15 Things You Need To Know Before Renting An Apartment in NYC

Apt. listed at Compass © Christine Blackburn and Lior Barak
Apt. listed at Compass © Christine Blackburn and Lior Barak
Photo of Amber C. Snider
Home & Design Editor2 April 2017

You’ve finally made up your mind: you’re moving to New York City. Now you have to begin the dreaded process of apartment hunting. But where to start? There are hundreds of neighborhoods to choose from within the five famous boroughs, and we all know the process of finding the perfect (affordable) apartment can be daunting and nearly impossible. We feel you. But we’ve also got you covered.

The Culture Trip asked real estate experts for their best advice on renting an apartment in New York City. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Educate yourself on neighborhoods.

Your neighborhood will, for better or worse, dictate a lot of your social life. If you hate the local coffee shop, watering hole, or general vibes, you’ll probably be unhappy in the long run.

Experts Say…

If you’ve identified the perfect apartment, go back a few different times throughout the day. Go in the morning, midday and again in the evening. What is the street life like at 10/11pm at night? Pay close attention to the immediate surroundings and walk up and down the block and a few avenues. Is there a fire station one avenue away that you will hear in the middle of the night?”

Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

“Have an idea of where you would like to live (budget-pending). There may be subway lines you need to be by for work, or an area that you predominately like to socialize in. Either way it is important to have some knowledge of areas in which you would like to live.”

Kristen Merlino, Licensed Real Estate Agent at Douglas Elliman

📷 By Randy Lemoine | © Randy Lemoine, Creative Commons

2. Get your money right (but you knew that).

Make sure you financially qualify for the apartment. Have enough cash for the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and security deposit (which is anywhere from 1 month to 1.5 months’ rent). Get a certified check or money order for the security deposit, and be sure to make photocopies of everything.

Expert Says…

Most landlords look for 40-50 times the rent. If you are looking for a $3000/month apartment, then you must make $120,000 to qualify. If not, you must have a US guarantor that makes 80 times the rent. If you are sharing (roommates), then most landlords will combine the total.”

— Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

Penthouse at 55 W 17th Street; | © By Toll Brothers

3. Make sure you (and any new roommates) know the building’s rules

If you’re the primary leaseholder, whatever goes on in your apartment is your responsibility alone. Make sure your new roommates know all the rules of the building before they move in, whether or not they’re on the lease. If the landlord says “no cats,” and the new roomie shows up in a U-haul with three cats, they may be sleeping in the U-haul.

Expert Says…

“Just because the building is pet friendly, doesn’t mean they are friendly to your dog. Many landlords are cracking down on allowing pets in buildings. You may see there are all kinds of pets living in a building, but don’t believe because another tenant has a large dog or certain kind of breed, that they will accept your dog, and/or keep the same policy once you have moved into the place.”

Jessica Kaufman, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker at Citi Habitats

📷 By Eddy, Creative Commons | © Eddy, Creative Commons

4. Be clear and upfront with your potential roommates.

Discuss everything from your maximum rent and budget, to your living style, and even your dating habits – and expect the same from the other person. You don’t want to be blindsided after a few months and realize you moved in with a hoarder with a revolving bedroom door. Be sure you trust them, and even when you think you do, try to keep them at an arm’s length, at least for a little while. It is New York, after all.

Bottomline: make sure you can deal with each other’s quirks.
5. Meet the superintendent, landlord, and doorman…and ask questions.

What are the neighbors like? What’s the street noise like at night and during the day? Ask whether or not there have been bedbugs in the unit or building (they’re required to give you an honest answer). Ask how frequently the exterminator comes. Ask about the mailing/storage policies, and the protocol for maintenance and repair issues. These uncomfortable questions can save you a lot of angst.

Also, knowing your super on a personal level can make your life easier (or harder) depending on his disposition. You have a flood at 11pm on a Friday? You better have your super’s number on speed dial…

41st and Madison, | © Mark Morgan,

6. Have all your essential documentation ready.

Landlords may want proof of employment, the last 3 pay stubs, and a recent credit check.

Experts Say…

“Not only should you have your documents ready to go for when you find the perfect apartment, you should also have them scanned into one PDF file and ready to go at a moments notice via email. Perhaps even carry a hard set copy on you as well. If you are looking to rent with friends, make sure everyone has their paperwork ready to go OR get new friends!”

— Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

“Remember: Qualification + Documentation. New York City can be a very difficult place to find an apartment, and many New Yorkers are not fully prepared for the process when it’s time to move. The two major issues that I most often see are income qualification and readily available documentation. Here’s how you can make sure that you are ready for the process: if your income doesn’t qualify on its own, find a strong guarantor. Then gather all of your documents for yourself and your guarantor and save them in an accessible place, like your email. So when you find the perfect apartment, you won’t get beat out for not being first in line. Applying will be as easy as just hitting send.”

Chyann Sapp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Citi Habitats

446 Kent Avenue, Unit 2A, Listed by Compass | © Christine Blackburn and Lior Barak

7. Know your credit.

If your credit isn’t so great or you don’t make enough to qualify for the apartment, you’ll need a guarantor. In most cases, a guarantor must live in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT) and make at least 3x the yearly rent.

“Your credit is a huge part of your apartment search. Know where you stand and relay that to your broker prior to searching for apartments so that can determine what [apartments] you can apply for, and/or what landlords will work with you if your credit is less than desirable (anything under 700).”

Kristen Merlino, Licensed Real Estate Agent Douglas Elliman

📷 @insearchofperfect | © @insearchofperfect

8. …but don’t let poor credit limit your ability to rent.

While your credit is important, it’s not the only deciding factor in whether or not you can rent the apartment. There are other options, such as getting a guarantor or putting down an extra security deposit.

Expert Says…

“Just because you have poor or no credit, doesn’t mean it’s bad – it depends why the credit score is low to begin with. Perhaps you have moved recently to America and have just started building your credit? Or perhaps you just graduated college and your student loans aren’t due yet, as so the high balance has lowered your credit score? Not to be afraid…There are several ways around that:

  1. Have a guarantor. Someone (preferably a family member) who makes 80X the rent and has good credit to be the guarantor on the lease. [This person provides] security to the landlord that if you don’t or are unable to pay the rent, they will cover it. Also, a guarantor does not have to be an individual, but can also be a corporate guarantor (like your employer) or an institution like Insurent.
  2. You can always pay the year up front and/or extra security deposit.
  3. Documents like a landlord reference letter from your previous landlord and evidence of rental payments for a period of time can show evidence that you had no problem paying rent on time.”

Jessica Kaufman, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker at Citi Habitats

55 W 17th, Resident Lounge; | © Toll Brothers

9. Understand the broker’s fee (and no fee apartments)

Most apartments actually require a broker’s fee and the standard fee is about 15% of the yearly rent. Don’t let the broker charge you much more than that, or you’re most likely getting a bad deal. Also, don’t be fooled by the no fee rentals, as it’s most likely a scam.

Expert Says…

Don’t be so fooled by no fee. A lot of clients tell me they don’t want to pay the broker fee. I completely understand! It’s much easier to explain the fee breakdown to my clients after I’ve met with them and had a chance to build a rapport. The no fee listings are not actually no fee! The rent is substantially higher in no fee listings because the fee is built into your monthly rent to take care of the operating costs. How else do you think they pay the leasing agents?”

— Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

📷 By Binayak Dasgupta, Creative Commons | © Binayak Dasgupta, Creative Commons

10. Beware of internet scams. Go with your instincts.

You should never have to pay to see an apartment and never, ever offer or accept requests to wire money. These are normally “scam” apartments. Use your common sense, by all means. (This should go without saying, but I’ve talked to countless newcomers who somehow fell for this scam because they thought they found the “perfect” place).

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If the neighborhood feels unusually sketchy, it probably is. If your broker feels unusually sketchy, he/she probably is. Go with your gut.

📷 By Gregor Novak | © Gregor Novak, Creative Commons

11. Be prepared for the old “bait and switch.”

You’ll find a ton of online ads for apartments that don’t even exist, and upon arrival, you’ll be shown a completely different apartment than the one you scheduled to see. Simply walk away at that point and keep it moving.
12. Know when to search for a place.

Begin your apartment search about 1 month before you need to move. There’s no point in looking months ahead of time, unless your scouting the neighborhood, because chances are it will get snagged up by the end of the month. Apartments go fast, and if someone puts down a deposit before you, oh well! Your perfect apartment is out there somewhere, so just keeping looking.

Expert Says…

“If at all possible, try to get a lease that expires in winter. You will find the lowest priced rentals from November to February and rentals are 5-10% cheaper, while concessions such as free rent or owner paying the broker fee are substantially higher.”

— Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

📷 By Jim Pennucci, Creative Commons | © Jim Pennucci, Creative Commons

13. Don’t assume that you have moved and should receive your deposit back right away

“Landlords have a reasonable amount of time, typically 30-45 after the end of your tenancy to return your deposit. But be careful. A landlord will deduct money from your deposit for the huge holes you left in the wall from that flat screen that was installed and never closed up or the electric blue paint you never painted back to its original color. Make sure that you leave the apartment in the same condition you received the apartment—cleaned, painted no holes in the wall and all of the trash and personal items out of the apartment. Also, make sure to take pictures on move-in and move-out day for your records in case there is a dispute about the state of the apartment.”

Jessica Kaufman, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker at Citi Habitats

Instagram | © annika_pee

14. Make a list of your priorities.

You can’t have it all in every neighborhood, and sometimes you have to make your coveted lifestyle work within your budget. But what can’t you live without? Do you need a gym within walking distance?

Expert Says…

“Make a list of 5 most important things you need to have within 5 blocks of your new apartment – Gym, Coffee shop, Grocery Store, Wine bar, etc. Observe your current habits to ensure that in order for you to function, these are within close proximity. I can’t live without my starbucks fix every morning and my last apartment had 3 starbucks surrounding my building. WIN.”

— Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

100 Barrow ; | © Toll Brothers

15. Check out management’s online reviews

That’s right – do some old-school detective work and find out what other tenants (and previous tenants) have to say. It’s okay, you have permission to do some “online stalking” before you sign that lease.

Expert Says…

“Go on social media and ask your friends or your social circle for referrals on management companies. Are they responsive to tenant requests? Do your research before you apply to avoid being disappointed later.”

— Sabina Sangha, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Compass

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