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Apartment Hunting Tips
CitiHabitats, NYU's recommended real estate broker, has developed a downloadable booklet that you may also find helpful.
New York City Housing: An Overview
Finding affordable housing in New York City, especially in Manhattan, is a challenge. The major factors driving rent prices are location, apartment size, and building amenities. In exchange for a possibly longer commute, you may find more reasonable-priced apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. While New York apartments are typically classified as studios, junior one bedrooms, one bedrooms, junior two bedrooms, or two bedrooms, landlords and brokers will not necessarily use these classifications uniformly or consistently. We suggest that you see the size and configuration of an apartment, or at least a floor plan, in order to best evaluate whether it will work for you.
Types of Buildings
Buildings under six stories are not required to provide elevators. Walk-ups can include different types of buildings (brownstones, townhouses, larger multi-unit dwellings) with varied levels of security. Most walk-ups have an intercom and buzzer system for entry. Sometimes these buildings have laundry facilities on the premises.
A building equipped with an elevator may or may not have additional ammenities.
Elevator Building with Doorman or Guard:
Generally, the doorman is available to receive deliveries and packages. Some buildings, in lieu of doormen, have security guards, whose duties vary.
When to start your housing search
You may want to acquaint yourself with the New York City area two to three months prior to your desired move date. Familiarize yourself with factors such as neighborhoods, pricing, amenities, location of mass transit, and commuting time. If you do your research more than 60 days prior to moving to New York, keep in mind you are just getting an idea about what is available. Any specific apartments, viewed months in advance, may already be rented when you are looking to sign a lease. Often landlords begin looking for new tenants just 30 days before the current tenant moves out. Sixty days prior to moving is a good time to get in touch with realtors, property management companies, private owners, or tenants looking for roommates.
How to start your housing search
If you are under time constraints, brokers and agents are an effective way of finding an apartment. Brokers do the legwork, find the apartments, make appointments tailored to your schedule, and often prepare the necessary lease paperwork. A broker's fee is due at lease signing and is usually 12 to 15 percent of one year's rent. CitiHabitats, a licensed NYC rental agency, is an NYU-recommended broker for the medical center and discounts commissions for NYU affiliates. There is a direct link to CitiHabitats on the left side of this page.
On the other hand, many apartment buildings rent directly to the public and in such a cases a broker would not be necessary.
Consider the following when inspecting a living space:
- How accessible is it via transportation to/from the medical center?
- Proximity to services and stores
- Are the kitchen appliances clean and in working order?
- Does the heating/air conditioning operate efficiently?
- Is there enough closet space? Are there storage facilities in the building?
- How well does the plumbing work? Flush the toilet and turn on the shower.
- Do you see signs of pests? Is pest extermination a service provided by the building management?
- Are there enough electrical outlets for your needs? Will the building's wiring allow you to operate your appliances and electronics as needed, including an air conditioner if you need to install your own?
- Is there a parking garage? If so, what is the charge? Is there a waiting list?
- Is street parking available in the neighborhood?
- Is there a business nearby, such as a bar, that may have customers congregating outside?
- Where are the nearest laundry facilities? If they are on the property, are they clean?
- What is the procedure for requesting a repair after you move in?
- Is the smoke detector working? Once a detector is installed, it is the tenant's responsibility to replace the batteries?
- Are utilities included in the rent? Heat and water should be included.
- Are pets allowed? You may not own one, but will you mind if your neighbors do?
- What repair, painting, or cleaning work will be done before you move in? Agreements should be in writing.
- Does the landlord routinely re-key all locks once the apartment has been vacated? Where are the keys kept? Who has access to them?
- What kind of locks are on the doors and windows?
- You may wish to add your own locks, but give the landlord a key in case of an emergency. If you wish, give the landlord a copy of your key in a sealed, labeled, and dated envelope so that you can monitor its use. If you lose your keys, the landlord may charge for changing the house lock.
- A peep-hole is required by law. Is there an intercom, and how does it work?
- Are the building's front and rear doors kept locked?
- Do the vestibule and elevators have mirrors that allow you to see behind you?
- Stairwells and vestibules should also be well lit.You may want to revisit the building at night to check.
- If there are doormen or security guards, what are their hours and duties? For example, will they accept deliveries?
- Will you need to install security gates on any windows?
- In there a fire escape or internal stairway for emergency exit? (when you move in, your landlord is required by law to provide you with a building fire safety plan.)
- If you have a child under the age of 10 living with you or visiting you, you are obligated by law to inform your landlord in writing so that he can install window guards on your windows. These are to prevent children from falling out of windows, and are not the same as security gates. See Window Falls Prevention Program.
- If you want to install security gates on your windows, notify your landlord in advance. Make sure a licensed locksmith installs Fire Department-approved gates.
- In buildings built before 1978, landlords have obligations concerning the possible presence of lead paint hazards. To get more information click Lead Paint Safety.
What to bring on your apartment search
In order to rent an apartment, you may be asked to complete an application form by your prospective landlord. You may also be required to pay for credit reports and/or application fees. Bring the following items with you when renting an apartment:
- Letter from your current employer stating your salary; or better, a recent paystub
- First two pages of last year's tax return (black out your Social Security number)
- Most recent bank statement(s), bank account numbers and credit card numbers
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of previous landlords
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of personal and business references
- Photo I.D. (driver's license or passport)
- Social Security number – to provide on forms.
Many landlords require that the prospective tenant have an income equal to 40-45 times the monthly rent in annual salary (combined income is used for roommates). You and your roommate and/or guarantor will need to have all of your income verification paperwork readily available upon application for an apartment.
If you are a full-time student or cannot meet all the financial requirements, most landlords will require a lease co-signer or guarantor. A guarantor is an individual, typically a family member, who preferably lives nearby. Guarantors are asked to disclose detailed financial information and have a credit report run on them as part of the approval process and they will also need to submit the necessary documents.
Signing your lease
A lease is a contract outlining the responsibilities of the landlord and tenant. Provisions such as when your rent is due, if pets are allowed , who is responsible for maintenance, etc. should be clearly stated in the lease.
The type of lease you will be asked to sign can vary with the type of apartment and building in which it is located. Any changes to the standard lease are usually included in a separate lease rider. Leases are for one or two years, and generally begin on the 1st or the 15th of the month.
You may find an apartment that is subject to rent regulation, such as limits on the amount that owners can raise the rent for vacant apartments and renewals of existing leases. A tenant in a rent-regulated apartment has the right to renew the lease, and the right to sublease the apartment with the landlord's permission. For more information about rent-regulated apartments, visit the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR).
When the landlord approves your apartment application, be prepared to pay at least the first month's rent and the security deposit upon lease signing. Most landlords require that these be paid by separate certified checks or money orders. Most landlords will not accept personal checks or credit cards. An additional certified check or money order will be required at the time of lease signing to pay the broker's fee, if applicable.