Renting an Apartment in NYC

Renting an apartment, whether its your first or your eleventh, has many moving parts. In the city that never sleeps, it can be more complicated. With over 8 million people, space is limited and rents are high (unless you're in a rent-controlled unit). Before embarking on renting a NYC apartment there are few things you should know beforehand.

Do You Need a Real Estate Broker?

In New York City, the standard broker fee is 15% of the yearly rent or sometimes one month’s rent if you are a student. On a $2,600 per month apartment, you would owe the broker $4,680. There are several pros and cons to getting a broker.

Pro

Con

Saves you time by searching apartments for you

15% fee

Will interface with the landlords and management office

Have to form a viewing schedule with them

Have access to up to date listings

Limits concessions you can make with a landlord

Pros of a Getting a Broker

The 15% broker's fee pays for a stress-free apartment search. Narrowing down 20,000 available properties can be overwhelming to anyone. Third-party sites such as streeteasy.com or Craig's List offer listings, but can be old or non-existent. If you do find a legitimate place online, you will need to call the management company who oversees the property to schedule a viewing. This process can be frustrating, time-consuming, and impossible if you have little free time. A broker will take care of that process and generate a list of properties for you to see.

Brokers also have up-to-date listings that take time to filter onto third-party sites. They interface with landlords and managers directly, and oversee the handling of paperwork. Management companies can be unscrupulous, making your broker an extra layer of security if the company is conducting any unfair practices.

If you do opt for a broker be sure to check they are registered with the Real Estate Board of New York.

Cons of a Hiring a Broker

The biggest drawback about getting a broker is the 15% fee. A typical apartment can end up costing you over $5,000 in up-front costs with a broker's fee. And that's on top of what the management company charges (more below).

You also need to create a schedule which works for you and the broker. This can be problematic if you are moving from out of town, and have limited time searching for apartments while in New York. It can get chaotic as the broker tries to juggle you and the rest of their clients. Due to legal restrictions, brokers also cannot tell you why one neighborhood is better, or any other personal information about a building or neighborhood.

Lastly, having a broker can limit concessions you can get on "No Fee" apartments. "No Fee" apartments do not require you to pay a broker's fee upon signing the lease because the landlord pays it. If you do not have a broker, the landlord will avoid this cost and may be more willing to give you a concession like a free month's rent. The caveat is that the apartments are usually costlier to begin with to accommodate an anticipated broker's fee. For example, an apartment could have a value of $2,500 per month but is marketed as $2,750 because the owner is accounting for the broker's fee.

What to Expect When Looking For an Apartment in NYC

There are several trends and requirements that you should know beforehand that will make the process go much smoother.

Renting in the Summer vs. the Winter

Renting an apartment in New York comes in two seasons, the high (summer) and low (winter). The high season is characterized by fast selling apartments and higher prices. In the low season, apartments are cheaper and stay on the market longer. You can expect an average availability of 1-3 days between May and September and 1-2 weeks between October and April. When viewing any apartment you should have a clear idea of everything you want or need. Having that list in your head will allow you to make a fast decision right after viewing an apartment.

Income Requirement: 40x The Rent

In New York, most management companies will require that your income be 40x the monthly rent. This means a few different things. Sometimes you and your roommates need to have combined incomes that surpass 40x the monthly rent. Other times it means all roommates need to have an income that surpasses 40x the rent. If you do not come close to that threshold, you will need a guarantor.

Salary Requirements Assuming a Two Bedroom Apartment with Two Roommates

Total Monthly RentIf Allowed to Combine With RoommateIf Not Allowed to Combined With Roommate

$2,200

$44,000$88,000

$2,400

$48,000$96,000

$2,600

$52,000$104,000

$2,800

$56,000$112,000

$3,000

$60,000$120,000

If You Need Guarantors To Meet The Income Requirement

If you do not make the salary requirement you will need a guarantor who usually needs to make 80x the monthly rent. There are also situations where even if you make the salary requirement, the management company will still require you to have a guarantor. Guarantors are essentially co-signers to your lease who are liable if you can't make your rent. It's typically a parent, or someone else you have a relationship with.

If you're unable to find a personal guarantor, there are several companies who can step in as guarantors for a separate fee.

Documents You Will Need To Sign The Lease

Preparing all documents prior to the search can mean the difference between getting and losing an apartment. Because apartments are on the market for a few days, you need to present every required document as soon as possible. Below is a list of the usual required documents.

  • Application of Management Office
  • Photo ID
  • Tax Returns
  • Bank Statements
  • Recent Letter of Employment
  • Pay Stub

Not every company will require every document, but it is best practice to have all prepared and ready to submit. If you need a guarantor they will also need all of those documents at the ready. There will sometimes be an application fee for submitting the application. It is refundable if, and only if, you are denied the apartment. If you are approved or decide to go with another listing, they keep the fee.

Securing the Apartment with a Deposit

The first thing to do is lock down the apartment and take it off the market. A deposit of $500 or more depending on the company is required to do so. Companies will not take personal checks or your credit card -- only a money order or a cashier’s check. You can get a money order from a Western Union or even at a local Rite Aide or CVS if your bank is not located in New York.

Once off the market, you will need to submit the documents we mention above as soon as possible.

After You Are Approved For the Apartment

Companies typically ask for the first month's rent, last month's rent, and a security deposit (usually one month’s rent) upfront. You also have to pay your broker’s fee if you opted for one. Not every company will require all three payments. A second deposit may be requested if the company was concerned that your credit profile was low. All of these payments have to be made by money order, cash or a cashier’s check. Once approved you will get the lease, most likely via email where you will be able to sign it electronically. They will want the payments as soon as possible after the lease is fully signed by all roommates and guarantors.

Assuming a Two Bedroom Apartment with Two Roomates

Individual Rent

Up-Front Cost (First Month's, Last Month's, Security)

$1,000

$3,000

$1,100

$3,300

$1,200

$3,600

$1,300

$3,900

$1,400

$4,200

$1,500

$4,500

Some landlords or management companies will not allow you to move in during weekends. Some only allow the first and fifteenth of a month, while others want you as soon as possible. Establish as soon as possible with the landlord or management company when you can move in.

Some landlords also require renters insurance. Landlords already have a policy to insure their building should their be a fire or natural disaster, but that policy will not cover your belongings. Insurance may be well worth it if you keep anything valuable in your apartment. The average New York cost is $214 per year.

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