Moving apartments in New York can be scary. Whether it’s your first apartment lease, or you’ve lived here your whole life, there are many things to look out for when signing a rental lease.
To make your move easier and more efficient, we have created this in-depth guide about everything you need to know before signing a lease in NYC.
Find an Apartment
Well, that sounds obvious, but important! Back in the day you could just walk around and see if any homes had a for rent sign, if any community bulletin boards had listings, or if there were advertisements in the back of a local paper like the now defunct Village Voice.
Theoretically you could still do that today (except swap out the Village Voice for Craigslist or Facebook), but you aren’t going to find all the listings, or the apartment listings you might be looking for.
Nowadays, you can use online real estate marketplaces like Localize to find your next home. Many of the questions to ask before signing a lease can be covered just from the listings. Which elementary school are you zoned for? How far are you from a laundromat? What’s the nearest subway station? Is new construction coming? How much sunlight does this apartment receive? Make sure to make a bucket list of your perfect listing and filter based on these requirements for an easier and faster apartment or home search.
Inspect it Before Signing a Lease
This is one of the most important parts of signing a lease in NYC. If you don’t inspect damages and record them before signing the lease, you might be liable to have the cost of those repairs pulled from your security deposit, even though you weren’t responsible for them at all.
But beyond just the cost of damages, an inspection can reveal many other things that could make you think twice and ask more questions before signing a lease.
In addition, we always advise people to check how sound travels and how thin the walls are. If you have roommates, you don’t want to hear them chewing in the kitchen if you’re in your bedroom. Close the doors, make some noise, and see how it travels. Once you actually move in, and furnish your apartment the sound will be absorbed by rugs and furniture, so before signing the lease it’s a perfect time to see what it’s like at its loudest.
Another thing to do for your apartment inspection before signing a lease is to make sure the basic kitchen appliances work. NYC apartments usually come with a microwave, oven and gas range. Some also have dishwashers too (if you are among the lucky ones!). Run them all when you check it out. Many many many NYC apartments have issues with cooking gas hookups, and you won’t know if the range works unless you spark it yourself. Also run the water from the sink — NYC has some of the best tap water in the world, but if the pipes are old and rusty, you don’t get to experience that. Don’t worry if the water is cloudy right when you test it at the first pour. Let it settle, it’ll be clear and will taste the way water should.
Get Everything In Writing
After your apartment inspection and before signing a lease, you might notice repairs that need to be made. If you tell the broker or landlord, they often will reply that they plan on fixing them. But if they just say it, they might not actually do it… Get them to email you their plans to fix it with a clear timeline. This is definitely one of the most common mistakes when signing a lease, so make sure to avoid that!
Check Apartment’s Pet Policy
Maybe you have a dog you love. Maybe your best friend is a ferret. Maybe your roommate has a pathological need to adopt stray cats in your neighborhood. Read every clause in your lease. Some buildings have strict no-pet policies. Some buildings only allow dogs of a certain size. Some landlords are totally cool with you moving in with your adorable puppy and really hope your dog’s Instagram account takes off too, so you can finally quit your job and be a puppy influencer. Make sure you ask it before you sign the lease, because you want to make sure your best friends are coming with you and we are talking about the furry cute ones.
Check Apartment’s Sublease Policy
Similar to Pet Policy, the Sublease Policy of every apartment varies. Not learning the sublease policy is one of many common mistakes when signing a lease. Let’s say you get a new job in Philadelphia, or go on a month long vacation in Japan, you’ll need to fill your room. But not every lease has the same rules about finding a subleaser. Some forbid it fully, others require landlord-approval. This is one of many questions to ask before signing a lease.
Make Sure to Know Who Pays for What
Some landlords pay for routine pest control teams/exterminators to visit the apartment. Others require the renter to pay for this, even if the building is responsible for your cockroach infestation. Most of the time you have to cover your own electricity and cable/internet/phone. That being said if you do plan on using a landline we have to assume this won’t be your first NYC apartment, and you’ve probably lived here since Ed Koch was mayor. But occasionally those are part of your monthly rent. Same thing with heat and hot water. Some units have individual meters tracking your heat and hot water usage, while others just have a fixed amount as part as your monthly rent payment. These additional costs can add up, so don’t sign a lease without looking at those secondary costs and knowing what you will be responsible for.
Check if You Need a Security Deposit
Historically in NYC many landlords asked for first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit upon signing your lease. That all changed in 2019. Now landlords can only require first month’s rent and one month’s security deposit. Many small landlords don’t even actually know about this new rent law yet. This is one of the biggest things to look out for when signing a rental lease, especially if you just spent a lot of money to move to NYC and forgot about this additional expenses.
Try to Negotiate Before You Sign the Lease
This is a fun one, and includes important questions to ask before signing a lease. After your apartment inspection and before signing a lease, you might want certain repairs made, or the apartment deep cleaned. Make sure to ask for that, and get it in writing, before you sign your lease. You also can negotiate the move in date before signing your lease. Sometimes an apartment has been vacant or just renovated and the landlord wants you to move in on the 15th of the month, but you’d rather move in the 1st of the next month. That’s certainly up for discussion.
Of course another thing you can negotiate before signing a lease in NYC is how much you pay. If you research the apartment thoroughly on Localize.city, you might have the facts necessary to negotiate the monthly cost down. But NYC is such a tight housing market that, unfortunately, you won’t always be able to negotiate down your price.
You can certainly negotiate the length of a lease as well. Most leases in NYC are 12 months, but if you sign your lease during the winter, an offseason for moving, a landlord might make it 15 months so when you move out it will be during a better time of year for the market. You can also sign a longer lease and ask the landlord to keep the same rent throughout this time period. That way you guarantee on rent increase, and the landlord doesn’t need to think about vacancy, broker fees and renovations.
See Your Place in Person Before Sending any Funds
If you look for NYC apartments using Localize.city you never have to worry about this, but one of the biggest things to do before signing a lease is to make sure the person you are signing a lease with is actually affiliated with the unit. The best way is to visit the apartment. If you are moving here and signing your first apartment lease in NYC you should never do so remotely. Have a friend or colleague visit the apartment and go through the apartment inspection before signing a lease, because some people might just share photos of random homes in Facebook groups to scam people out of their money.
What Happens After You Sign a Lease?
Well, you get to move in! Usually, you’ll discuss the date of move in ahead of time, which is probably one of the first things you should do before signing a lease. If it’s a new apartment you may be able to start moving stuff in before the actual date. Otherwise, you likely have to wait for the current tenants to leave and then move everything in once the apartment is empty and cleaned.