Renting in the New York City area can be an intimidating undertaking. However, with some helpful tips and good resources, it doesn't have to be impossible.

Before you start looking, make sure you know what you want included in your apartment. Pick a monthly rent price that you can afford, and look for apartments only in that price range. It helps to write all of this down and carry it with you as a reminder when looking at apartments.

Do research on the areas where you are looking before you see the apartments. Find out how much noise there will be, what transportation is available for your commute, the businesses in the area, etc.

Be open to areas outside of Manhattan, such as Brooklyn and Queens (commutable by subway); Jersey City and Hoboken, NJ (which are quick and easy commutes along the PATH line); and other towns in NJ along the NJ Transit rail or bus lines. Areas in New Jersey that are along NJ Transit bus routes, rather than train routes, tend to be even less expensive.

There are many websites now that have apartment listings for free online (www.Craigslist.com, www.CityRealty.com, etc.). However, when looking online be cautious of internet scams. Always meet the landlord or roommate in person to discuss terms and exchange money.

Real estate brokers are another resource. They will have more access to listings, be very knowledgeable of the specific area, and can give you advice on how to be the most appealing applicant. They can also help you negotiate with the landlord. However, this convenience and service will come with a price, a broker’s fee, that is usually equal to a month's rent.

When looking for apartments, be sure to ask whether there are any additional monthly fees (for trash collection, parking spots, etc.) and what utilities are included (heat, hot water, electricity, gas, cable/internet). Do not be afraid to ask questions or to ask for some time to speak privately with your roommate (if you are looking with one) or to consult your notes. Taking notes and pictures is a good way to compare multiple apartments and narrow down your choices.

If a great opportunity arises, be prepared to take it. Apartment openings do not last long. Be prepared to undergo, and pay for, a credit check by the landlord. You will also most likely need proof of ability to pay. Most students are not able to provide this, and therefore need to get someone they know who can document their ability to pay and co-sign the lease. If this is your situation, be sure to find your co-signer ahead of time. In addition, have money saved for the first and last month’s rent plus the security deposit (usually 1-2 month’s rent). Most landlords will ask for this when you sign the lease, although how much will vary. If you are not renting directly from the landlord/owner, but from a tenant, these requirements may be much less strict.

Most importantly, make sure to read every part of the lease before you sign it. It is a legally binding contract that cannot be “broken” unless both you and the landlord agree. If you do not understand why a section is written, ask for clarification or for it to be removed. Make sure you are clear on what the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord are.

For more information, including a description of most of the major NYC neighborhoods, please see the 2013 Housing in New York Guide published by the Office of Admissions. 

Helpful Websites

  • The Rent Guidelines Board provides information about signing leases, tenant’s rights, and has apartment listings. Find out more at www.housingnyc.com
  • The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal has good information about rent stabilized and regulated apartments. Visit their website at www.nyshcr.org.
  • If you need more advice or tips on how to deal with landlords or roommates, try www.tenant.net.
  • Try the Department of Housing Preservation and Development website at www.nyc.gov/hpd to find out more information on affordable housing.
  • For resources and information on the laws, rights, and privileges given to renters in each of the 50 states visit the Renter's Rights section of  http://homeinsurance.org/.