example, apartment 13D is now listed as 13P. (Our building only has apartments lettered A through K.) They have done this with a couple of apartments. Is this legal?

A: At a passing glance, changing the apartment numbers may seem like a trivial matter. What difference does it make if the apartment is 13P or 13D? The city does not regulate how landlords choose to number their apartments. But this is not about mailing addresses, it’s about truth in advertising. Altering an existing listing to make it look new can mislead renters, potentially undermining their ability to make informed decisions.

With rents falling around the city, particularly in Manhattan neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, renters are in a good position to negotiate a deal, particularly on units that aren’t moving. A renter may look at the length of time that an apartment has been listed and use the information as an argument to ask for a lower rent. But by renaming the apartment and christening it as new, the broker has hidden this key piece of information. This could also harm existing tenants who may track listings in their building ahead of negotiating a lease renewal. (If vacancies are up, you have a better argument for a rent cut.)

“This is something that every once in a while pops up,” said Casey Roberts, a StreetEasy spokeswoman, adding, “We don’t think it’s transparent for consumers.”

StreetEasy requires listings to include the full address and unit number. If you think the broker changed the address or if you think the address is simply wrong, go to the StreetEasy listing and use the “See a problem with this listing?” link so it can be reviewed. If StreetEasy cannot verify a listing, it may remove it without warning, or even suspend the account.

You could also take the issue to the state. The New York State Department licenses real estate brokers and regulates their conduct, requiring advertisements to be honest and accurate. If the change was intended to deceive the consumer, and not merely a typo, the state could take disciplinary action against the listing agent. To alert the State Department to your concerns, you can file a complaint online.

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