NYC Rental Guide & Tips

This document contains everything you need to know to rent in New York City. From the required paperwork to tips for maximizing your efforts to your rights as a tenant, this information will help you be prepared so you can find exactly what you're looking for, and be approved quickly once you do!

Contacting a Landlord Directly:

Landlords prefer to use brokers because they believe brokers make their job easier. When you call a prospective landlord, you need to assure them you are not wasting their time. Otherwise, they will pass you along to a broker and their fees.

You MUST have all required paperwork (as described in this document) before making a single phone call.

Be very clear when making phone calls. Make sure to let people know the address (with unit number, if possible) you are calling about, and confirm the asking rental price.

When scheduling an appointment to tour an apartment, be sure to give the landlord or leasing agent your name, and let them know that all your financials and paperwork are ready, and you are interested in completing the application process immediately.

This Guide includes an overview of common paperwork required by landlords, as well as tips to make your rental search and tenancy easier.

Commonly Required Paperwork

Every landlord has their own criteria for choosing tenants. However, the following list comprises the most common paperwork requested by landlords. You must get these ready BEFORE you begin your search.

Income

The basic requirement is that you annually earn 40-50 times the amount of the monthly rent, and a good credit rating (see credit report paragraph below). That means that if you are applying for a $2,000 apartment per month, your income will have to be between $80,000 per year to $100,000 per year (depending on the landlord's requirements). If you don't make the required income, then you'll need a guarantor.

Application Form

The first step that will start the process once an apartment is found is filling out an application form. Landlords and management companies will give you one when you express interest in renting an apartment. Usually, it's filled out on the spot. So again, be prepared, have on hand your previous landlord's name, address, phone number, your bank account numbers, and your employment information - such as supervisor/manager's name, contact number, etc.

Cash is the only form of currency accepted when submitting an application. So when you are seeing apartments make sure to have at least $100-$150 per applicant on you. You don't want to run out to an ATM and have someone else lease your apartment!

NOTE: When making your appointments, it's wise to ask up front what their application fee is - this way you can show up with the appropriate amount of money.

Letter of Employment

This must be printed on official company letterhead. The letter must state your position, length of employment or start date, and your annual income. Your letter of employment must be signed by someone who is authorized to verify the information. Please note that a signed offer and acceptance letter are usually not sufficient. If you don't have one, ask your boss or the Human Resources Department for one immediately.

If you're self employed then you'll need a letter from your CPA stating so, verifying your present income, length of time you've been self employed, the CPAs contact telephone number for any questions, and all the other documents described here.

Pay Stubs

A copy of the last three consecutive pay stubs, (if applicable). Six is better.

Tax Returns

Most landlords and management companies require a copy of your most recent federal tax return. Some want the last two years. Make copies of the first page showing income and the last page known as the "signatory page" (last page) for the last two years.

Landlord Letter

A reference letter from your recent landlord is now required. It is also to your benefit to get a letter from your previous landlord. If possible, get a second landlord reference letter. Do not submit an application without one.

If you absolutely must proceed without a letter from your landlord, then have their phone number and address available and know that your prospective landlord will be calling to check the reference. Your prospective landlord will contact your previous landlord to confirm rental dates, rental amount, and whether you were a good tenant or not.

Bank Statements

Your three most recent statements from your checking account, savings account or any financial institution should do. Again, the first page showing average balance should be acceptable.

Bank Account Numbers

Bank account numbers are often required on application forms. Have them ready just in case you need them. If you've just moved to New York City, you should open up a local bank account immediately. Out of state bank accounts can be considered as secondary - and your New York one will be considered primary.

Letters of Reference

You'll need some reference letters and contact info. Think of people like attorneys, accountants, former employers, professors, or if you're self employed -- your own clients. Try to get one or two character reference letters.

NOTE: Not all landlords will require letters of reference, but if you have one or two, these can help tilt the rental decision in your favor.

Identification

Many landlords require a copy of a photo ID at the time of application. By coming prepared with copies already made, you indicate to them that you are responsible and prepared, and will act the same way once you are their tenant.

Funds

When you sign a lease you will need to have funds available in the amount of rent and security deposit in certified form - Bank Checks, Certified checks or Money orders. Personal checks are not accepted.

Credit Reports

Credit reports are always run on every applicant and guarantor. The price of application fees range from $50-250 depending on the landlord or management company. You must pay for the application fee in cash - so have some cash on you, as stated earlier.

Unfortunately, credit reports obtained on your own are not accepted. A major part of the approval process is based on your credit report, so if you have bad credit, you may need to look into a guarantor or paying a larger security deposit or more rent up front.

What is a Guarantor?

A guarantor, also called a co-signor, is someone who is willing to guarantee your lease. The guarantor is responsible for all terms of your lease and guaranties not only your share of the rent but the entire lease - if in a share situation.

Do I need a Guarantor?

If you do not meet the financial or credit requirements, a guarantor might be your solution. Students or young individuals who do not meet the income requirements will usually need a guarantor. When bad credit is the reason, allowing a guarantor will depend on how bad the credit is and on how strict the landlord or the management company is. Sometimes a combination of guarantor and extra security is needed. If you think you might need a guarantor please get one before beginning your apartment hunt.

Who can be a Guarantor?

A guarantor does not have to be a relative. Many landlords require the guarantor to live in the Tri-State area: New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. But more and more landlords are now accepting guarantors from other states - especially with students.

Try to prepare your potential guarantor by speaking with them and advising them of what they will be asked for. You might have to act quickly as their cooperation may be critical for your approval.

A guarantor needs to fill out an application form and provide the required documents. The requirements are usually good credit and double the income requirements of an applicant. If an applicant is required to show an annual income of 40-50 times the monthly rent, a guarantor is required to show annual income of 80-100 times the monthly rent or substantial cash/investments.

The documents required are similar though usually all that is needed are proof of income (usually by providing tax returns) and a credit report. Guarantors usually do not have to be present at lease signing.

By arriving prepared with all the paperwork mentioned above, you greatly increase your chances of being approved quickly and painlessly. To benefit you even further, some quick tips for approval have been included, as well as a quick summary of your rights as a tenant. These are by no means comprehensive, but may help you avoid issues in the future.

Tips for a Quick Approval:
INSIDER TIP #1.

Since you're basically acting as your own broker, you will have to be patient when calling landlords directly. If you do not get through the first time, don't give up. Try not to leave a message unless you have been transferred to the person in charge of the apartment you're calling about. But, don't expect them to call you back. Anyone in real estate gets 50-100 calls every day. You may be last on the totem pole. So call back every half hour until you catch someone's ear. Then hold on to it!

Once you have a real person on the phone, it's time to be specific. State the address of the apartment you're inquiring about. Even the apartment number if you have it, and the asking rent quoted in the listing. Real estate brokers aren't the only ones known for bait and switch tactics. And sometimes it's not anyone's fault.

Good apartments in Manhattan last for about 15 minutes. Which means if you're calling about a specific apartment and it's gone, chances are they're planning on showing you the next one available. In most cases, it's also more expensive than the first place you inquired about.

INSIDER TIP #2.

The morning of your scheduled appointment, call the landlord or leasing agent again and confirm. Ask if you're still being shown the apartment you first inquired about. If it has been rented, but they offer to show you something similar, find out how similar. Ask about the rent. Ask about the views (if the original one had some). And be ready to either accept an entirely new place or walk if the price isn't within your reach.

INSIDER TIP #3.

Be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared. If you are seriously looking to rent an apartment, you must be prepared to act on the spot or risk losing your dream place just because you have to go back to get your documents.

Again, take all the necessary paperwork with you. A detailed list is included above. And be prepared every time you go see an apartment. Have several copies of this information at your fingertips so you can leave a copy at every place you apply for.

INSIDER TIP #4.

The application process usually takes approximately 24-48 hours. Continue to see other apartments if you can. If you like another one, apply for it. Best-case scenario: every landlord/management company will accept you and you can choose the apartment you like best, or at least one landlord will accept you and you haven't wasted your time searching.

Sometimes you can speed up the process. Since you're showing up prepared you can request a quicker response time. This is especially useful if you're relocating and staying at a hotel or on someone's sofa. Remember: if you don't ask, you don't get.

INSIDER TIP #5.

When calling the landlord or management company for an appointment to see an apartment, ask when those photos were taken. It's not uncommon to see 5-7 year old photographs. After all, with so many people moving in and out, it's almost impossible for a landlord or management company to take new photos every time and post current ones onto their listings pages.

INSIDER TIP #6.

Never ask if the price of a rental is negotiable on the phone. Never. It may cost you the apartment. The only time to negotiate your rental price is at the time you submit an application. Not while someone is showing you the place. Not on the phone. Only at the time you have all your documents, and are applying for the apartment.

INSIDER TIP #7.

Last, but not least, dress as if you're going on a job interview and arrive on time! The first impression on your prospective landlord is the one that will stick. This will help you look better to a landlord or management company than other prospective renters and can, in most cases, help you get into that perfect apartment you've found.

Tenant's Rights:

Keep in mind that you have rights as a tenant. It is to your benefit to fully understand these rights as they relate both to your landlord and your apartment. Included here are a few things that will help you avoid potential problems.

Review the lease.

Carefully review all of the conditions of the tenancy before you sign on the dotted line. Your lease or rental agreement may contain a provision that you find unacceptable: restrictions on guests, pets, design alterations, or running a home business.

Get everything in writing.

To avoid disputes or misunderstandings with your landlord, get everything in writing. Keep copies of any correspondence and follow up an oral agreement with a letter, setting out your understandings. For example, if you ask your landlord to make repairs put your request in writing and keep a copy for yourself. If the landlord agrees orally, send a letter confirming this.

Protect your privacy rights.

Next to disputes over rent or security deposits, one of the most common and emotion-filled misunderstandings arises over the tension between a landlord's right to enter a rental unit and a tenant's right to be left alone. If you understand your privacy rights, (for example, the amount of notice your landlord must provide before entering), it will be easier to protect them.

Demand repairs.

Know your rights to live in a habitable rental unit -- and don't give them up. The vast majority of landlords are required to offer their tenants livable premises, including adequate weatherproofing; heat, water, and electricity; and clean, sanitary, and structurally safe premises. If your rental unit is not kept in good repair, you have a number of options, ranging from withholding a portion of the rent, to paying for repairs and deducting the cost from your rent, to calling the building inspector (who may order the landlord to make repairs), to moving out without liability for your future rent.

Talk to your landlord.

Keep communication open with your landlord. If there's a problem -- for example, if the landlord is slow to make repairs - discuss the issue to see if it can be resolved short of a costly legal battle.

Purchase renters' insurance.

Your landlord's insurance policy will not cover your losses due to theft or damage. Most landlords require you get insurance before you move in. Renters' insurance also covers you if you're sued by someone who claims to have been injured in your rental due to your carelessness.

Protect your security deposit.

To protect yourself and avoid any misunderstandings, make sure your lease or rental agreement is clear on the use and refund of security deposits, including allowable deductions. When you move in, do a walk-through with the landlord or managing agent to record existing damage to the premises on a move-in statement or checklist.

Protect your safety.

Learn whether your building and neighborhood are safe, and what you can expect your landlord to do about it if they aren't. Get copies of any state or local laws that require safety devices such as deadbolts and window locks, check out the property's vulnerability to intrusion by a criminal, and learn whether criminal incidents have already occurred on the property or nearby. If a crime is highly likely, your landlord may be obligated to take some steps to protect you.