When you move into a new rental, there's one hard and fast rule for landlords to follow: the place must be in "broom-swept" condition, meaning it's clean, and the appliances have to work, says Dylan Pichulik, CEO of XL Real Property Management, a New York property manager. "All the rest is negotiable," he says. In other words, you can get your landlord to pay for some repairs and upgrades before you move in. On the flip side, there are some things that will almost definitely come out of your own pocket.
Below, which fix-ups fall into which category (and some grey areas), plus bargaining strategies to get the repairs you want:
Paint: Most building owners will paint the apartment for you before you move in, but if the previous tenant lived there for only a year or so, it may not be necessary. (For the rules on painting, see here.) "If the unit hasn’t been occupied for very long, it's usually painting, plaster, and a good cleaning," says Trevor Matwey, a former property manager and a research analyst for LandlordsNY, a free peer-to-peer resource for professional New York landlords. If you're meeting resistance on a new paint job, consider offering to paint it yourself and ask them to reimburse you.
Floors: Similarly, there's a chance a landlord will refinish or replace worn floors, depending on their condition and how much you're paying in rent (i.e. if you're taking a lavish Tribeca loft, you'll likely get a better response from the owner than if you're moving into a tenement in deepest Bushwick). “We try to avoid refinishing to the extent that we can as it is expensive and you can only do it so many times before the floor has to be replaced," says Pichulik. Similarly, a landlord won't pay for the cost of carpeting, even if it's mandatory (some New York buildings require tenants to cover 80 percent of floors with carpets to prevent noise from traveling).
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Appliances: And don't expect your landlord to pony up for a Sub Zero fridge or chef's stove: they're obligated to give you working appliances, nothing more.
Moving damage: Also, if your movers take a hunk out of the door frame getting your couch into the apartment, it's your responsibility to fix it—not your landlord's. "Tenants are responsible for moving costs and—if need be—any damages to the building while moving in," says Matwey. "If they are using a moving company, the landlord has to be named on the moving company certificate of insurance."
Windows: If you want your windows cleaned, you'll probably have to pay for it—unless, that is, your windows are in rough shape. If a landlord is keen to save on energy costs, you may have some room to negotiate for new windows. “Many times the owner will replace old windows, especially if they are falling apart or single-paned," says Pichulik. "Owners want windows to be as energy efficient as possible and, since the owner is probably paying for the heat, he or she wants to keep expenses down."
Air conditioning: If you're putting in a window air conditioner, you'll have to pay for the cost of the mounting brackets, except in rare cases. “Some more cautious owners will ensure that brackets are installed and in place before you move in,” says Pichulik.
The "as is" clause: Lastly, in some cases, landlords will ask you to agree to take an apartment in its current condition. "Some landlords who rent apartments in very desirable areas ... have the prospective tenants sign an ‘as is’ clause meaning that they agree to take the apartment in the condition they first saw it in or the condition it is in at lease signing," notes another New York property manager and landlord.
For tips on what your landlord will cover when you're moving out, here's the 411 on what your landlord will be sure to deduct from your security deposit.
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In a landlord's market like this one, there’s not a lot of negotiating room for renters, but Pichulik has some suggestions to get what you want:
- If the landlord nixes an expensive addition like a new dishwasher, ask for something cheaper, like upgrading the bathroom tile or the cabinets.
- Offer to pay half the price of the item you want or pay a bit more in rent (though remember this extra expense will last the life of your lease).
- Adjust the length of your lease so that it expires in the summer, when landlords have a wider pick of tenants and can charge higher rent (though if you plan to stay, this one could come back to haunt you in the form of a rent increase).
- Take the apartment a bit earlier than scheduled. If it’s vacant on the 20th of the month, you can offer to move in then and pay a portion of that month's rent.
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