How to check your NYC apartment building's ratings—or rate your own place
- Apartment review sites provide an inside look at life in a building before you sign a lease
- Renters can rate buildings on cleanliness, maintenance, pest problems, and more
When you're searching for an apartment in New York City's complicated rental market, doing your homework on a new place is more important than ever. Take it from us: Doing research on a building before you sign the lease means you are more likely to avoid a bad situation.
One way you can do that is to read reviews from other renters—just like you would read restaurant reviews before making a dinner reservation. This can help give you some inside intel before you commit to a new apartment. Building ratings aren't necessarily new—Apartment Ratings, which is also a listing site, has been doing this since 2000—and newer platforms such as openigloo and GoHomeNY say they provide even more in-depth scorecards on the city's apartments and buildings.
After all, when you rent in NYC, you give the landlord a lot of information about yourself. And very often, you've only visited the apartment for 10 or 15 minutes. Think of being able to access reviews as leveling the playing field, at least a bit.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article was published in September 2020. We are presenting it here with updated information for July 2023.]
How apartment building reviews work
Want to save time by honing in on top-rated landlords from the get-go? If you are looking for a place in Manhattan, longtime site Apartment Ratings uses an "epIQ index" that's designed to "give you an accurate and authentic understanding of what life at a community is like prior to signing a lease." (The site doesn't cover the outer boroughs.) It is not very comprehensive in terms of looking up a landlord by name, but it's a great way to combine your apartment search with renter ratings in one click.
Renters rate buildings on six categories: noise, safety, maintenance, grounds, and office staff as well as neighborhood. Management receives a letter grade depending on whether they respond to reviews and how quickly—and scanning different buildings shows that failing to respond results in an F that lowers the overall rating, so if you see an apartment you like with a D+ grade, weigh that against how many stars it has from renter reviews (as shown below).
The results are presented in a familiar report-card format. There's also a place for renters to leave comments.
You can limit your search to buildings with an A+ epIQ index. But note: Checking that box resulted in a mere seven of 1,038 total apartments for rent across the five boroughs. (There were only 80 apartments with a D+ or above letter grade. The rest were N/A.) The map feature lets you zoom in on desired neighborhoods. Other search filters include price, size, and the usual amenities.
Openigloo is another go-to resource that lets renters read and anonymously share building reviews, browse available listings, and apply to apartments they are interested in. Entering a building's address brings up general information about the building, the names of the property owners, and a snapshot of violations pulled from the city. You will also see how many stars the building has based on renter reviews—though if you want to read those reviews, you'll need to first submit your own anonymous review of a building you live or have lived in.
Allia Mohamed, Openigloo's co-founder, says as a newcomer, she didn't know much about how renting in NYC worked. So when the heat stopped functioning in her second apartment—in the middle of the winter—she realized she needed to do a better job at finding a place where landlords cared about their renters.
"I knew they were out there, and I wanted a platform to help find them," she says. "Renters are asked for a million and one documents when they apply for an apartment—it's time they got some information in return on their prospective buildings and landlords."
That's why she created openigloo. According to Mohamed, "We believe that renters are entitled to know the good, bad, and ugly about an apartment before they move in and get their questions answered: Is the building rent-stabilized? How much does the rent go up every year? Are there any open violations?"
The site asks users to rate their buildings on a variety of factors like water pressure, cleanliness, pest control, and the responsiveness of the landlord. You can also leave comments about what you liked and didn't like about the building as well as what might improve the rental experience. Mohamed says early feedback from users prompted the team to add more rating criteria like garbage management and how likely you are to get your security deposit back quickly.
Mohamed says they've recently added a feature called Listings From The Future, which connects renters with units that haven't officially hit the market yet. "This allows renters to secure a lease earlier than normal and avoid the competition often found in NYC," she says. How it works is that you answer a few questions about annual income and desired move-in date and then sit back and wait for alerts.
Another site hoping to lead in the building review space is GoHomeNY. Justin Lam set the site up a few years ago and it now has more than 4,000 reviews. Instead of boxes to check, users are encouraged to write whatever they like about their building. Of course, not every building will turn up any reviews—in fact, zero of 20 addresses had reviews yet. And those that do often have only one reviewer, so you'll want to consider how much to rely on the information. On the plus side, the reviews tend to be incredibly detailed, some with screenshots of email communications with the landlord (vetted to protect anonymity) or photos of nasty conditions. And the more intel you can gather, the more empowered you will be as a renter.
Looking for a landlord with a good reputation—and a rental agent you can trust? Put your search in the hands of The Agency, a tech-savvy real estate brokerage and Brick Underground partner. Founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues, The Agency will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent if the apartment is an "open" listing and you sign up here. Bonus: The agents at The Agency are a delight to deal with.
How to find vital statistics on a building
There are multiple public online resources for researching a specific landlord before you move in. Among those is NYC's Housing Development & Preservation (HPD), which lets you enter a building address to see a snapshot of complaints, violations, litigations, and bedbug reports, and then to drill down to get the details on each of those categories. Violations include safety concerns like failing to provide self-closing public doors and adequate lighting as well as more hazardous issues such as vermin, lead paint, and lack of hot water, heat, or electricity.
A good starting place might be checking the Public Advocate’s list of the 100 Worst Landlords in NYC to see if your potential landlord's name is there. This ranking is based on open HPD violations at all of their buildings, and names the buildings as well.
Some private listing sites like RENT BETTA use publicly available data to establish ratings for buildings based on open violations.
And openigloo pulls in city data so renters can get an accurate snapshot of how well a building is managed.
So if you want to avoid having your own nightmare-landlord-in-NYC story, it's good to know there are resources you can turn to for helpful information. Better safe than sorry.
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