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15 things you need to do BEFORE renting an apartment in NYC.

Updated: Mar 7

There are so many things to consider before renting an apartment in NYC that it can feel overwhelming. That’s why we put together this helpful list of 15 things to do before renting an apartment.

A list of the most important things you need to do before renting an apartment in NYC.

1. Make a list of your priorities

As much as it would be nice, you unfortunately can’t have it all. If you simplify it to price, location and quality, a general rule of thumb in NYC is that you get to only pick two. So it’s extremely helpful to sit down and make a list of what your priorities are before you begin the search.

Some things to consider are:

  1. Apartment size

  2. How many bedrooms, how many square feet?

  3. Amenities

  4. Doorman, gym, washer and dryer in unit?

  5. Location

  6. Neighborhood, commute distance, etc.

  7. Proximity - what are the most important things for you to have within a five block radius?

  8. Gym, coffee, grocery, liquor store, subway, laundry, park stop etc.

2. Check to make sure that the listed rent matches the apartment

It can be difficult to find out what the "right" rent is for a given apartment. You can try to browse on sites like Zillow or StreetEasy, but these show listing information and as a result are not always the most accurate reflections of what renters actually pay for rent.

The best way to check would be by using RentPeek. Simply enter your apartment details, and find out what renters are actually paying for apartments like yours.

3. Financial qualifications

One of the most important parts of the apartment search is making sure you qualify for the apartment. Most landlords will require your salary be between 40 and 50 times the monthly rent. So for example if you are looking at an apartment that costs $2,500/mo. you would need to show a salary of at least $100,000 to qualify.

If you do not qualify, you can use a guarantor but the guarantor must be able to show 80 times the monthly rent! For that same $2,500 apartment, the guarantor would need a salary of $200,000.

Another alternative is to rent with roommates. Most landlords will combine the salaries of all roommates and count that towards the 40x requirement. However, some landlords will require 80x for roommates. It’s usually better to assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised rather than to get your heart set on an amazing apartment and find out last minute you don’t qualify.

4. Know your credit score

Landlords typically will look for a credit score of above 700. Having a score below 700 will not prevent you from getting an apartment, but it could make it more difficult. Fortunately, there are free services like Experian Boost that can help raise your credit score quickly.

10 things you need to  know before renting an apartment in NYC

5. Have all of your required documentation ready to go

There is a pretty large list of documents and paperwork you need to have in order to sign a lease. Brokers and agents are inclined to work with tenants who are well prepared and able to move quickly. In order to give yourself the best chance of getting that apartment, you should aim to have the following documents prepared and ready:

  1. Employment verification letter

  2. Paystubs

  3. Bank statements

  4. Federal tax return (W2 or 1099)

  5. Two forms of photo ID

  6. Application fee

  7. Note: as per the Statewide Housing Security and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, apartment application fees cannot exceed $20.

  8. Recommendation letter from previous landlord

  9. Statement of balance of savings accounts

  10. Copy of social security card

We cover each of these in more detail in our post, Documents you need before starting your apartment search.

6. Check out the neighborhood

Each neighborhood in NYC has it’s own distinct feel to it. If you are a recent graduate, you may want to live in an area with more young people and fun bars and restaurants. If you are a family with a 2 year old, you are probably looking for something completely different.

Make sure you stop by the apartment building at different times of the day to get a sense for what the neighborhood vibe is. Is it super noisy on weeknights? Is there a fire department right on the corner where trucks come and go with their sirens on? Is the street well lit at night? These are things you want to find out before you sign that 2 year lease.

One possible way to find out more about the building and the neighborhood is to ask the doorman or building superintendent. They usually will give you a very honest answer.

7. Proximity to public transportation

80% of people who work in NYC commute in from one of the five boroughs, so close access to public transportation is a must-have for most New Yorkers. Check on Google Maps to see how close the nearest subway or bus station is. You should also confirm that the suggested route is the subway/bus route that works best for your commute.

8. Check the building's rules

Make sure you know and understand any rules that the building might have. The most common rule is regarding tenant's pets. Many apartments allow only certain breeds and some apartments ban pets outright. Some apartments may have certain restrictions in place around guest visits. This will vary from building to building, so it's worth checking upfront so you aren't surprised come move in day.

7 things you need to know before renting an NYC apartment

9. Make sure you understand the broker's fee

One of the most frustrating parts of renting in NYC is the much dreaded broker’s fee. The good news is that many large apartment buildings have their own brokers and therefore don’t charge a fee. Unfortunately many apartments still do require a brokers fee.

The most typical brokers fee is one months rent but it can also be 10-15% of the annual rent. So for a $2,500/mo. apartment, the brokers fee could be $2,500, $3,000 or up to $4,500 depending on the structure.

If you are trying to avoid paying a brokers fee, you are better off looking at larger rental buildings.

10. Be wary of scam listings

Unfortunately, there are some shady actors in the NYC real estate space. As a result, you may encounter scam listings. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

There are some things that should always be a red flag. For example, you should never be asked to send a deposit just to view an apartment. Also, except for some crazy situations, you should never expect to sign a lease without viewing the apartment.

Some of the more common scams are through manipulated listings. A broker might list an amazing apartment for a price that seems too good to be true. Then when you reach out, they say something along the lines of “oh it was just rented but we have another unit just like it”. This is a classic bait and switch and is an indication that this specific broker/agent is not operating in good faith.

11. Check for any reports of rats or other pests

Gross, we know. But you’ll thank us for checking first. One place to check is NYC’s RIP – Rat Information Portal. No, we’re not kidding.

There is also the Bedbug portal where you can check to make sure your building does not have a recent history of bedbugs.

12. Check to see if Renter's insurance is required

Some landlords might require that the tenant have an active renter’s insurance policy. Fortunately, renter’s insurance is typically affordable and all major carriers have renter’s policies. There are even some newer companies like Lemonade Insurance that specialize in providing renter’s insurance policies.

Check to make sure there is no construction planned on your apartment building

13. Be aware of any planned construction

So you found the apartment of your dreams. You’re all moved and you’ve finally finished unpacking. A few weeks go by and you’re woken up by the sound of a jackhammer outside your window and you realize your building has decided to fix it’s sidewalk.

You should ask your broker/agent/landlord before you sign the lease if they have any upcoming construction planned. Unfortunately, you may get some cagey answers and so the only 100% bulletproof way to check is by looking for construction permits on the NYC website.

14. Understand any additional costs and fees

The most obvious expense you need to factor in is your utilities cost. This can vary widely between apartments depending on their age, size and type of heating/cooling system. For example, a newer building with HVAC will likely have a lower monthly bill than an older building with a window unit AC. Some apartments have additional costs you need to factor in. Unfortunately, there is no way to easily find out this information unless you can speak to a previous tenant.

However, with RentPeek, you can get an extremely accurate estimate with our Utilities Tracker. Sort by building type, age and cooling system to see what other renters are actually paying on a monthly basis.

Other fees that you might have to pay include an amenity fee (for things like gym or rooftop access), a pet fee, and also the security deposit. For the security deposit, this is most frequently equal to one month’s rent although it can be lower in certain situations. We cover everything you need to know about security deposits in this post here.

15. What are you actually paying - Net Effective Rent or Gross Rent?

In your apartment search, you may come across the terms Gross Rent and Net Effective rent. Gross Rent is the actual amount you will pay to the landlord each month. Depending on the lease however, you may have something called “lease concessions”.

The most common version of this is X months free. You might view a listing that is advertised as 2 months free on a 18 month lease. Usually, the listing will show the Net Effective Rent and not the Gross Rent. For example, if that apartment was $2,500 per month, you might see it listed as $2,222 per month. This is the Net Effective Rent and it accounts for the fact that two months of your lease, you pay zero.

However, this can be confusing because the actual check you need to write your landlord each of the months you do pay is $2,500. Since this can sometimes be a bit tricky to wrap your head around, we built a Net Effective Rent calculator you can use to figure out how much you actually will pay per month.

How to prepare for your NYC apartment search

Armed with the knowledge above, you should now be in a great place to start your NYC apartment search. Get out there and find your dream apartment!


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