The Market

Renewing a lease in NYC: Should you stay or should you go?

By Alyse Whitney  | August 6, 2013 - 9:03AM

Summer in New York City is rife with uncertainty, including, but not limited to, how stinking hot it will get, how unbearable the subway platforms will be, and how much wine will need to be consumed to cope with the sky-high ConEd bills. 

There is one thing, however, that can always be counted on:  A competitive and expensive rental market.

Unfortunately for me, since moving to Manhattan three years ago, my lease renewals have always fallen in July.

The first time, I was in a sublet situation in the East Village and had no choice but to pack up and go when the woman I was subletting from returned from her trip abroad; it was a mere six months after I moved and I vowed to never move again.

With that being said, last summer, I stayed put. Firmly. I had been subletting but instead of moving on, decided to take the lease under my name and find new roommates on Craigslist.

We all liked each other and had a great dynamic during the following year, so when this summer rolled around,  I assumed that the three of us would renew. I thought wrong. 

One roommate decided to move in with her best friend, and even though the other was staying, I was worried about a serious rent hike. The building is notorious for hiking up the rent with every new lease. Also, our apartment isn't renovated (and hasn't been touched in more than 10 years), so we figured they would love to get us out to fix it up to  jack up the price.  We knew we couldn't afford more than a $150 bump.

A few months ago, before we received our lease renewal in the mail, a friend suggested we move to Brooklyn together.

She said we could find slightly cheaper rent and hopefully have a place for my 1-year-old puppy, Marshall, to run around. It was an exciting prospect with a close gal pal, so I thought, why not?

It sounded great in theory--more space, cheaper rent, and an amazing roommate who, for the first time in my city-dwelling life, wasn’t a stranger.

After a bit of searching, I realized it didn't make practical sense. I wouldn’t save much and would have to buy all new furniture (my place came semi-furnished with bulky pieces I would never keep), use movers to schlep from the Upper East Side all the way to Brooklyn, and learn a new borough completely--all in the middle of the crazy month that is July.

And even if my rent was $1,000 or less ($250 below what I pay now), the moving costs of first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and security plus a few hundred dollars for movers and supplies would almost be as much as I’d save annually. (For those calculating, I’d save about $3,000 and spend $3,000 on just first, last, and security.)
True, I’d most likely be getting my security deposit back from my current place (though who knows exactly when?), it ultimately wouldn’t offset things enough to make such a huge move in the middle of summer worth it. I told myself that if my rent went up significantly--we were still waiting to find out--I’d move. But it would have to go up at least $100 to balance things out.
My lease paperwork came back with only a $30 increase per person after some adjusting of pricing for each room.  One roommate is staying and a new one moved in at the beginning of the month. So for those weighing the options of staying vs. going when your lease is up for renewal, below are some quick tips and tricks.

1. Weigh the pros and cons, but focus on the costs. Remember to factor in moving fees (boxes, labor or van rental, and perhaps pizza and beer for friends assisting you) and apartment fees (broker, plus first, last, and security for new place) to calculate how much it’ll cost you to move and compare that to your rent increase. Does that just balance out the money you’d save moving, or will you save a lot?

2. Think about your current place and neighborhood. Is it worth leaving just to save $20 a month? For me, I’d miss my familiar area places, like my go-to brunch spot, the friendly pet store owner around the corner who doesn’t mind if I forget a dollar, and being close to Central Park. If you’re not quite ready to leave--especially if you’re considering a new borough--go back to your pros and cons and decide if now is the right time.

3. Phone a friend. Use a lifeline. Moving can be a pretty emotional process, and sometimes asking an objective third-party for advice can help. Ask a friend who understands your living situation, your finances what they think you should do.

4. Start negotiations with your current landlord. Though most places won’t budge significantly on rent, if you’re a good tenant who pays on time, never has complaints from neighbors, and you’ve lived there for at least a year and are willing to sign on for another couple of years, try negotiating on rent costs. Even if you can get it down by fifty bucks, it may justify staying.

5. Ultimately, go with your gut. This may sound silly, but if you feel like you should stay, then stay; if it seems like the right time to leave, then go. Just remember that the market out there is tough and finding an apartment is like taking on a second job--but you’ll be spending instead of making money.


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