Did you sign a Tenants agency agreement?
I just had a client who hired me via a Tenants agency agreement because he was looking for something under $1,000 in Hoboken. He was willing to rent a room in someone's house but didn't know anyone in town. By signing the agreement, I was willing to go out to my newsletter subscriber base and all those that I know who have larger units/homes in town and asked if they could rent him a room even if it were short term. I would not fatigue my list without an agreement upfront on my commission. After all, it's not like these folks were offering a place to rent and could not be expected to pay a commission when they weren't even advertising it. Whenever I solicit my base there are always a chance they could opt out. Losing people on my list, prevents me from engaging them on something else.
I found him a room in someone else's home twice in less than one year and it worked out really well for him. He just graduated and was working long hours in the city but really could not afford more than $1000. He established some savings and figure out how much overtime he could count on.
He signed a Tenant's agency agreement again but this time he was looking for an apartment to rent on a regular lease for 12 months less than $1300. In Hoboken that's rare. I showed him something very tiny in the back for 1297 that I found through my network ie not listed and got the representing agent to agree to give me have of one month's fee so my client only had to pay one month total. My client didn't like it. He thought the place was too small. I showed him other units available in JC Heights - beautiful apartment but he understood after seeing the area why Hoboken demands the rents that it does.
I eventually found him something on Craig's List that was not offering a commission to cooperating brokers but required a fee of one month to the listing agent.
Because we had a valid Tenant's agent agreement, if he wanted the apartment, he had to pay me and the agent who represented the landlords.
My fee was justified not just because we had a binding agreement but IMO I earned it because I helped him understand the market by taking him to those other places. I had worked with him before and he knew he could trust me. I was also going to make sure he got a fair deal in his lease.
The landlord wanted to use his own lease. But when I told them that as a Tenant's agent, I had a responsibility to review the lease for my client as his representative, they allowed me to use the standard NJAR lease. What was in their lease that they did not want me or my client to see??
I feel that I added value. I showed him a number of properties in various areas and helped him to understand the differences in neighborhoods. I also helped to make sure he had a fair agreement with the landlord.
My client paid two fees - one to me and one to the listing agent that did total more than one months rent but I feel that my client got the help that he needed.
It is legal for a Tenant to pay two fees to two different agents.
What's not legal is the same agent earning two commissions for the same sale. For example, if the owner is offering a commission to cooperating brokers and a cooperating broker has a buyer's agency agreement with a client that he/she brings to that transaction, he has to accept one offer of commission or the other. Either he is paid by the owner or he is paid under the buyer's agency agreement but he cannot accept both. The higher of the two pay outs is what he is allowed to take.
Hope that helps