Friday, February 10, 2012

[Updated] HomeAway mystery host allegedly keeps deposit for E. 13th Street 'stylish alcove studio'

Updated, Noon: The tenant from South Africa wrote in to say, "My husband reported him to Interpol and emailed him, after which he repaid my deposit."

We're used to hearing bad things about 'old futon as DIY hotel' website Airbnb but not so much with its lesser known competition HomeAway.

From the EV Grieve inbox we are getting word from a resident of South Africa that there is possibly an illegal hotel room operating at 528 E. 13th Street ... in which the host may have walked off with the traveler's $200 deposit. Says her email:

"Good morning. I wonder if you could help me in anyway possible. I think I've been scammed, trying to rent an apartment listed on airbnb.com. The address 528 East 13th street, and investigating a bit, I came across your blog that reported on the collapse of part of the building.

I've paid a $200 deposit, and have since not heard from 'Andy Melton.' This is the 2nd time I've been scammed in 14 months trying to book an apartment in NYC, after having rented several different ones over the last 8 years.


The listing on Homeaway, not AirBnb as she mistakenly writes, was placed by someone who says he's a Property Manager at CitiStyle NYC, a relatively new company with offices at 444 Park Avenue. Melton previously emailed her info on the listing:

Thank you very much for your inquiry. This spacious and stylish alcove studio on 528 East 13th in the East Village is available for $150 a night plus a $70 cleaning fee for your desired dates. The total would be $1120. We don’t charge taxes or any other fees.
If interested in booking please let me know and I will forward you the rental agreement with the booking check in details.
Please feel free to let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.
All the best,
Andy Melton
CitiStyle NYC Property Manager

The HomeAway listing titled 'Stylish Alcove Studio in Great East Village Locale.' The interior shots of the apartment look too staged for a real person to be living there.


CitiStyle NYC has three listings — the East 13th Street unit and two in Midtown.

The area code listed for CitiStyle NYC is based in Northern Illinois...


This same number shows up on a Craigslist ad for a Wall Street "luxury rental" that someone named Blake is offering for "for $120 from February 14th to February 15th."

New York law prohibits stays of less than 30 days in all Class A buildings in the five boroughs. (We checked to see if 528 E. 13th St. was a Class A or B building, but there wasn't a Certificate of Occupancy of file with the DOB. See here.)

Anyway, perhaps someone at 528 E. 13th St. knows more about the apartment?

Thanks to new EV Grieve contributor Atomic for helping put together this post...

Updated July 6:
See response from Andy Melton of CitiStyle NYC in the comments...

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ugh let us know what u hear, I use this site as a cheaper alternative and would be so bummed if it's true.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there is one potential scammer who runs an ad on this site but that doesn't mean all or most of the listings are scams. I've had relatives and since then visiting friends rent apartments in the East Village/Soho/Flatiron and elsewhere outside of NYC through Homeaway (an excellent option especially when we had our baby and my parents came for an extended 2-week stay). You only hear about the random bad experiences, not the many good ones. Sits like airbnb and Homeaway do serve a purpose here.

Anonymous said...

I am a LL with some small bldgs, some in the EV. This happens quite often, and is RS tenants 1/2 the time. We have even had to deal with bedbugs from one of the apartments, which thankfully did not spread beyond.

Anonymous said...

Never pay a deposit up front. I rent out a room in my apartment for stays of a few months at a time and I always tell the renters they can pay me upon arrival. If you can't find someone willing to do it that way, then don't rent the room or apartment.

Anonymous said...

I am a resident of 528 E. 13th St. and I think the photos in the ad are of one of the two rear ground-floor apartments that were renovated after the chimney collapse last November. The ground floor apartments are the only apartments with front doors on that wall. I haven't seen the inside of the apartments but I have seen people going in and out of them. It doesn't seem like there are a lot of random people in the building but I'll be keeping a closer watch on who I see going in and out.

What is suspicious to me is that the address of the realtor we used to rent our apartment is at the same address of this guy Andy Melton at CitiStyle NYC. Our realtor was Alpha Properties at 444 Park Ave. Perhaps it's just a coincidence.

LIBERATION said...

CitiStyle isn't even 6 months old and already they have Interpol on their case? Ha!

Anonymous said...

This is a real apt. I saw this same blog and really got nervous about this. I e-mailed Andy at CitiStyle NYC and he alleviated my concerns. I arrived last week to this apt and everything on the pictures is accurate. Great location, great apt, this is the third summer I have stayed in NYC (for summer classes) using the homeaway system and so far so good. It is in the east village and I am near the L train and union square. The bed is super comfortable as well (past apts I have rented, not so much) the Tv is great too. It is on the bottom floor so not walking up stairs. So do not let this deter you from using citistyle nyc. I am not in anyway affiliated with citistyle.

Lindsay M.
Alexandria, VA

Andrew Melton said...

This is Andy Melton of CitiStyle NYC.

The claim that I walked away with this client's deposit is completey erroneous (as is evidenced by the update that the deposit was returned) What actually happened was I was taking a break from work this past January and regrettably hired a friend to cover for my duties for less then a week. He was terribly irresponsible in replying to two emails a client sent over a four day period asking for confirmation of a receipt of a Paypal damage deposit of $200 US Dollars for an upcoming stay at a CitiStyle NYC corporate apartment. She called my phone but I was on vacation and not checking my VM. When I returned 5 days later I saw a justifiably very angry email from this client accusing me of scamming her and stealing her damage deposit. I immediately apologized profusely and explained the mishap, refunded her deposit, and offered her to keep her reservations sans deposit. I never heard back from her and did not learn about this blog until months later.

Also I ask anyone reading this negative blog to logically assess how I would manage numerous apartments on sites such as Home Away, VRBO, Flipey, and other that are driven by customer reviews if had any recurring occurennce of not returning deposits in a timely and professional manner. Feel to email me at reservations@citistylenyc.com and
I will be happy to furnish you with listings for all the condos and corporate apartments I manage and you will see not one negative review on any of them.

Thank you for reading this and not jumping to inaccurate conclusions.

-Andy Melton
CitiStyle NYC

Blake Reed said...

I confirm that this error with the delay in confirmation of receiving this guest's money they sent for the deposit was my fault and not that of CitiStyle NYC's or Andy Melton directly. I was covering for Andy for a week or so this past February and I was running a little behind on replying to certain emails. I dropped the ball on replying to this guest's two emails asking for confirmation of receipt of the deposit. There was NO scam or intentional wrong-doing just my delay in responding to two emails. My apologies for the confusion.

Shilpa B said...

I can confirm that this agency as well as sister agency Manhattan CitiSuites are scamsters. My husband and I booked an apartment in Midtown through 9flats.com (this one: https://www.9flats.com/places/92723-apartment-new_york-rose_hl) recently. We were asked to pay $300 worth of deposit as well as the FULL PAYMENT UPFRONT. This, combined with the fact that they have a strict no-refund cancellation policy should have made us suspicious, but well, lesson learnt the hard way. We arrived at the apartment after being told to pick up keys from another address - which turned out to be a really shady storage office. We were shocked to see the condition of the apartment - filthy kitchen and bathroom, tons of junk around - either the owners' or previous occupants', filthy and torn bedding and towels, half the lights didn't work and to top it all there was a beeping fire alarm, because it needed a new battery. We contacted the property manager who was incredibly rude to us and refused to either acknowledge the problems or do anything about them. We moved out of the apartyment the same night and checked into a hotel because frankly the place was unsuitable for living. We then entered into protracted negotiations with 9flats.com, and in the process found out that this apartment, and in fact ALL the apartments let out by the agency/ies are ILLEGAL! Look at this: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g28953-i4-k5160985-Potential_scam_alert_FlipKey_339596_Vincent_Scott-New_York.html
This is what finally made 9flats refund our money, but clearly these guys are running a racket here. I'm posting this here just so others can avoid falling into the trap like we did. Such a shame that websites like FlipKey and 9flats.com continue to list these flats even though they are well aware that they are illegal!

Anonymous said...

I had booked an apartment of NYCitistyle for one week but we did not stay there because our party got too large to fit in. Nevertheless I would like to give my positive review to the NYC CitiStyle manager Mr. Melton, who answered promptly every question during the booking phase and returned us the deposit without delay. We appreciated that and we will remember this company for our next stay.