How to Rent an Apartment in New York City

A HOW-TO GUIDE

Closing The Deal

Minimum income to rent a NYC apartment

Just because you can afford to rent an apartment doesn't mean you're qualified to. Most landlords will require that your annual income (OR the combined annual income of you and your roommates) equals at least 40-45 times the monthly rent.

For example, to rent a $3,000 per month apartment, your annual income will need to be around $120,000.  You should also expect to have your credit report reviewed.  Most landlords will be concerned if you have a score under 700 (out of 850), and/or you have a history of late payments, judgments, or bankruptcies. In that case, you may not qualify for an apartment without an additional security deposit or a guarantor.

Pro Tip:

If you don't earn an annual salary of at least 40 to 45 times the monthly rent—or if you’re an international employed person, self-employed, non-employed with assets, retired, or an international student or US student—you’ll need to find a guarantor for your lease who earns at least 80 times the monthly rent and lives in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.  Or you can turn to Insurent Lease Guaranty.  Accepted at more than 4,700 buildings across the city representing over 475,000 apartments, Insurent Lease Guaranty is a quick and easy way to get the apartment you want. Click here to learn more.

How to find a lease guarantor

If you don't meet a landlord's financial or employment requirements, you'll need to find a guarantor.  A guarantor signs a contract that makes them liable if you default on your lease; for this reason, guarantors are usually close family members.  

Most landlords will only accept guarantors that live in the Tri-state area (New York, New Jersey or Connecticut) and who have an annual income of 80 times or more than the monthly rent of the apartment you’re applying for.  Typically, your guarantor will need to submit the same documents requested of you by the landlord (e.g. bank statements, tax returns, etc.). And if you have roommates, most landlords will only accept one guarantor--so that person needs to be comfortable guaranteeing the entire lease.

Pro Tip:

Need a single guarantor to co-sign a lease for you and your roommates?  Accepted at more than 4,700 buildings across the city representing over 475,000 apartments, Insurent Lease Guaranty is a quick and easy way to get the apartment you want—whether you're applying with roommates or on your own.  Click here to learn more.

Negotiating the rent & getting rental concessions

With vacancy rates around 1% in many NYC neighborhoods, landlords of non-luxury apartments (such as one-bedrooms under $3,500 a month) typically feel that they don't need to negotiate.  Exceptions include an apartment that has been on the market for a long time, one that has a lot of similar competition in the same building, one that is particularly undesirable for some reason, or is in a building with a history of bed bug problems.

Seasonally speaking, you may encounter more flexibility in the slowest part of the rental cycle, from November to March.  Offer to move in immediately and let the landlord know you are willing to sign a lease of 15 or 16 months instead of a year, enabling them to re-list the apartment during the busy summer months. 

Another tactic to try is to negotiate on amenities. For example, see if the landlord will waive the gym fee or bike storage fee, or pay for a minor improvement to the apartment like replacing an appliance, refinishing the floor, or soundproofing the windows.

Rental concessions

In the slower winter months, in brand new buildings trying to fill up many apartments at once, and/or if you're looking for a luxury rental, landlords may offer rental concessions--usually in the form of paying the broker's fee and/or kicking in one or two month's free rent. (If they're not offering them, be sure to ask.) The rental credit usually only applies to the last month of the lease, which will be free, while the apartment will be advertised with a "net effective rent." This is not the amount you'll actually pay per month -- that is the "gross'" rent. So if your monthly rent is $3,000, and you get free rent at the final month of the lease, your "net effective" rent is $2,750. Moreover, if you renew your lease, bear in mind that the increase will be based on the gross rent, not the net effective rent.

Also keep in mind that if you break the lease, many landlords will revoke the free month.

Pro Tip:

Pocketing a free month's rent is a hollow victory if you have to choose between overpaying or moving when your lease is up. For expert help finding buildings offering the most valuable concessions, negotiating with landlords and leasing agents, and generally getting the best possible deal, put your search into the smart and capable hands at Triplemint. A tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues, Triplemint will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent on open listings instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent if you sign up here.  Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are delightful to deal with.

How to fill out a rental application, and questions to ask about your lease before you sign it

You need to move quickly once you find what you like.  That means you should be prepared to submit an application and your supporting documents on the day you see the apartment that you would like to move forward with.

Your supporting documents will include:

  • Last two paystubs
  • Photo ID
  • Last three months of bank statements
  • Last two years of tax returns
  • Letter of employment on employer letterhead stating job title, length of employment, salary and expected bonus;  or if self employed, a letter from your CPA
  • Proof of any other funds (e.g. stocks, bonds, etc.)
  • Landlord reference letter if possible saying you pay on time and that you're quiet and nice;  and contact information for all prior landlords
  • Personal or business reference letters (sometimes required by co-ops, and a bonus for rentals)
  • Most of the above for your guarantor if you will be using one.
  • Some landlords may ask for a letter of recommendation from your prior landlord.  Most important: That you paid rent on time all the time. Second most important: You're quiet and clean.

You'll need to pay an application and credit check fee. Under New York State's 2019 landmark rent reform laws, landlords can charge a maximum of $20 per prospective tenant.  If you supply a copy of your own credit report pulled within the last 30 days, your landlord may waive the fee.

You may be asked for a deposit of anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a month's rent if the apartment is taken off the market while your application is reviewed. If you're approved, you'll need to hand over the first month’s rent, security deposit  (legally capped at one month's rent by New York's 2019 rent reform ), and a broker’s fee by certified check from a New York bank.

Ask whether the landlord will take the apartment off the market while reviewing your application or if they will continue to show it.  You may be able to make a deposit to “hold” the apartment.  The deposit amount often ranges from $500 to $1,000 and it’s only refundable if the landlord rejects your application. 

After your application is approved the landlord will expect you to sign leases and deliver the certified checks within a short time (e.g. 48 hours).

Things to look for in your lease

Things to look for in your lease

iStock

  • Does your lease have an option to renew? If so, how far in advance do you have to claim your option to renew?  How will rent increases be figured--by a fixed dollar amount, a percentage of the first year's rent, or cost of living increases?
  • Are any utilities included in the rent?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Is there a restriction on the number of air conditioning units you may have?
  • Is use of outdoor space specifically mentioned in the lease? If not, you won't be titled to a rent abatement if the space becomes unusable for any reason
  • What is the sublet policy?
  • Does your landlord have to return your security deposit in a certain amount of time? If not, try to add language specifying a time limit.
  • What does the lease say about the landlord's right to show the apartment to tenants--how many days before the end of the lease can the landlord start showing it, are there any restrictions on time or days of week, who will be allowed to access and show the apartment, and whether you'll have to make the apartment available for open houses.
  • If you are getting a free month or two rent as a rental concession, is the free month at the beginning or end of your lease? What happens if you need to break your lease?

Ready, set, search!

Ready, set, search!

iStock

Congratulations: You've made it all the way through Brick Underground's renter's guide, which means you have a basic understanding of what to expect as you navigate your way through the rental jungle of New York City. 

Depending on the complexities of your search, your budget, or the speediness with which you need to find a place, you may want a good real estate agent by your side...one who can, for instance, find pet-friendly buildings, or roommate-friendly ones that will let you subdivide your space with a temporary wall, or landlords who may be flexible with guarantors, full-time students, international renters with no U.S. credit history, recent grads with a good job but no work history, or retirees with money but no job.  The rental experts at Brick Underground partner Triplemint--a technology-enabled brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating rental experiences of their classmates and colleagues--will do just that. Bonus: If you sign up here, you can take advantage Triplemint's corporate relocation rate of 10% of a year's rent on open listings versus the typical 12-15%. 

Happy hunting!