How soon should I start to look for an apartment?

Start your search 30 – 45 days before you need to start a lease. Some landlords start showing units during the last month of a prior tenant’s occupancy, and by missing those you are lowering your options.

Most apartments get listed in the very beginning of the month, shortly after they have been vacated.  It is a common renter misconception that "new apartments get listed every day".  This is definitely not true.  Almost all apartments for that month will be listed in the beginning of each month and then that's all there will be for that month so choose the best one earlier in the month before all the good options are gone.

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How should I prepare to rent an apartment?

Be ready to commit now

You mean I can’t "take a day to think about it?”  Usually, the answer is no, especially if it’s the summer, when you’re competing with hundreds of other Renters looking for the same apartment.  You can take a day to think about it, but odds are that if it's the best apartment you've seen then it's probably the best apartment your competition has seen and the apartment will be rented by then.  When you see the apartment you want, be prepared to fill out the applications, hand in all your paperwork and put down a deposit right away.  If you need your roommate’s or spouse’s approval, then we implore you to come together.  The vacancy rate in Manhattan is low and if you lose an apartment due to “wavering” you may not find something as good to replace it.

Know your credit score

Why? The Rental Agent will be running my credit when I apply for an apartment.  Why should I know my credit score before then?  If you apply for an apartment and then find out you have poor credit, you will have wasted your time searching for apartments you won’t qualify for.  Even if you have great credit, you may be shocked at some of the extraordinarily high standards some landlords have.  This doesn’t mean you can’t get the apartment you want; you may still be able to qualify if a guarantor is available or if you are willing to put up extra security.  You must be prepared for these situations before you view the apartment to assure you can strike fast when you find the apartment you want. In New York City, credit is the single most important factor Landlords use to determine whether to accept or reject an application.  Landlords will almost always take an unemployed grad student with perfect credit as opposed to a high-earning financial wiz with terrible credit. Knowing your credit ahead of time will save you time and headaches and your apartment search will be much more efficient!

Know your full budget up front

Well, I could pay up to $2,500 for a one-bedroom, but I’m going to tell my rental agent my budget is $2,200 because that’s what I would ideally like to pay. Big mistake! Disclose your full budget limits upfront!  Here is why: If you spend the first two weeks of the month looking for a one-bedroom only up to $2,200 and then realize that to get the place you want you need to spend your maximum $2,500, by that time all the good $2,500 one-bedrooms for that month will have rented. The best apartments rent in the first 10-15 days of each month so look at your entire range from the start.  Be smart!

Paying double rent

This is a very common issue.  Apartments become vacant on the first of the month, which is typically when they can start to be viewed by potential Tenants.  Most Landlords will want the new lease to start immediately, meaning perhaps the fifth day of that month. They certainly aren’t going to push the lease start date to the beginning of the next month.  They would lose an entire month’s rent!  But how can you, the Renter, move out of your old apartment in the middle of a month? Now you see the problem. Well, then I’ll just wait until the end of the month to start looking and start the lease a few days later just when my old lease ends. The problem with that is the majority of quality apartments available in the beginning of the month will be gone by the end of the month, and it is very difficult to find a good apartment at the end of the month. You can see why this is such major issue. Unfortunately it’s a fact of Manhattan life. By refusing to pay double rent you will be limiting your options. Don’t pass on a great apartment because of the lease start date. You’ll be living there several years. In the long run a better apartment is worth more than saving a little money due to a lease start discrepancy. After all, this is your home we’re talking about!

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What are typical qualifications to rent an apartment in NYC?

There are several rules of thumb.  First and foremost, you must have good credit (high 600’s at the minimum).  Second, the Landlord wants to see that you earn - or that you and your roommate(s) combine to earn - 40 times the monthly rent in annual salary.  For example, to rent a $2,500 one-bedroom, you should be earning $100,000. If you don’t meet these standards you may need a Guarantor, which is essentially a Co-signer.  Your buddy Chuck, the part-time caterer, is not what a Landlord is looking for here.  A Guarantor also has qualifications they must meet.  See our Guarantor FAQ here for further details.

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What paperwork do I need to apply for an apartment?

When you are ready to start looking for an apartment you must have all your paperwork with you (tax return, pay stubs, letter of employment, landlord reference and bank statement).  Why?  Because when you find your apartment you must act fast.  In New York City, apartments can be listed and rented in a matter of hours.  Waiting 24 hours for your HR department to prepare a required letter of employment can cause you to lose the apartment to someone who already had his or her paperwork in hand.  By having all this paperwork prepared and with you, you can assure yourself the best chance of beating out your competition.

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What qualifications must my Guarantor meet?

Generally a Guarantor should show on their most recent tax return 80 times the monthly rent in annual salary.  For example, on a $2,500 one-bedroom, the Guarantor should be showing $200,000 in annual income.  A Guarantor must typically submit the first 2 pages of his most recent Federal 1040 tax return, a recent bank statement, a photo ID and must also undergo a credit check.  Guarantors often don’t enjoy being subject to the same type of financial scrutiny they usually experience when applying for a mortgage so make sure your Guarantor is as willing and fully prepared as you are.  If your Guarantor’s financial privacy is an issue let us know right away so we can direct you to a landlord whose documentation requirements aren’t as invasive as others.

What if my Guarantor owns a lot of real estate?

This won't help the Guarantor's qualifications. They can’t sell a house in five days to cover missed rent payments.

My Dad has $400,000 in his IRA. What if I just submit his retirement statement?

Landlords can’t go after retirement money to pay rent, only income and liquid assets.  Money in retirement accounts won't help UNLESS your guarantor is actually of age to freely draw from this account.

My Dad refuses to give out his Social Security number.

Then he cannot be a guarantor.  No exceptions ever to this one.

My Aunt is retired. Can she still be my Guarantor?

If she has enough cash assets in the bank, then possibly.  But normally a Guarantor must show sufficient income.  Be prepared: Landlords differ in their views and judge applicants on a case-by-case basis.  A Landlord may reject a Guarantor in the beginning of the month but may accept that very same Guarantor if the apartment hasn’t rented towards the end of the month.

My Guarantor is from California. Is this OK?

Many times, the answer is no. In order to sue a Guarantor, the Landlord must physically go to the state of the Guarantor’s residence.  A Building Owner cannot subpœna a Guarantor to come to NY. This is why many Landlords insist upon Tri-state Guarantors (NY, NJ or CT).  Ask your Agent though!  He or she will know which landlords will accept such a guarantor.

I have a roommate. Can my mother only guarantee my portion of the rent?

A Guarantor guarantees a lease, not a person. In a roommate situation all Guarantors guarantee all the roommates.  There isn't any division of liability.  Be sure your Guarantor is aware of this. No other way around it!

Company note: You may think you have a Guarantor but make sure BEFORE you even start your search that your Guarantor understands all the information above before you assume they are willing to submit personal information, undergo a credit check and also guarantee your roommate, whom they may have never met. 

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How can I guarantee my rent won't increase too much when I go to sign an extension?

Ah, now you’ve asked the question!  This is the #1 issue we deal with in apartment rentals.  Unfortunately, you’re not going to like the answer. The rent can rise by any amount at all for the second year of a lease (should you choose to renew) and there is no way to “lock in” a set amount for that second year. However, if you are a good tenant and pay your rent on time, landlords will give you minimal increases so that you will stay.

The reason Landlords don’t agree up front to a locked-in second year increase is because no one knows the state of the rental market one year from now. If rents jump by 30% in the city, the Owner, being a smart businessperson, will want the right to increase the price to the true “market” rate.  As a Renter, there is just no way to protect yourself.  It’s a fact of life, and this does not just apply to NYC - this applies to apartments on everywhere.  The only way to get an apartment and guarantee yourself of steady future payments is to buy something and get locked into a mortgage.  Rental payments just don’t happen like that.

This also emphasizes yet another reason to use DSA Realty to find your next home.  We only deal with reputable Landlords and reputable Landlords are good at keeping Tenants.  This means they do not ask for huge rent increases on lease renewals.  The good Landlords only make significant rent increase (if they are warranted) for new tenants signing brand-new leases, not on old tenants renewing leases.

Although this seems highly concerning, it really is nothing to worry about at all if you get involved with the right Landlord.  Ask your DSA Agent about the reputations of the Landlords for the apartments you are seeing! 

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How soon after I apply should I expect to sign a lease?

24 – 48 hours, so get that cash in the bank now and ready to turn into certified checks!  The landlord will want the deal closed immediately since he has likely stopped showing the apartment to other prospective tenants.  You can’t wait a week unless you put down a huge deposit or pay all the money up front.

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May I apply for an apartment using personal checks?

Only cash, certified cashier's checks or money orders will be accepted.  Personal checks are never accepted at any stage of the apartment rental process and this includes even for application fees.  Credit cards are sometimes allowed although there is always a surcharge required.

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"I want laundry in my building"

Here are some general rules for you.  Almost all Doorman and Elevator buildings have laundry on-site. Almost all Walk-up buildings do not have laundry. Of course, Doorman and Elevator buildings are significantly more expensive than Walk-ups.  

Laundromats are on every block in this city and they usually pick up and deliver your laundry back to your very doorstep.  Don’t pass on a great apartment due to this minor detail.  But if you absolutely insist on having laundry in your building then be sure you have the budget to afford that amenity.

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"I have a pet"

If your pet is a dog then unfortunately Rover has just cost you roughly 80% of your possible marketplace. Another general rule is that only 20% of buildings allow dogs, and even fewer allow large dogs (generally over 25 pounds are considered 'large'). Even if your dog is 7 pounds, he will not be allowed into one of these buildings.

Cats are allowed in almost all buildings but that doesn't mean ten cats!

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"I want to sign a 2 year lease to start"

Many Landlords don’t offer this. They don’t want to get locked in to a tenant who they don't really know yet and may turn out to be troublesome or irresponsible. Once you’ve lived there a year on good terms, then maybe ask for a two-year extension.  And of the Landlords who will allow a 2 year lease to start, many will require a higher rent in the second year.

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"I only want to sign a short-term lease. One year is too long."

This depends upon the Landlord.  As in most of Real Estate, there isn’t a “black & white” answer here.  Some Landlords will allow this and some will not.  The time of year (busy summer vs. slower winter) may also affect this answer.  If you are looking to start a lease in the summer and then end that lease in a winter month almost every Landlord will reject that application.  Likewise, if you start a lease in winter but are willing to end the lease in a summer month, most Landlords will happily accept that.

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