Roommates + Landlords

What NYC renters wish they knew about dealing with a landlord before they signed a lease

By Kelly Kreth  |
November 3, 2021 - 1:30PM

"I recommend having a strictly professional relationship with your landlord because when friends fall out an apartment is too important to have to give up,” says Erika, a renter in Bushwick.


If you’ve been planning to rent in New York City you’ve probably given some thought to the type of apartment, building, and neighborhood you want. But did you think about what kind of landlord situation would work best for you?

Do you want to be in a large building run by a management company, or a small, family-owned building? Do you prefer a more anonymous existence, or one where you are on a first-name basis with the owner and staff?

It’s not something that new renters tend to give a lot of thought to before they sign a lease, but a good or bad relationship with landlord can make or break a NYC renting situation—and there are some clues you should be on high alert for—like the condition of common areas in the building or whether there are violations and complaints against the building. That can give you a sense of whether an owner is responsive when apartments need repairs.

Brick Underground asked some seasoned NYC renters for their best advice on dealing with a landlord. Here’s what they had to say.

Avoid living too close to your landlord

“It’s better to have your landlord live far from you. This way you won’t feel like being watched every time you do something. Living in a place where the landlord also lives is a recipe for disaster.

“I prefer to deal with a small landlord instead of big management company. With a small mom-and-pop owner, you can also call them directly and speak to the person responsible for repairs. When my boiler goes out in the winter, my landlord comes within minutes. He once went to Home Dept to buy me a heater for the time I had to wait for a pro to come fix the system—all at no extra cost to me. [Editor’s note: That’s how it’s supposed to work. You’re entitled to have heat in your apartment.]

“Also, I found landlords with just a building or two are easier to deal with if you are going to be late with a payment. Case in point: the 2020 lockdown. We easily made a personal arrangement. It’s also simpler to negotiate rent increases. If they know you personally, they may also allow some alterations like painting or wallpaper.

“Years ago, I dodged the craziest landlord situation. My husband and I found an ad for a place on Staten Island. When we arrived at the location—a nice, private house —we were shown a garage with a shower and kitchen. One of the apartment 'walls' was the garage gate! The owner told us she has a pantry in our apartment so she sometimes comes into the unit! We left right away. So make sure you speak directly to smaller landlords and view the property carefully because some may not have an understanding about what privacy and peaceful living means. They just want supplemental income.”  —Vlad, Brooklyn

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Pick your battles

“I looked at an apartment online and thought it was falsely advertised and wrote a negative review about the landlord on Yelp. A year later, I wanted to rent in a different building that coincidentally had the same owner. The landlord informed my agent they would not rent to me because they had seen my negative comments.

“So I learned its best to pick your battles with a landlord. They can add you to their 'blacklist' for their other properties and that can affect your ability to find an apartment.

“Also, I recommend learning the rules for subletting and breaking your lease, so you don’t run into trouble there. Also it is not smart to apply to multiple apartments at the same time because you will have your credit pulled several times in a short period of time. This can negatively affect your credit score. [Editor’s note: Your credit report is good for 30 days, so you can submit it yourself when applying for multiple apartments to avoid an impact on your credit score.]

“And lastly, I would recommend renting in a building with a live-in super or management on site. This makes it easier to get repairs completed on a timely basis and have an emergency be able to be addressed immediately.” —Brian, Long Island City

Don’t forfeit your security deposit

“Getting your security deposit back can take some finesse. It’s important to think about that even at the start of your lease. So many people lose part of their security deposit because of silly mistakes. [Editor’s note: Landlords are required to return the remainder of a security deposit within two weeks. If you’re have trouble getting yours returned, one effective remedy is to file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General’s office.]

“I suggest taking a video of your apartment before you move in and one the day you move out. This way its condition can be documented. I just did that as I moved two weeks ago and am waiting on my security deposit to be returned without a penalty. —Kunal, Queens

Be wary of being too friendly with a landlord

“I’ve learned to deal with landlords on a case-by-case basis. Most consider paying rent on time and in full as the main priority. In my experience, private landlords can be easy to talk to and negotiate with.

I also recommend having a strictly professional relationship with your landlord because when friends fall out an apartment is too important to have to give up.” —Erika, Bushwick



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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