In New York City, rental apartment are usually listed 30 to 60 days prior to the date they become available and mostly these apartments are listed 30 days prior than 60 days so the window is small and there is no other listing with longer days than these ones. Although during the pandemic, the days were longer. Some landlords allow renters to sign leases within 60 to 90 days in advance before they move in but generally that is not the case.
In this article, we will equip you with information so you can know the right questions to ask and what to do before renting an apartment in New York City. This article includes tips for viewing apartments as well as all the right questions before paying for an apartment in NYC. Now let’s delve right in.
Tips for viewing apartments
Most people start searching for an apartment in NYC online, they use filters of listing website such as RentHop, StreetEast and Zillow to help narrow their search for apartments that meets their taste. But the best and the easiest way for this listing to come to you is to sign up with an app. This app will help you curate apartment’s listings in NYC and send them to your mobile device.
The pandemic has a positive outcome on real estate in New York because it made landlords and agent more adept at presenting apartments online. Prior this is, rental listings were terrible with bad photos and descriptions, this was not only in New York but in other states in America but the lock-down changed all that. Now you can get better photos, good description and a better of sense of the apartment before going out to see it.
Once you have selected a list of apartments you would be inspecting, it is better you make an appointment for showings as soon as possible and when booking an appointment, make sure you take the earliest slot on the day to see the apartment as early as possible even if it means getting off work rather than waiting for the weekend because the apartment may not still be available by the time you finish what you have to do. The reason why you will have to move as quickly as possible to secure the apartment is because good apartments go fast.
You can bring someone with you to be part of the decision making process like a roommate, partner or a parent.
Questions to ask before renting a New York City apartment
New York City apartments is not just about floors, walls and windows, there is a lot to it that you may not see especially if you have never rented an apartment in New York before. This is the reason why you need to be observant and also ask the right questions to avoid unpleasant surprises later. You have to evaluate every potential apartment with the eye of an experienced renter so you don’t make a mistake by taking up an apartment you were not supposed to in the first place because you didn’t get enough information or see what you were supposed to see.
Is it a rent-stabilized apartment?
For apartments that are rent stabilized, the landlord can only increase the rent by a reasonable percentage set by the city each year and lease renewals are automatic except in very unusual circumstances. Rents on older rent-stabilized apartments are most of the time much lower than the market rate so even though almost half of rental apartments in New York City are rent-stabilized, tenant that are fortunate enough to live in any of them tend to hardly move out.
Landlords mostly do not advertise that their apartment is rent-stabilized and some of them even omit the legally required lease rider that says a unit is rent-stabilized so you need to equip yourself with enough information so you can easily tell.
How noisy is the apartment?
This is a very important question to ask and you do not need to take their work for it. You can come back around midnight to see for yourself by observing if there is any rooftop bar or nightclubs around that can disturb your peace and quiet. Although street noise can be mitigated by soundproofing your windows so it should not necessarily give you a reason to disqualify an apartment you love. You can also ask your neighbors if there is any noise problem inside and outside the building. This way you are getting direct information from someone living in the area other than just the landlord or agent who might be eager to just lease the apartment.
Will you be paying extra for amenities?
If there are other amenities in the building such as gym, roof deck, bike spaces etc. Confirm if access to these amenities will result to additional fee or if they are included in the lease.
Does it have enough elevators?
This is a vital question to ask. Four elevators for 49 stories will add up to a lot of cumulative gridlock. If you still choose to go ahead please it is important to check if your mobile phone gets network reception inside the elevator. If the building has only one elevator then make sure you can tolerate taking the stairs sometimes when it’s unavailable.
If you are subletting a condo or cooperative, are you entitled to everything that owners are?
Renting both cooperatives and condos is a bit cheaper because of the stressful approval process but it is important to find out if renters are not allowed to have pets or not included from any of the building amenities such as gyms, bike space, roof decks and so on.
Ensure your application has been approved by the board (not only the owner) because it if has not been approved by the board you can be ejected after you have moved in. Also be mindful that most cooperatives only allow sublets of one to two years and after that you will need to move out.
Is the building children-friendly?
You may not want to be in a building with lots of children. Real estate agents cannot discuss whether or not a building is family friendly because of laws against discrimination. To know these building, there are some key things to look out for and must do; for example, lots of family sized apartments like two bedroom upwards may have lots of small bikes in the bike room or a well-tended playroom which usually go along with kids, you have to look out for them. You can still ask the doorman or better still park outside the building in the morning when it’s time for school or in the afternoon after school to watch if you would see school children.
What is the policy on temporary walls?
If you are searching for an apartment in New York to subdivide and share whether with roommates, child or parent etc., it is important you find out whether the building allows such. Do not just take the words of the broker, verify what they say.
What is the bed bug history of the apartment and building?
To save yourself some last minute drama and headache, this is a very vital question to ask before you sign the lease. Although when you sign the lease you are legally entitled to written disclosure of the apartment and building’s bed bug history but ask about bed bug history of the apartment before you sign or move in. And do not just take their word for it; put the building’s address on the Bed Bug Registry and on the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development and search for signs of ongoing infestation and poor management to be sure the building is not listed there.
How much control do you have over cooling and heating facilities?
It is important to find out if the building depends on central heat and air conditioning and the time of the year the system switches from heat to air conditioning or air conditioning to heat. For instance, there are some apartments with large south facing windows and you may be in for some terrible shoulder season as you wait for the switch. If you are in a much older building and you need to install a window unit please confirm if the electricity capacity is enough to run the number of window units you intend to install.
Does the apartment get cell phone reception?
If you do not intend to get a landline phone, please check the apartment cell phone reception. This is important to avoid unpleasant surprises when you have moved in.
What are the restaurants delivery rules?
To avoid unpleasant surprises, find out the restaurants that deliver food to your potential apartment. To do this, enter your building’s address into restaurant-delivery website. Also check the delivery options if it will be coming to you or you will have to meet it downstairs.
Will your furniture fit in the elevator hallway and doorway?
Find out if the doorway to your potential apartment is wide enough to allow your furniture easy passage. If it is within 29”-30” that means you will need to call Dr. Sofa to disassemble your furniture so it can pass through your door.
Are pets allowed?
For lovers of pets not all buildings permit dogs, cats etc and even if they do it may vary and you might need to pay a fee. Big dogs and breeds with aggressive or noisy reputations are often discriminated against. There may be special rules such as carrying your pet through the lobby or you may need to take the service elevator.
Who pays for the utilities?
Make sure you find out who pays for internet, electric, cable and gas.
Minimum income to rent an apartment in NYC
New York City landlords don’t just lease their apartment to whoever that can afford it. Most of these landlords will require that your yearly income or that of you and your roommates is at least 40 to 45 times the monthly rent. For instance, to rent an apartment of $2,000 or $3,000 per month, your annual salary will need to be around $80,000 or $120,000 respectively. Your credit report will also be reviewed because most NYC landlords will be concerned if your score is under 700 (out of 850) and if you have a history of late payments, judgments or bankruptcies you may not qualify for an apartment without a guarantor or cosigner.
If you do not meet salary threshold (40x rent rule) and you also cannot find a guarantor, one of the ways to get around it is to find a condo owner or small mom-and-pop landlord that may be flexible than large leasing company. And all of these contribute to making New York living expenses high.
If you are an international employee, international student, US student, self-employed, retired, non-employed with assets, and you do not earn an annual income of at least 40 to 45 times the monthly rent, you will need a guarantor, someone who earns at least 80 times the monthly rent and lives in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
Negotiating the rent & getting rental concessions
Landlords in New York City are not open to negotiating a lower rent. In some part of the city, there are bidding wars over desirable apartments, renters offering to pay more than what the landlord is asking for.
Instead of outright rent reduction, some landlord may offer a concession, giving the renter one or two months of free rent but mostly, this happens when the market is slow or when they are trying to lease up a new building all at once.
There are exceptions, especially when the apartments are hard to rent for some reason, landlords are more likely to offer generous concessions and are more open to rent negotiations. In times like this make the most out of it, and ask for some kind deal.
From November to March, that is the slowest part of New York City’s rental cycle and landlords are extremely flexible. During these times move in as soon as possible and ask for a lease of 15 or 16 months instead of the usual 12 months, enabling the landlord to re-list the apartment during the busy summer months.
If you do not intend to move out soon, asking for a longer lease will help lock in your rent and avoid an increase from coming up quickly.
How to find a lease guarantor
You need a guarantor for your lease if you do not meet the landlord’s financial or employment requirements. A guarantor is someone who signs a contract that makes them liable if you default on your lease. Because of this, guarantors are mostly close family members, but there are also institutional guarantors that will charge you a fee to guarantee your lease. If you use a personal guarantor most NYC landlords will only accept guarantors that live in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut and who have an annual salary of at least 80 times the monthly rent of the apartment you want to rent.
Your guarantor will be required to submit the same document you were asked to submit by the landlord such as bank statement, tax return and so on. Most landlords will only accept one guarantor even though you have roommates so you need to get someone who would not mind guaranteeing the lease for everyone
How to fill out a rental application, and questions to ask about your lease before you sign it
As soon as you find an apartment you like, you need to act as quickly as possible because someone else might just snap it right from you. This means you should be ready and fill out an application on the spot. To be able to do this, you need to have all the right document to support your application, get them ready before you go in search of your apartment. Your supporting document include the following
NYC apartment supporting document
• Photo ID.
• Last two pay stubs.
• Last three months of bank statements.
• Last two years of tax returns.
• Letter of employment to employer with letterhead stating job title, length of employment, salary and expected bonus; but if self-employed, a letter from your CPA.
• Proof of any other funds (e.g. bonds, stocks, etc.).
• Previous landlord reference letter if applicable; and contact information for former landlords
• Business or personal reference letters (sometimes required by cooperatives and a bonus if you apply for a rental).
• If you are using a guarantor, most of the above will equally be needed from your guarantor.
Under New York State’s 2019 landmark rent reforms laws, landlord can charge a maximum of $20 per prospective tenant so you will need to pay an application and credit check fee but if you supply a copy of your own credit report within the last 30 days, your landlord may waive the fee.
If you are approved, you will need to pay the first month’s rent, broker’s fee, security deposit fee by certified check from a New York bank. The initial funds which include the application fee, first month’s rent, security deposit, broker’s fee, you will need hard funds in a way of a certified check or an online credit card payment. No personal checks.
The landlord will expect you to sign the lease after your application is approved and deliver the certified checks within the shortest possible time (at least 48hrs)
Things to look for in your lease
• Is there an option to renew, if there is, how far in advance do you have to claim your option to renew? How will the rent increase be figured, is it by a fixed dollar amount, cost of living increases or a percentage of the first year’s rent?
• If you are getting one or two rent as a rental concession, is the free month at the beginning or end of your lease? What will happen if you need to break your lease in NYC?
• Is there a limit on the number of air conditioning units you may have?
• What is the sublet policy?
• Are any utilities included in the rent?
• Is the use of outdoor space specifically mentioned in the lease?
• Are pets allowed?
• What does the lease say about the landlord’s right to show the apartment to tenants, and how many days before the end of the lease can the landlord start showing the apartment to prospective tenant? Are there restrictions on time or days of week?