How to make sure you don’t get stuck with a crappy NYC apartment this summer

Renting an apartment in New York City can be both exciting and daunting.

Rents in the city are rising seven times faster than wages, according to an analysis by economists at rental listing platforms Zillow and StreetEasy. On top of that, the likelihood of finding a great apartment in a competitive market is tougher than it has been in decades.

How do you make sure you don’t end up with a dud? We asked New Yorkers what they look for while touring an apartment.

Look for signs of critters

The top thing that New Yorkers said they look for is signs of pests.

“I look [at] the ends of the baseboards to see if there are any gaps, because critters get in that way,” said Capria Berry, who lives in Brooklyn.

Cassandra Williams, a realtor at Compass, suggested carrying a flashlight to showings to check for signs of pests and not being shy about peeking around the place.

“It’s so important to open up the closets and check the perimeter to make sure that there’s no holes,” she said. “Vermin can squeeze into a hole the size of a quarter.”

An exterminator we spoke with agreed. Kevin Carrillo, director of service at MMPC, a pest control company in Queens, said prospective renters should open up kitchen cabinets and drawers to look for dead insects or droppings, especially on the insides of cabinet doors.

“Another really good indication is if you already see sealing material in the apartment,” he said. “Meaning [someone used] expansion foam or steel wool [to keep mice out].”

If you can, talk to the current tenant or neighbors

Talking to current tenants can help you identify problems that aren’t easily seen at viewings.

If you don’t feel comfortable knocking on a stranger’s door, Celeste Polanco, who lives in Yonkers, recommended keeping an eye out for tenants who are checking their mailbox. “I make an effort to talk to them and try to find out if they are happy in the building,” she said.

Rachel Sylwester, who lives in Manhattan, said that whenever she’s looking for a new apartment, she always tries to speak with current residents to gauge how good the building management is. She added that neighbors can provide insight into the block and neighborhood as well.

Pay attention to shared spaces in the building

The quality of shared spaces in a building, such as hallways and lobbies, is another reliable indicator of the property management’s level of care.

Multiple people suggested paying attention to the cleanliness of a building’s garbage area. “The first thing I look at is the garbage,” said Melissa Martinez, who lives in Queens. “How well are they taking out garbage?”

As Polanco said, “if you go into a building and it does not smell right, chances are that building has a lot going on in there.”

Martha Moskowitz, who lives on the Upper East Side, said she pays attention to the cleanliness of the laundry room. “If things look kind of neglected, you probably won’t have a very good landlord,” she said.

Check water temperature and pressure

Don’t forget to check a unit’s water. Turn on faucets in the kitchen and bathroom and make sure the pressure and temperature are to your liking.

New York City law requires property owners to supply hot water at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the entire year.

There are requirements for faucet water pressure too, including a minimum of 8 psi. While you’d have to carry a water pressure gauge to get an exact measurement, running your hand under the running faucet should be enough in most situations.

Look up past and current building violations

Before signing a lease, it’s a good idea to check the building’s past complaints and violations, which can indicate the quality and responsiveness of the management.

Thankfully for renters, this information is all accessible online through city and state websites, though they can be hard to navigate. Who Owns What is a handy aggregation of building data, such as violations, complaints and landlord information. It’s also a great entry point into New York City’s public databases like ACRIS and HPD.

The city’s Department of Buildings website can be intimidating, but you can easily look up property records, complaints, violations and even inspections as long as you have the address handy.

Try to negotiate a longer lease

Williams from Compass advised renters to sign a longer lease if they’re confident that they like a neighborhood or an apartment.

“Landlords are now able to increase the rent [for rent-stabilized units] by 2.75% on one-year leases and 5.25% on two year leases,” Williams said, referring to the city Rent Guidelines Board’s vote in June allowing 1 million rent-stabilized apartments to hike rent in the fall. “It’s better to sign a longer lease if possible in order to lock in a lower rate.”

Earlier this year, a state law was passed empowering tenants in market-rate apartments to fight large rent increases or non-renewals of their leases in housing court if they believe they qualify for so-called good cause protections.

Get as much information up front — and in writing

When signing a lease, renters should ask clarifying questions about utility costs, the security deposit and any additional fees, Williams said.

“You also want to make sure that you establish the deposit price and know if that’s something that you will be able to get back if there are no security problems,” she said. “Also find out if there’s a fee to break release in case you have a life change.”


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