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Before you begin your search, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the Manhattan market. Seeking the help of an experienced rental agent can give you keen insights into the many different neighborhoods New York City has to offer, thereby helping you narrow down your search for rental apartments that are within your budget and are the best fit for your lifestyle. Manhattan is the cultural, business and social crossroads of the world, and each of its neighborhoods claim unique offerings regarding schools, restaurants, shopping, and recreation, amongst much other quality of life factors.
New York City is composed of five boroughs, with Manhattan itself taking up the smallest amount of land. However, with over one million inhabitants, Manhattan, lays claim to being the most densely populated county in the U.S. Its boundaries include the Hudson River on the west, the East River on the east, the New York Harbor to the south and the Harlem River to the north. With its streets laid out in a grid, it is also one of the most easily navigated cities in the country.
Manhattan’s avenues run north to south with Twelfth Avenue being the farthest west and First Avenue the eastern-most boundary. The streets run east to west across the avenues, and as you make your way north, the street numbers increase. Fifth Avenue runs through the center of Manhattan and divides the city into its East and West sides. As a result, there is an East 57th Street and a West 57th Street. Broadway runs diagonally across Manhattan from the Lower East Side to the Upper West Side. The grid system disappears downtown, where getting around becomes somewhat more problematic, but getting lost in Lower Manhattan, particularly in areas like the West Village, can lead to some great restaurant and shopping finds.
Timing is everything
Timing is everything on the NYC apartment rental scene. During the winter, most people are content to stay put, while the summertime is historically the busiest renting season, as students and recent grads descend upon the city creating a severe upswing in demand, and with it, prices. Therefore, Elika recommends that if you can put off your search, the best time to look for a rental apartment is in the late fall and winter months, when rentals are less costly. Of course, seasonal fluctuations also depend on apartment size, neighborhood and how the overall economy is doing.
To get the best deal, we recommend following the market close by reviewing rental market reports and news, and by studying the apartment listings on a daily basis. Most prospective renters don’t have the luxury of choosing exactly when they will need to get an apartment and recommends that you start looking one month to 45 days before you need to move in. Landlords usually select move-in dates for vacant apartments on the 1st or 15th day of the upcoming month, so prospective renters should plan accordingly.
10 Steps to Renting an Apartment in NYC
The first thing you need to do before renting is determining your criteria for an apartment. Here are some factors we suggest you consider when thinking about a rental:
1. Consider advantages when using a Rental Agent versus doing it alone.
Before the advent of the Internet, searching for an NYC apartment on your own was a complicated and challenging task. Now that the online world has bloomed, that is no longer the case. It is possible to do all the research you need to do online through the free online websites, no–fee rental sites, public real estate databases. However, you should know that if you go it alone, the process of finding a Manhattan rental apartment can be extremely time-consuming.
If you decide to search for an apartment on your own, you will be forced to spend countless hours pouring over real estate ads and arranging for apartment viewings at times that are often inconvenient for you. Further, you may waste your time checking out 15 apartments, only to find that none of them are suitable and that you have missed out on “the one.” Also, you’ll have to contend with everything from irresponsible owners who don’t return your calls to outright scams. In short, searching for a Manhattan apartment on your own can make you want to scream.
If you decide to go with a rental agent, you will be spared what can seem like unrelenting aggravation. Experienced rental agents will save you valuable time because they know exactly what is available, what apartments are worth and whether or not they meet your criteria. Agents will be able to select the most suitable property for you, help you avoid scams, help you prepare your application package, and negotiate a deal with the landlord. In a city where time is such a valuable commodity, such assistance can be invaluable.
Another benefit of having an experienced agent is the connections they have with other local professionals and landlords. Also, they will be able to provide you with recommendations for services like movers and decorators — which can be especially helpful if you are new to Manhattan.
1. Determine your budget.
By far the most constraining factor in your search for an apartment is your budget. Before even starting your search, you need to get a clear picture of the minimum you want to pay and the maximum you can afford to pay per month. Once you have calculated your monthly expenses with rent figured in, you can get a much better idea of what apartments are in your price range. To qualify for a New York City rental most brokerages and landlords require that you make 40 times the monthly rent in annual income.
2. Choose a Neighborhood.
Regarding neighborhoods, no other city offers the choices that Manhattan does. From the chic and trendy to the upscale and sophisticated, there are an array of neighborhood options. Depending on such criterion as accessibility and food shopping, the vibe may even be different from block to block within a particular neighborhood.
When it comes to Manhattan neighborhoods, no two are the same. From Chelsea to the Upper West Side, each community has its unique qualities. Rental agents will introduce you to the many enclaves that comprise Manhattan, ensure that you know how to navigate around them and help you pick the location that is best suited for you. You can visit our Manhattan and Brooklyn Neighborhood Guide for more details on specific neighborhoods, but don’t forget that there is no substitute for checking out a neighborhood in person to get a feel for its atmosphere. By actually going to an area, you can discover firsthand its flavor and character by talking to residents and visiting stores, schools, restaurants and other local haunts.
New Yorkers may have a reputation for being gruff, but they still love to talk about themselves and where they reside. By asking a simple question like, “Do you like living here?” you can get a wealth of information that you cannot get online or by talking to an agent.
3. Decide on the size of the apartment you need.
Space is a costly commodity in the Manhattan real estate market, so it is essential that you be realistic about your needs. Ask yourself such questions as how many people will I be living with? Am I amenable to sharing a bathroom or bedroom? Apparently, the more people sharing the rent, the less costly the apartment will be, but that comes at a sacrifice of privacy. Know your limits, but above all, keep an open mind and be ready for compromise.
4. Pick the essential amenities to you.
Regarding amenities, New York City apartments offer an array of choices. Some luxury buildings feature such things as laundry service, on-site gyms, and electronic rent payment. Modest walk-up rentals have fewer amenities, can be more attractive because the rents are more affordable. Consider compromising on things that are non-essential to you, but that you keep your safety uppermost in your mind as your security should be non-negotiable.
5. Research the Market.
If you are considering a range of options, like renting a studio by yourself or sharing a two–bedroom with a roommate, remember to set up searches for all of these options. Even if you can’t afford a studio in your favorite neighborhood, you might be able to rent in that area if you split the cost of a larger place with friends. Further, look to your friends and their real estate choices for market information and renting advice. Those who already live in a particular neighborhood are the best sources of information about it. Then, once you narrow down your search to specific properties, you will get a better idea of the types of apartments and features that mesh with your budget.
7. Organize and schedule viewings of the apartments you picked.
Once you’ve selected a broker, you can put them to work scheduling viewings for you. All you have to do is tell your rental agent the dates and times that you are available, and we will do the rest. You probably have a full-time job that makes mid-week viewings difficult, but keep in mind that the faster you see an apartment, the quicker you can snap it up. To save time, schedule back-to-back viewings of some apartments in the same neighborhood (allowing yourself between thirty minutes and an hour to see each apartment). Make sure, however, that you are thorough when you evaluate the property because your first viewing could potentially be your last before you sign the lease and move in.
Keeping tabs on your appointments is vital, and can be accomplished by using a spreadsheet that contains the time, date, location and contact information for each apartment. Agents will also keep track of your appointments in such a manner. It is also essential that you be on time for your viewings to show prospective landlords and your agent that you are reliable and serious about renting. Above all, it is vital that you visit each apartment that you are investigating in person. Advertisements can be deceiving, and what looks great on the Web, can turn out to be a disaster when you visit the place and that dream pad turns out to be a five-floor walk-up with the smells of the restaurant below wafting through the door.
8. Be prepared when viewings apartments.
We highly recommend when you view an apartment, you come prepared with all the information necessary to apply to rent it. Since Manhattan apartments are grabbed up quickly, you will then be able to submit your application on the spot and can rest assured that no one will steal the place out from under you. Plus, the landlord will see that you are someone who is responsible and savvy. Bring the following things with you when you go to your apartment viewings:
- Essential Application Information – Required documents can vary depending on the landlord, however, most will require the list of items below to proceed with a rental application.- Letter from employer stating position, length of employment as well as salary.
– Tax returns from the last two years.
– Last two pay stubs.
– Guarantor (If salary does not qualify for 40x monthly rent).
– Verification of assets such as equities, real estate etc.
– Bank statements form the last two months.
– Name, address and phone number of the previous landlord.
– Two business reference letters.
– Two personal reference letters.
– Photo identification ( passport or driver’s license).
- Camera – Bringing a camera along is a good idea, especially when you are seeing some apartments in rapid succession and could use shots of the interiors and exteriors to jog your memory.
- Tape Measure – It’s a good idea to tote a tape measure along to make sure that your furniture will fit into an apartment. Be sure to come prepared with the measurements of this furniture.
9. Choose the apartment that suits you best.
After you’ve seen the property available, you can decide on an apartment. Many people only have to look at an apartment once to conclude it’s the perfect place for them, but others will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of multiple rentals carefully. If you are doing this, you have to consider which property is at the best location regarding such things as commuting, weekend entertainment, and traveling outside of the area. Further, you should consider whether any repairs are necessary, whether the apartment unit itself is laid out functionally and has space for all your belongings and whether it has ample natural light. Above all else, you must ascertain whether you can comfortably afford the rent and the cost of utilities.
10. Prepare and submit an apartment rental application.
Renting an apartment in Manhattan requires more than just giving basic information and writing a check. Future renters should understand the qualifications necessary to rent in the city. These include:
- Income Requirements — Most landlords require tenants to earn 40 to 50 times the monthly rent of the apartment as their annual salary. This refers to guaranteed income and does not include bonuses. (i.e., If the property is $3000.00 a month, you must earn $120,000.00 to $150,000.00 a year to qualify to rent the apartment.)
- Lease Guarantor – If an applicant does not meet the financial requirements, the landlord may require a Lease Guarantor. This is the person who pays the rent if the tenant fails to do so. They are required to navigate the same application process as the tenant and earn 80 to 100 times the monthly rent. Also, most landlords favor tri-state guarantors (people who reside in New Jersey, New York or Connecticut).
- Application / Credit Check – This is a single document that will provide a landlord with all of an applicant’s required financial, professional and personal background information. (Credit checks are only applicable to US residents).
- Application Fees – Application fees are typically required when you submit your application and range in price from $50–$100 (per application) for a rental building and anywhere from $250–$1,000 for a co-op or condo building.
- Certified Funds – One month’s rent and one month’s security is due when you sign your lease. Landlords require this payment in the form of two separate certified checks or money orders. These checks can be obtained at a Manhattan bank for $10–$15. Landlords do not accept personal checks or cash, but some will allow the tenant to pay with a credit card (often with surcharges of 2-3% added to the rent and security payments). If you lack a US credit history or have bad credit, landlords will many times ask for additional security.
- Employer Verification Letter – This letter must be written on company letterhead and be signed by your supervisor. It should state your position, starting date, salary and, if applicable, guaranteed bonus. It should also detail whether or not you are entitled to a housing allowance and if so, how much.
- Landlord Reference – When trying to rent an apartment, a glowing reference from your current landlord is a great asset. Indeed, this information is often requested during the process. If you were unable to get a letter, be certain you can pass on your landlord’s name, address, and telephone number. Without a reference, a landlord might want to do his check into your history as a tenant.
- References – Every landlord doesn’t require references, but it is better to be prepared for that request. In addition to a landlord’s letter, a reference from an accountant or attorney reflects favorably on you. Decide on your references and have up-to-date contact information for them.
- Bank Statements – You should come prepared for at least the last two months worth of statements.
- Tax Returns – In some cases, you may be asked to provide tax returns, so it is essential to bring the last two years of returns with you.
- Photo Identification – It will be necessary to show a driver’s license, passport, or some other form of government-issued photo ID.
- Pet Deposit – Many buildings and landlords are pet-friendly but can require an addtional month of deposit for pets – in case of any damage or other problems.
- Brokerage Agreements – Since tenants pay the brokerage fees in Manhattan, it is customary to be asked to sign a fee agreement when enlisting the help of a broker. This agreement only states that you agree to pay a fee to the broker if they help you to obtain a lease on a particular apartment. You do not have to pay a brokerage fee if you are unable to secure a lease through a broker.
- Brokerage Fees – The brokerage fee in Manhattan can be up to 15 percent of the annual rent. This is usually required when you sign your lease. You are only responsible for this fee if you secure an apartment through that broker. Fees should always be made payable to the brokerage firm and not a specific agent. If an apartment listing says NO FEE, there will be no broker fees charged at any stage.
- Owner Paid Fees – In certain instances, a landlord may pay a portion of a fee to a broker. Under New York State law, the broker must notify the person responsible for paying the fee, whether that is a tenant or sponsoring corporation. Elika’s Renters Representation will help you prepare your application, double checking all requirements and following up with the leasing organization quickly to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks, particularly in extraordinary circumstances. (See Appendix C for more details.)
- Negotiating and Signing the Lease – In times when the market is soft, there is an opportunity in the Manhattan rental market to negotiate more favorable lease terms. Elika’s Renters Representation can offer you expert advice and guidance as to whether negotiation is possible and how to go about it. Bear in mind, however, that even in a soft market, a landlord will walk away from a deal if it does not make financial sense. Once you have agreed on terms, the lease will need to be signed by all parties, including the landlord, renter, and if applicable, guarantors. All of the necessary documents need to be signed before you can move ahead, so if you are enlisting a guarantor from outside the area, you need to be prepared to ship documents quickly. Once the lease is signed, it’s time to make a toast—the apartment has become yours officially.
More to Consider Before Renting
Special Rental Situations
When going to rent an apartment in Manhattan, there are some special situations that you may need to be prepared to address. These include the following:
- Roommates – Usually landlords will not accept more than two names on a lease. Roommates are held jointly responsible for rent and broker fees. Also, roommates are held responsible for any other roommate’s unpaid rent. Elika’s Renters Representation therefore strongly suggests that roommates sign is written agreements which bind each of them to the rental fee and terms of the lease. Regarding the financial requirements for renting, landlords will often consider the combined income of the roommates. However, this can vary from landlord to landlord, and you should tell your broker ahead of time if this is how you plan to qualify for an apartment. Also be aware that landlords may require a guarantor even if your combined income meets the financial requirements, so that is why you also need to notify your broker of this circumstance.
- International Tenant — If you pay taxes outside of the United States, or if you have a housing allowance from your job, your qualifications are assessed differently. If this is the case, you can consult with Elika’s Renters Representation about the financial resources you will need to become eligible to rent. Without a U.S. rental history, many of those relocating from abroad are required to pay additional security. Some landlords may even require as much as six months to one year of rent to be paid in advance depending on your particular circumstances.
- Pets — Your four-legged canine friend can sometimes prove to be your worst enemy when it comes to obtaining an apartment in Manhattan. Most landlords in New York City do not accept dogs over twenty pounds, and in many cases even frown upon smaller dogs, cats, and other small domestic animals. If you have a pet or plan on getting one, your choice of apartments may be limited, so you should alert your broker to this situation.
- Walls — Since it’s often difficult to find affordable two-bedroom apartments, many prospective tenants look for one-bedrooms that can be converted into two by the installation of a temporary wall. Elika knows of several reputable businesses in Manhattan that will deliver and erect a wall for a fee. However, many landlords do not allow these shares, so you should advise your broker if you plan on going this route. Be aware that you are often responsible for removing the wall at the end of your lease.
Manhattan Apartment Sizes
The city boasts many standard-sized apartments, but several types have their special kind of layouts. Here are descriptions of a few:
- Studio — This is a one-room dwelling in which the living room and the bedroom are in a single space. In larger studios, the kitchen is in a separate room, while in others the eating area can be found along one wall in the main space. Studios are also referred to as efficiencies.
- Alcove Studio – This is a one-room apartment that also offers an open area adjacent to the main space which is used for sleeping. This type of dwelling is also referred to as an L-shaped studio because of its configuration or a junior—one bedroom.
- Flex (convertible) Two – This is a one-bedroom apartment that features a large space, typically the living room, transformed into another bedroom and a smaller living room by the installation of a temporary, also known as pressurized, wall dividing the space.
- Junior 4 – This is a one bedroom apartment that features an alcove area in the living room, which is typically used as a dining room, or converted into a second bedroom.
- Flex 3 – A two-bedroom apartment with an alcove in the living room that is convertible to a room.
- Classic 6 – This type of apartment exists exclusively in prewar buildings, and describes a dwelling with six rooms: a living room, a formal dining room, a kitchen, plus two full sized bedrooms, and a small third bedroom, generally referred to as the maid’s room. (Classic 7s and 8s also exist, and offer one or two additional full-sized bedrooms).
- Furnished Apartment – These apartments are leased for short periods of time—anywhere from one week to one year—and contain all the furniture, kitchenware and bathware you would need to live comfortably.
Manhattan Building Types
There are three basic kinds of buildings in Manhattan: Doorman, Elevator (attended and unattended) and Walk–Up (unattended):
- Doorman Building – The types of buildings that offer doormen tend to be on the larger side and offer the most significant amount of safety and security. They also afford the highest level of comfort and convenience because your doorman can do a lot for you while you’re not home, including such things as taking drop-offs of packages and dry cleaning. If you are new to the city, you will quickly learn that Manhattan revolves around deliveries, and having someone who can sign for your packages can feel like the ultimate luxury. Within buildings that have doormen, there are kinds of formats: luxury high–rise, standard, and part-time doorman.
- Luxury High–Rise – These kinds of buildings have a full around-the-clock staff consisting of multiple doormen and attendants. They often offer such amenities as hotel-type concierge service, on-site health clubs, pools, laundry service and children’s playrooms. The specific luxury amenities will vary from building to building but will leave you feeling thoroughly pampered.
- Standard Doorman – These buildings have someone on duty 24 hours a day and offer the safety and convenience of having a doorman without the extra luxury amenities.
- Part–Time Doorman – These buildings usually have doormen for day shifts, but rely on security cameras or some other type of technology to protect residents at night.
- Elevator Building – These buildings do not have doormen on duty, though some may employ elevator attendants. Regarding security, convenience, and price, these kinds of buildings are considered somewhere between doorman buildings and walk-ups. They often have laundry rooms in the buildings, as well as intercom systems, but the amenities stop there. Still, if these buildings are adequately maintained, they can be comfortable places in which to live.
- Walk–Up Building – These buildings do not have doormen or elevators. They can be townhouses or brownstones (4–5 stories), above storefronts (usually 1-2 stories), or low–rise buildings (free standing 4–5 stories). They are the most reasonably priced kinds of apartments in the city, yet they have very few amenities. Most walk–up buildings do, however, have double door security and a few have more sophisticated features, such as intercoms and security cameras. As with elevator buildings, the quality of life in walk-ups can vary greatly depending on the degree to which they are maintained.
Manhattan Building Ownership Types
In Manhattan, there are three different ways buildings are owned, and they each vary about the approval process you need to go through to live in them, as well as other related requirements. The easiest building to move into is a rental, followed by a condominium, which has greater restrictions, and then a co-operative building, where the requirements for moving into the property can be stringent.
- Rental Buildings – A single landlord owns the whole property, which can be rent stabilized or non-rent stabilized depending on the real estate laws. Landlords typically require the standard paperwork (discussed above) and a credit check, as well as one month’s rent and one month’s security deposit, for you to be approved to move in. The approval process can take anywhere from one day to one week, but usually no longer.
- Condominiums (Condos) – Each unit is individually owned and can be used either as a personal residence or rented out to somebody else as an investment property. Regulations for moving into a condo are set by the board– a governing body for the building made up of individual owners. As long as owners follow the board’s regulations, they can set their rental price and lease length. Owners will typically require you to furnish the standard paperwork, plus whatever additional information they feel necessary for approval. Also, applicants may be asked to supply extra paperwork that is deemed necessary by the board, but generally, the board does not have the right to turn down an applicant that an owner is willing to rent to. Tenants are required to pay application and board and move–in fees, as well as additional security if required. With a condo, the approval process can take anywhere from one week to one month.
- Cooperatives (Co-ops) – These buildings are similar to condos being privately owned, but in this arrangement, individuals own shares in the building based on their apartment’s size and value, and not the deed to the unit itself. Co-ops tend to have the most precise rules and regulations about rentals. In addition to the standard paperwork, the co-op board almost always requires far-reaching financial and personal information. Prospective renters must attend an extensive interview with the building’s co-op board, and once approved are usually required to pay large application, board, and move–in fees, as well as extra security. If you are from abroad or do not have an extensive credit history, it can be challenging to get the co-op board’s approval. The approval process can take a month or more.