Rental Guide

Search for an Apartment

Search for an apartment

The search for an apartment can take one day or one month.  However, if you begin your search too early, you will find it difficult to see many apartments with your move-in date. Apartments in rental buildings tend to not come on the market more than 30 days prior to the expiration of the current tenant’s lease, and many landlords will not list an apartment until the previous tenant has moved-out. The apartment is therefore available for immediate occupancy. The exception to this is rentals in co-op or condo buildings which tend to have a longer application process, as do properties in the suburbs. It is best to start looking for an apartment 25 to 45 days before you want to move in to a rental apartment, and at least 60 days before for a co-op or condo apartment or single family house.

The busiest months for searching for an apartment are May through September, due to increased inventory as more people tend to move during the summer, and more people are looking for an apartment as well.

As noted in Section 3, bring several copies of all of the required documents, as well as your checkbook. This way when you see an apartment you like you can immediately fill-out an application, pay the application fee, and have copies of all the required documentation. It speeds up the process and if you are the first person to fill-out an application for the apartment, your chances of getting the apartment are much higher. Timing is important and being ready helps to speed everything along.

When looking at apartments, it is best to have everyone who are part of the decision-making process with you – spouse, partner, roommate, parent, etc.

It is easiest to use a real estate broker when looking for an apartment, particularly if you do not already live in the area. Many landlords give the apartment listing to a broker, since the broker will conduct the credit check and confirm all of the information on a prospective tenant’s application. Therefore, paying a broker’s fee is sometimes unavoidable. However, it is possible to find an apartment without one, and there are a variety of ways of doing so (See section about real estate brokers below).

If possible, go apartment hunting during the week when most people are working.  If you see an apartment on Friday, it will probably not be available by Monday, since Saturday and Sunday are when most people look for apartments.  Also, the best apartments tend to be listed during the first two weeks of the month.

Visit the apartment and the neighborhood during the day and also at night, if possible. Some streets may be very busy during the day, but deserted at night, which may or may not feel comfortable.

If you have a pet, your choices might be limited to pet-friendly buildings. Many landlords in Manhattan do not allow dogs, while some only allow cats. Some landlords allow only one dog, others allow only dogs of 20 pounds or less, while others set breed restrictions.

The following links will provide some tips and information about not being scammed when searching for an apartment.  
https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20140521/sheepshead-bay/how-spot-apartment-rental-scam
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/daily-news-reporter-stumbles-phony-apartment-ad-article-1.1820428

NYS Division of Consumer Protection offers these tips and facts to help New Yorkers avoid being scammed:
•    Check if the real estate agent or apartment information vendor is licensed in New York   State. Visit https://appext20.do  and enter the name of the person or business, or call (518) 474-4429. All real estate professionals must be state-licensed, and must renew every two years.
•    Upfront payments or fees should never be paid before securing an apartment. Do not give in to pressure.
•    Non-refundable commission deposits are not permissible, according to the state. "An agent earns a commission when he or she assists the landlord and tenant in reaching an agreement on all of the terms of the apartment rental."
•    Consumers have the right to negotiate the amount of the commission to be paid to a broker or salesperson.
•    Check to ensure that the property you are exploring is legitimately available for rent.
•    Get receipts for any deposit or payment you make. If an agent collects fees owed to the landlord -- a deposit or the first month's rent -- the agent must separate that money from his or her own or put it into escrow until the transaction has been finalized.
•    Avoid cash payments. Credit cards and personal checks leave a paper trail.
•    Get copies of all documents, including checks, money orders, the application, receipts, and the lease.

Please refer to the Real Estate Terminology section on our website for definitions of the terminology used regarding apartments in New York. http://worklife.columbia.edu/real-estate-terminology

Types of Buildings
Brownstone; Elevator building; Loft; Doorman; Luxury Doorman; Prewar; Postwar; and Walk-up

Types of Apartments
Studio; Alcove studio; Convertible, Flexible or Junior 4; Loft; One-bedroom; Two-bedroom; and Classic

Types of Rental Apartments
In addition to buildings that consist solely of rental apartments, there are opportunities for you to rent apartments in co-operative and condominium buildings. The conditions attached to the leasing of these types of units are totally determined by the building and vary considerably.

Rental buildings:
A rental building is owned by a landlord, and all of the apartments are available for rent. Tenants are protected by New York State law, though tenants in buildings consisting of fewer than six units have less protection.

Condominiums (Condos):
The apartments are owned by individuals for residential or investment purposes. Within each condominium building’s guidelines, the owners are free to establish terms such as rent and length of lease. There will be application and move-in fees.

Cooperatives (Co-ops):
A co-op is structured as a corporation. Rather than owning the apartment outright, individuals own shares in a corporation. In many co-op buildings, there are strict restrictions about renting an apartment, the length of the lease (typically two years maximum), and whether the tenant is allowed to have a roommate. Prospective tenants must submit extensive documentation to the co-op board, as well as interviewing with them. The process can take one to two months. Also, the application and move-in fees can be quite steep.

Rent-regulated apartments and affordable housing
On New York City’s Housing and Preservation Department website there are descriptions of the different types of affordable and rent-regulated housing available in New York City.
http://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/categories/housing-development/tenant-resources/index.page

There is more information about affordable housing on the following link.
http://worklife.columbia.edu/affordable-housing

Rent-stabilized apartments:
There are not many rent-stabilized apartments that make it to the market these days, but if you think the apartment you want to rent, or have rented, should be rent-regulated or you want to confirm the status, you can:

  1. Get the rent history from the state. Contact the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal - http://www.nyshcr.org .
  2. If you need to approach your landlord, it might be helpful to get help from a housing lawyer or tenant advocate. See the link to affordable housing above.