Renting in New York City

Moving to New York City and looking for a no fee apartment to rent to start your new life? Time and again it's been shown that moving to a new home is among the five most stressful things most of us will ever have to tackle in our lives. Another top stressor? Starting a new job. So if you're doing both at the same time, you could use all the help you can get. 

With a myriad of choices, the New York City metro area can seem overwhelming at first. And the landlords here are stringent.  There are strong tenant protection laws in place, and evicting a tenant is not as easy to do in NYC as it is in other places.  Because of that, owners and property managers here will scrutinize you much closer than you might be used to, and require much more paperwork.

We break it down for you below.  Follow these steps and in no time you'll be moving into your new NY apartment.


Step #1: Determine Your Budget for an Apartment

The first thing to do when looking for an apartment in NY is to figure out how much you can afford. Most people who are not from the area experience "sticker shock" when they start looking for an apartment here. To paraphrase, you're not in Kansas anymore. 

The price you pay for a large luxury apartment with a doorman in a prime downtown neighborhood in another city, may only get you a small studio in a walk-up building in a less-than-prime neighborhood in New York. Mentally, you need to be ready, and don't expect that you're going to luck into one of those large, inexpensive, centrally located apartments you see on TV. Just like the show itself, those apartments are usually fiction.

Property managers and owners in Manhattan will want you to annually earn 40 to 50 times the amount of your monthly rent (30 times the monthly rent is the standard outside of Manhattan, except in certain "prime" neighborhoods).

For example, if the apartment you are looking at rents for $1000, the landlord will want your annual income to be 40 times that, or $40,000.

Credit reports are run on everyone who applies for a lease on an apartment in NY. New York City landlords and property managers will rarely accept any sort of credit report that you may have obtained independently, despite what you may have read elsewhere. This is because they are easily faked using Photoshop and other software programs.

Small, individual landlords who only own a building or two outside of Manhattan may be more apt to accept the report you bring with you--but don't be offended if they tell you they want to run it on their own.

One way of "stretching" your budget is to get a roommate.  Often, it can mean the difference between living in Manhattan, or living in Brooklyn.  Or, it could mean you can afford a doorman building instead of a walk-up.  Roommates are a separate topic, and you can find information about finding and living with roommates in NYC as part of our online apartment guide.

Also, you may want to look at some apartments that are slightly higher than your budget. Our apartment guide offers you some tips on how to negotiate your rent.


Step #2: Get All of Your Paperwork Together

As was mentioned above, applying for a NYC rental apartment will require more paperwork than you are probably used to.  We at Urban Edge have rented in other areas of the country, where all that was required was to fill out a simple application in the office and write a check for the application fee. It's rarely that easy in the NYC metro area. 

To address this, we've created an application guide that explains what documents you will need to have with you, what to expect during the approval process, etc. Having this paperwork ready could mean the difference between getting the apartment you want, and having someone else get it while you go back home and gather together what the owner or property manager requires you to submit.


Step #3: Choose Your NYC Neighborhood

Repeat after me:  there is more to New York City than Manhattan. Yes, it's a fantastic place to live. Yes, most people would prefer to live there. If you can afford it, great!  But realize that less than 20% of the people in NYC live on this skinny, 13.4 mile long island. Living in Manhattan means compromises in apartment size, budget, type of building, etc.

Fortunately there are a variety of great nabes in places like Brooklyn and Queens... even NJ has some great places to live, and the commute is often less than living in parts of the city proper. So keep an open mind, if you're not happy with what you're finding in your price range in Manhattan.

Some things to consider: do you want to live where you work, or where you play? Or do you value quiet streets and a sense of separation at the end of your day (and night)? The easternmost areas of the Upper East Side, to take just one example among dozens, can feel far away from the subway, and the bustle of the big commercial avenues, but it is very pretty and peaceful over there.

Remember, too, to consider neighborhoods that are on the same subway lines as your place of employment, not just buildings within walking distance. For instance, if you're working almost anywhere on the west side of Manhattan, you can get to your office easily on the 1, 2, 3, A, C, N, R, Q or W lines. These trains the length of Manhattan and extend further on into Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx as well.

If you're moving to New York City for the first time, take a look at the Urban Edge neighborhood guides to get acquainted with our area. NYC is truly a collection of unique and distinct neighborhoods (over 300!)  You may be surprised at all of the hidden gems you find: great neighborhoods you've never heard of--until now.


Step #4: With An Apartment in NYC, You Can Ditch the Car

If you've lived your life just about anywhere else, you may feel separation anxiety at the thought of not having a car. Take a deep breath... you'll be OK.  Nationally, only 8% of households do not own a car.  In New York City, that number is over 50%, and in Manhattan proper, the number is 75%. Trust us, when you really need a car, cabs, Zipcars and other rentals will do just fine.

Despite its somewhat negative image in movies and the news, the subway system here is one of the best, most extensive, and least expensive in the world. This vast transportation network of trains is complemented nicely by dozens of bus lines (especially handy for long cross town trips) and thousands of yellow cabs trolling the streets at all times, day and night. Plus, there is no better walking city on the planet.

Sure, some New Yorkers own automobiles and either spend around $450 a month for a garage, or spend way too much time driving around searching for a space on the street, only to have to move again the next day because of alternate side of the street parking regulations, which facilitate the street cleaners.

If you love your car and have lots of extra money or lots of spare time, then of course you CAN bring your car with you. But we've known people (and, in fact, we are people) who have lived here for decades without one, and without missing one.

Moving to New York City without a car not only means less hassle once you get here, it also gives you a nice, instant drop in your fixed monthly expenses. No car, of course, means no monthly car payments, no quarterly car insurance payments, no need to buy gas or antifreeze or lube jobs or pay for parking meters or parking tickets.

Admittedly, your rent is likely to be higher than you're used to if you're moving to New York City from most any other place in America, but it's important to think of your overall New York City-living budget when figuring out how much you can afford for rent.


Step #5: Building Amenities: What to Consider

NYC rental building amenities can turn an ordinary home into your dream home, so it's a good idea to think about what you need, what you desire, and what you can live without. For example: laundry facilities. Some luxury apartments come with a washer and dryer in each unit (although this is still very rare), and others have a small laundry room on each floor.

A more common apartment amenity in this category is the communal laundry room, available for all the building's residents, usually located in the basement. Of course, for people who would prefer to pay someone else to wash their clothes, having a laundromat right nearby that does laundry by the pound is an even better apartment amenity.  

Another basic deal-breaker or –maker for some people when looking at NYC apartments for rent is the whole doorman building versus non-doorman building issue. There are certainly advantages to living in a doorman building, from always having someone there to receive deliveries and packages to a greater sense of security.

But we also suggest that you keep an open mind on this issue, at least when you're starting your NYC apartment search. Many gorgeous homes can be found in buildings without a doorman, or a concierge, and many of us have lived here for decades, safely and comfortably, without the added expense a doorman building can bring.  

Rental apartment amenities that have become standard in contemporary, luxury residential towers, both in the apartment itself and within the building as a whole, include residents-only gyms, pools and fitness centers; on-site valet and concierge services; 24-hour attended parking garages; roof decks, party rooms, and in-building play-spaces.

Gourmet kitchens fully loaded with all appliances, including dishwasher, microwave, and, sometimes, even high-end espresso makers; oversized soundproofed windows; convenient,  street-level bicycle storage rooms; marble bathrooms and high-powered showers; individual terraces or balconies; the list goes on and on.

Again, budget comes into play here.  If you can't afford these luxuries in Manhattan, look for similar buildings in parts of the outerboroughs and in NJ.  While not inexpensive, often you can find the same amenities outside of Manhattan for 20-50% less, depending on the area.


Step #6: Potential Pitfalls: What to be Aware Of When Viewing a NYC Apartment

To avoid potential pitfalls when searching for an apartment in NY, it's a good idea to arrive to apartment showings early and scout out the block for possible late-night or early-morning noise makers. Is there a bar or nightclub right nearby? These can be loud deep into night, as patrons hang out in front to smoke. Is there a fire station on the block or around the corner? A large supermarket that might receive big, early-morning deliveries? These can be noisy if your apartment faces the street.

If you have children, make sure you confirm with the NYC Department of Education which public school is in the catchment area for your specific address.

The state of the building's common areas—the lobby, stairwells, elevator, hallways, and the building's exterior, including the sidewalk and/or courtyards--is usually a good indicator as to the effectiveness and responsiveness of the building's superintendent, whether he or she lives on premises or not, as well as the building manager's commitment to maintaining their property.

You should presume that the interior of the rental apartment itself is reasonably clean and in good repair; they had time and motivation to get it into shape before showing. The common areas, however, sometimes more accurately reflect what you can expect from day-to-day life in the building.

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