It is that time of year again! Spring is here and the rental market is heating up. As New Yorkers reluctantly re-enter the market, and tens of thousands of new hires, relos, students, etc. start their apartment search, a refresher on Good Faith Deposits can’t hurt! I originally posted this article 4 years ago. Unfortunately, the same deceptive practices exist and therefore the following information is valuable and relevant…

I am often asked by clients about “good faith deposits” and whether they should be skeptical about providing a deposit when submitting an application for an apartment. The answer is, it depends. If the deposit is going to the landlord, that is likely above board. However, if the deposit is being paid to the broker, your skepticism is well founded and you should be prepared to ask MANY questions. I will prepare you for both scenarios…

Landlord requires a “Good Faith Deposit”: In fact, there are landlords both large and small which ask for a “good faith deposit” in order to take an apartment “off the market” for a period of time (48 to 72 hours typically) while they work to approve an application for rent. A landlord’s reasoning behind requiring a deposit is to ensure you are serious and committed to moving forward if approved so they don’t pass on another (more serious) applicant. Deposits range from a fixed dollar amount of a few hundred dollars ($500, $1000, etc.) to first month’s rent and/or a one month security deposit. The important questions to ask your broker are, “What are the details of the deposit?” and “What are the risks/obligations?”

Typically any deposit is contingent upon approval. If for some reason you are not approved (insufficient income, credit issues, etc.), you are entitled to receive your deposit back (less application fees which are non-refundable and usually $75-150/applicant). In fact, even if you are “conditionally approved” (i.e., the landlord asks for extra security or upfront rent as a new condition of approval) and do not take the apartment because of the new condition(s), you should receive your deposit back in full. The bottom line is that you should be told the terms of the “good faith deposit” in advance, so you understand your risk and potential obligation.

Broker requires a “Good Faith Deposit”: It is NOT common for a broker to receive funds on behalf of a landlord. Think about it, if a landlord wants a deposit in “good faith”, why would they let the broker hold it rather than collect it in their name?! Prepare to ask a lot of questions if your broker asks you for money in advance of the lease signing (other than an application fee of $75-150/applicant). First question to consider, “Who is collecting and holding your deposit?”

I have heard story after story from clients about swiping their credit card in the broker’s office or handing over cash to a brokerage firm for a deposit. They were told that the landlord asks for a deposit, however, the money goes straight to the brokerage firm. Although there are special circumstances (in rare cases), this is likely a SCAM! Is the landlord really requiring the deposit? Is the brokerage firm taking your money and immediately handing a check to the landlord on your behalf? If so, why not cut out the middleperson and give your deposit straight to the landlord? All good questions. In my many years in real estate, I have had one landlord ask me to hold money in the form of a deposit on their behalf. One. Because of how this could be perceived by our clients, I politely asked this landlord if they would allow us to hold the deposit in the form of a check in the landlord’s name rather than in ours or in cash. Of course, they said yes.

So, why do certain brokerage firms ask for a deposit? Let’s play out a scenario to show how this SCAM works. You see a $3000/mo. apartment on Friday and love it. Your broker escorts you back to their office and asks you to fill out applications and informs you there is a one month “good faith deposit” to hold the apartment. You really want the apartment and don’t want to lose it (after all, the price seems too good to be true), so you swipe your credit card in the amount of one month’s rent. $3000 to the brokerage firm. Low and behold, the next day the broker tells you either 1) that the apartment already has an application on it and therefore your application cannot be submitted or 2) the landlord decided to take another application instead of yours. However, your $3000 is still in the hands of the brokerage firm. They then explain that your $3000 will be credited toward any apartment that you choose moving forward. Now they have you. You are $3000 in with the brokerage firm and essentially forced to use them or walk away from a large sum of money. The question to ask is, “Did that apartment ever exist in the first place?” Who is to know? Even if you wanted to make that claim, how would you prove it? That is the brilliance of the SCAM. Of course, the market moves quickly in NYC and there is no guarantee that you will be the first to apply or the one who ultimately “gets” the apartment; that is true. But why would you further complicate an already frustrating experience by giving money to a broker without knowing exactly where it is going?

So, what can you do to avoid this SCAM? First, ask every broker you speak to AT THE ONSET, what their policy is with deposits. Ask them if deposits are made in the LANDLORD’S name or given directly to the LANDLORD. If you are not satisfied with their answer, do NOT work with them. No apartment is that good. Second, if they do ask for a deposit, ask them what happens if you don’t get the apartment. Do you get it back immediately? Can they put that in writing immediately? If not, run (don’t walk) away from that broker. They should be able to give you this information and have a duty to do so as your agent. Third (and most important), trust your gut! Of the many clients I’ve helped out of these situations, all of them sensed something wasn’t right. They should have trusted their instincts.

The good news is, with a little pushback and a threat or two about a negative online review or BBB complaint, you WILL get your money back. That said, why put yourself in that position. Work with someone you trust! You will have a much more positive experience and we all have access to the same stuff anyway!

Feel free to email me any time at with questions on this or my upcoming blogs. I am honored to help!

Thank you for reading and happy apartment hunting!




  1. Reblogged this on Unreal Estate and commented:

    Welcome to 2019! I have no doubt this post will be as relevant tomorrow as is was last year. I get phone calls and emails on a regular basis from readers who come across this post – and I happily address each one!!! Thanks for reading and here is to a wonderful and successful 2019!


  2. Hi Eirik,

    Thank you for your clear and concise article! I wanted to ask your opinion about an experience I had with a broker last year in May. My wife and I were forced to move out of our apartment (long story) and were desperately looking for a new place that is not too far from where we live. When we found this “NO FEE” listing on StreetEasy, we contacted the broker and paid a good faith deposit ($1,000) and the application fee. We were told that as long as our credit and background checks come clean we have the apartment because we were the first to apply and pay the deposit. After a few days of anxious waiting, I receive a call from the broker’s office telling me a story about how the landlord wants to give the apartment to an existing tenant in the building who wants to move into this newly renovated apartment we wanted to move in and paid a deposit for! They said if we pay another $1,000 (the rent is $2,000) we can have the apartment. We were upset because we knew it was just a game they were playing, but we were also desperate, so ended up paying $2,000 broker’s fee for a NO FEE listed apartment. I have printouts, etc. from the original StreetEasy ad.

    I am conflicted as to whether I should file a complaint about the broker and or the firm or continue to stay quiet and consider this a lesson learned?

    What would you recommend?



    1. This sounds to me like something you should pursue. I would be happy to chat further, get the details and offer you advice on how to pursue this in order to get your money back. Thanks for reading and please feel free to email me at with your phone number so I can call you to discuss further.



    2. Thank you very much for the comment, kind words and the question! This sounds very strange and based on what you’ve written does not at all seem above board or reasonable. I would be happy to chat with you further about it and get a few more details so I can give you some advice on how to proceed. Please feel free to email me at e thank you very much for the comment and the question! This sounds very strange and based on what you’ve written does not at all seem above board or reasonable. I would be happy to chat with you further about it and get a few more details so I can give you some advice on how to proceed. Please feel free to email me at at your convenience and I look forward to hearing from you. Best Wishes, Eirik


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