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High-end real estate agents allegedly charge a $2,850 fee for apartments they target for low-income buyers

Manny Castro’s mother bought him an apartment in a new rental complex in northwest Miami. The first time she had spotted one in the area, he and his twin brother looked at one nearby and thought, this is what he’s always wanted.

Their mother, according to her son, didn’t know that the complex was explicitly marketed as “affordable.” She didn’t even know the broker, who was from a nearby condominium complex, was charging an additional $2,850 as an “exclusive fee.”

The apartment was for the same amount, a price below what the two would typically pay in neighboring areas, where rent ranges from $950 to $1,200. Mr. Castro, a physician, said his mother, Agnes “Inez” Torres, was hurt and confused by the request. So was the broker, a lawyer from the condominium complex, whom she approached after learning about the fee. He was also furious, she said.

But the tension was far from over.

Without a lease or deposit and with roughly one month to go before its lease began, Mr. Castro told his mother he was going to wait to enter into the agreement. It cost about $26,000, less than half the initial asking price, to buy the six-bedroom, 4½-bathroom unit.

Mr. Castro stayed put. And his mother says the condominium’s owner, Crest Manor, is showing it off to prospective renters, charging a steep markup. At a recent open house at her condominium, according to Mr. Castro, a $1,800 fee was requested for a fully furnished studio.

Crest Manor, which did not respond to requests for comment, has in recent weeks passed off the unit to other real estate brokers — who have the same view of the apartment as Mr. Castro — at significantly higher prices, said Ms. Torres, 57. At one point last month, she said, a 3-bedroom, 3½-bathroom rental unit in the complex had been rented for nearly $9,500, with a broker even asking $9,750 for a 2-bedroom, 2½-bathroom for the same unit.

The lawyer was furious, she said, because the request was driven by the profit he wants to make through the fee he charged his previous client.

“She was so angry,” said Ms. Torres. “She said, ‘I feel so violated.’ ”

She had one response: Hire a lawyer.

Ms. Torres agreed to join a class-action lawsuit filed last month by the Miami-based firm Holland & Knight on behalf of purchasers at Crest Manor, which the firm says includes a total of 18 condos, several of which are priced more than $1 million each.

“Once we look at the records we’ll determine what remedies we can provide,” said Ricky Waters, one of Ms. Torres’ attorneys. “I think the most important remedies would be the removal of the pricing from all of these listings, and the restitution they should be holding accountable.”

The lawsuit against Crest Manor seeks to remove the pricing and other marketing. As for the $2,850 fee, Mr. Castro’s mother and his attorneys are exploring whether the building owners could be forced to refund the money as a matter of law.

Either way, he said he expects the cost to go up after he vacates his apartment in June. If his mother and her attorneys cannot wrest the money back, he said, they will consider doing so on his behalf.

“It’s also a moral thing,” he said. “I mean, my mother never asked for it. She paid cash for the house. But I really didn’t expect my mother to get taken advantage of.”