Phony website falsely claims REBNY cancels rent

Tenant advocates deny involvement

The person behind the prank website is still anonymous. (Getty)
The person behind the prank website is still anonymous. (Getty)

UPDATED, Mar. 1 2021, 1:15 p.m.: April Fool’s Day came a month early for New York’s biggest real estate industry group and a City Council member, who were targeted by a “cancel rent” cyber prank.

A bogus website mimicking that of the Real Estate Board of New York went live on Monday, claiming that the trade association had canceled rent at its members’ properties. The fake was immediately seized upon and disseminated by a tenant group who believed it to be real.

The news release quoted a REBNY senior vice president who does not exist, as well as a nonexistent chief of staff for Crown Heights City Council member Robert Cornegy, Jr. Cornegy chairs the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings. Cornegy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The pranksters, responding to an inquiry from the email listed on the fake page, declined to be identified. In a statement, they said they were “one more instance of the centuries of inextinguishable resistance, rebellion, and revolt” that has been a constant in New York’s history.

They also said they posted the website because they believed the “property lobby” would never propose such a policy. They added that REBNY’s business is “structurally dependent on not only houselessness, but police violence, environmental degradation” as well as the genocide of people of color, which they said takes the form of gentrification.

The website’s registration shows it was created last week by someone in New York using the web hosting service GoDaddy. The registration information did not reveal the identity of the prankster. The site was still live as of midday Monday.

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Sam Spokony, a spokesperson for REBNY, said the phony release does not help to advance policy discussions to help renters and landlords.

“This is a serious public policy issue in a very challenging environment,” said Spokony. “We are focused on working with elected officials and other stakeholders on real solutions to address the urgent needs of residential and commercial tenants and owners.”

Tenant advocates were also in the dark about who was behind the prank.

Housing Justice for All, the state’s leading tenant advocacy coalition, initially believed the website was real, and posted a screenshot of the fake site on its Twitter account.
Subsequent to The Real Deal’s inquiry about it, the organization deleted the tweet.

Cea Weaver, a frequent antagonist of the real estate industry, denied any knowledge of the website, but called it “amazing.”

“I wish I knew” who made the website, Weaver said. “I would give them my job.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from the creator of the fake REBNY website.