NYC Apartment Hunting: Things That Might Surprise You

Renting an apartment in the city can be intimidating—especially if you’re on a tight deadline. Here are some insights into some of the aspects of apartment hunting in NYC that you may not find elsewhere in the country.

It’s expensive

This seems like an obvious one—but it’s a reality that’s worth repeating. Living in New York City is expensive compared with most cities in the US. Price shock is often felt by those moving from the mid-west, the southeast or southwest who may be used to lower housing costs. Per square foot, you’re likely to get more ‘bank for your buck’ outside of Manhattan in places like Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and New Jersey.


It’s competitive

As of 2017, there were 8.6 million people living in New York City. In 2018, there were 3.5 million apartments in the city. The math is pretty simple—there are more people in NYC than there are apartments. This means that it’s not unusual for there to be upwards of 5-20 people applying for a single apartment. That number can double if the apartment is in a good location for the right price. So, remember, you’re not the only one applying. You need to make sure your application stands out above the others and make sure you have everything the landlord has asked for with your application.


It moves quickly

Found the perfect apartment? Great! Apply right away. If you think that dream apartment is going to be available to next day (or heck, even in a few hours) it might not be. Make sure you have all of your paperwork and any application fees or deposits needed when you go to look at the apartment. The rule here is: you snooze—you lose.

For most apartments in the city, once you submit your application, you’ll get a response back from the landlord in 1 or 2 business days letting you know if you’ve been approved. If you get approved and the apartment is move-in ready, expect to sign your lease and pay pro-rated rent right away. If the apartment is unoccupied, you’ll likely move in once the current tenant’s lease is up and the landlord or property manager has gone in to clean and paint.


Financial qualifications are strict

Landlords are looking for the tenant who has the most money, the highest-paying job, and spotless credit. You’ll be expected to furnish a letter of employment, pay-stubs (if available), copies of your checking account and saving account statements, tax returns, and the list goes on. If you don’t meet the qualifications, you’ll likely need a guarantor. If you can’t furnish a guarantor, you might be able to pay additional rent or security up-front. However, if the landlord has another applicant that is better qualified, it’s within their right to go with that applicant instead.

Qualifications vary landlord to landlord—and there are no laws that define what financial qualifications a landlord can expect you to meet. You can usually follow the ‘40x rule.’ Take your monthly rent amount and multiply it by 40. Whatever that number equals is what the landlord will expect you to make in your paycheck, at a minimum, per year.

New York City landlords will rent to the best qualified tenant (or guarantor if applicable.) They are not required to make an offer under ‘first come first serve.’


What you’ll need to pay upfront

Almost all landlords will expect you to pay an application fee when applying for an apartment. It may or may not be refundable whether you’re approved or denied. These funds usually go towards credit and criminal checks that the landlord or property manager runs when you apply.

If you’re approved there are other funds you’ll also need to provide. Each landlord has different requirements in what funds they’ll ask you to shell out upfront. Generally speaking, expect to pay first month’s rent, a security deposit (usually equal to first month’s rent) and oftentimes you’ll be asked to pay last month’s rent as well. Make sure you are clear regarding how the landlord wants these payments. It’s likely you’ll need to provide separate checks. If you use a broker, you’ll usually pay them when you sign your lease.

Some landlords will only take bank certified checks (aka cashier’s checks) or money orders. Be sure to ask.


Strict credit score requirements

Landlords want to make sure you pay your bills on time—and that you’ve got sound financial practices. You’ll need to shoot for a credit score of above 700 ideally. There are other factors that go into a landlord’s decision to approve you—like how much you make, how much money you have in the bank, who you work for, what kind of debt you have etc., If you have a low credit score (or no credit history at all) you may need to provide a guarantor.


Pets cost extra

If you’re bringing along a dog or a cat, expect to pay either a monthly pet fee or a pet deposit OR both. Most buildings have strict policies on types of breeds, weight, and medical or behavioral history.

Pro-tip: get copies of your pets medical records and a letter of recommendation from your vet—and a current landlord if you have one.


You may need a guarantor (aka a cosigner)

If you don’t meet the financial qualifications to be approved for the apartment, the landlord may ask you to furnish a guarantor. This person needs to make upwards of 80x the annual—and that becomes very strict if your guarantor lives out of the area. Your guarantor can be anyone you know—a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, etc., They will need to meet the same financial qualifications as anyone else. They’ll also need to apply and likely pay an application fee like you did as well.

Be clear with your guarantor. If something happens to you—like you lose your job, get hurt, or even if you die (morbid but true!)—your guarantor will be financially responsible to pay your rent. If you don’t pay on time, the landlord will call you first and then the second call will likely be to your guarantor asking for immediate payment.


Utilities often aren’t included

Heating and water must be provided by law and it’s fairly unusual for there to be any charge for those specific utilities. However, electricity, gas, internet, and cable TV are the ones you’ll probably end up paying for. It is becoming more common for buildings to offer free Wi-Fi internet—especially in newer and higher-end apartments. Providers and costs vary from place to place and the utilities you’re responsible for should be clearly spelled out in your lease.

Some buildings only have limited cable and internet options so be sure to find out before you apply if these are super important to you.