Essential Tips for Renting in New York City as a College Student

The PropertyClub Team
Dec 10th 2019
Starting college is stressful enough as it is, but as a newcomer student in New York City, you have the added stress of finding a decent and affordable place to live. We’re coming at you with a quick guide to help ease your search for a rental in the city. You’ll surely need it, so be sure to give it a thorough read.

So, you got into your college of choice and are getting ready to make a move to New York City and start your college life. Before you get too excited, though, you need to take some time to plan your apartment search, because finding a rental as a student won’t be an easy task. Living in one of the priciest cities in the world can pose a significant challenge to a student, especially if you don’t yet have a job or don’t know your way around the market. 

It’s true that colleges and universities in NYC have dorms and offer housing to select students, but there aren’t enough dorm rooms to accommodate all the youngsters studying in the city. If you’re not lucky enough to secure a bed in a student housing dorm, then you’re going to have to find a place on your own - or with the help of a licensed real estate broker. But more on that later. Let’s start at the beginning. 

Figure out who you will be living with

The first order of business is deciding if you will be living alone or sharing an apartment with one or more roommates. Our advice to you, if you’re not from NYC and don’t know your way around the city just yet, is to get a roommate, someone you get along with so that you can figure it out together. It’s much easier to learn the ropes in a new city when you’re not alone, and it will also be a better transition if you’re used to living with family. 

Getting a roommate will also make it easier to afford a place in the city, as you’ll be sharing the rent and all other living costs between you. If you don’t have any friends to move in with, try finding a roommate on social platforms, but be sure to be careful with your selection. Get a roommate agreement, even if you do know the person you’ll be living with; you never know what the future could bring, so you want to make sure you’ll be covered in case you have a fallout. 

If you’re a student who prefers to live alone, I recommend searching for a loft-like studio or junior one-bedroom (also known as an alcove studio) near public transportation. Students from out of town should understand they will be using trains and buses a lot – so living near transit will make exploring New York a lot easier. Because studio apartments lack a bedroom with a door, they tend to be more affordable for those on a budget. For a more spacious feel, a unit with a sleeping loft or nook to accommodate a bed creates some division between the living and sleeping areas

If living with a roommate, one option is a ‘flex’ one-bedroom. A "flex" or convertible one-bedroom apartment has a floorplan that lends itself to being converted into a larger apartment, typically by sectioning off part of the living room or dining room into another bedroom through the use of temporary pressurized walls or other dividers. Not all landlords allow this to be done, so be sure to get approval before signing the lease. True two-bedrooms allow for the most comfort, and having equal-sized bedrooms without having to compromise your living space is ideal.’ -  Messiah Morency, licensed real estate salesperson with Citi Habitats.

Decide where you want to live

Once you’ve found someone to share a rental with, it’s time to think about where you would like to live, and if it makes sense for both of you. Sure, everyone would like to live next to Central Park, or in prime Manhattan, but for college students, that’s not very realistic. The main thing is to think about where university classes are held and how long it would take you to get from home to school. Look at neighborhoods that are close to your college, or that are well-connected through public transportation. Don’t be too strict about this, though, and don’t get discouraged; commute times in NYC are notoriously long, so that’s something that comes with the territory and that you’ll have to accept. You can find some great, affordable options outside of Manhattan. Be sure to check out our guides of the best and coolest Brooklyn neighborhoods, as well as the nicest neighborhoods in Queens.

Certain neighborhoods have historically appealed to students, like East Harlem or Washington Heights in Manhattan, Bushwick and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Flushing, and Jamaica in Queens, and so on. Figure out which is closest to your and your roommate’s college and go from there. 

Figure out your budget

Now, let’s say you’ve narrowed your location search down to a few neighborhoods and are trying to decide which one is the best fit. You’ll need to consider your budget and your budget limitations, and see if you can afford to live in these neighborhoods, comfortably. Some areas of NYC are way more expensive than others, so you might have to sacrifice a few things if you’re on a tight budget. Be prepared to give up on something like a shorter commute, lots of living space, or cool on-site amenities to save some cash. Depending on your budget, which should also include utilities, transportation, food, and other expenses, you can decide if you want to go for a rental or try coliving instead. Coliving is a popular choice for students nowadays, and there are plenty of locations around the city to choose from. What you get is, obviously, less personal space, but you get a turn-key space of your own, a sense of community, and plenty of other features and benefits. 

Think about getting a guarantor

If you’re fresh out of high school and just starting life as a college student, then you probably won’t have a job yet, which in New York City makes it even harder to find an apartment to rent. Landlords usually request that your yearly earnings be at least 40 times your monthly rent. Given that the average rent list price in NYC is $2,900 per month, according to Zillow, that means you need to earn at least $116,000 per year to be able to lease an apartment. What’s more, landlords will also want to check your credit score, which will have to be at least 650 or 700 for you to get approved. 

But, as we said, many college students won’t have a job when they first move to the city. So, what can you do? You can get a guarantor, which is a person that can vouch for you and be responsible for your rent in case you won’t be able to make your payments. In most cases, that will be your parents. What you should know is that as guarantors, they will be required to have even higher yearly earnings, and if they live outside the tri-state area, they will need to earn even more for you to qualify. If your parents are not an option, there are companies out there that provide guarantor services, but you’ll still need to have a good credit score to get the apartment you want. 

Another option if you don’t have a job or a solid credit score is to try subletting; the requirements might be a bit more relaxed since you’re not dealing directly with the landlord. Subletting is also a good option if you’re looking for something short-term, or you need a place a.s.a.p. In any case, you’ll have to be ready with all your paperwork, so you don’t miss out on getting the apartment you want, as the competition for rentals in NYC is pretty intense. 

Preparation is everything. All roommates should be present for showings with their paperwork ready, including guarantor documents. This way, if you love something, you can be the first to submit a completed application and not lose the property.’ - Jay Batra licensed real estate broker at Batra Group Real Estate

Consult with a real estate broker

Another common issue for new college students moving to NYC is that they simply don’t know the city, and they’re not familiar with how things work here. The Big Apple is one of a kind, and the rules that usually apply everywhere else won’t apply here. When it comes to the real estate market, as a student, you’ll be at a terrible disadvantage, and you risk being scammed and ending up with an apartment that isn’t right for you. That’s why your best bet is to consult with a licensed real estate broker. Yes, you’ll need to pay for their services, but it might be worth it in the end, as a broker will know the ins and outs of the market, will know prices in each neighborhood, will be able to recommend reputable buildings and landlords, and will negotiate your lease on your behalf. That’s a lot of risks that you’re eliminating, and you’ll also make your apartment search much more effective, as you won’t waste valuable time looking at the wrong apartments. 

Understand (and maybe negotiate) the terms of your lease

Whether you’re working with a broker, a roommate, or on your own, always take your time to thoroughly look through a lease agreement, once you’ve found an apartment you like. If it’s too easy, too cheap, or if something feels off, don’t sign anything until you’ve clarified any concerns. You have the right to check NYC property records of your rental apartment, and it would be a good idea to get that information before signing a lease. You can use public records to see if your building or unit has had any problems in the past, such as bedbugs or other infestations, and you can also see how much previous tenants paid for the place.

What’s more, this is your chance to see if the apartment is rent-controlled or rent-stabilized, or if it should be. Many landlords will make upgrades and improvements to a unit in order to be able to raise the rent above $2,500 and remove it from rent regulations. However, a lot of landlords will oversell those upgrades, so you need to be very thorough in checking all the available documents. 

Beyond that, make sure you clarify what the monthly fee includes; does it cover utilities, or will you need to pay those separately? How much have previous tenants paid for these utilities? Is there a renewal clause included in the lease? Will you potentially be charged for pre-existing damage? What’s the security deposit? These are just some of the questions to ask before committing to a place, so make sure you do your due diligence and try to negotiate

Know your rights as a tenant

Let’s say you’ve gone through all the details, and you’ve finally signed a lease and are ready to start your new life as a renter in New York City. It’s essential, however, to be prepared for any potential situation at your new place, and know the steps and procedures that you’re supposed to follow in case anything happens. We can’t stress enough how important it is for you to understand your rights as a tenant in NYC, because accidents happen all the time. Whether something breaks in your apartment, something needs to be replaced, someone breaks in and steals things, and so on, you have certain rights that your landlord will have to legally respect. So many renters out there don’t know their rights, and unfortunately end up being manipulated by landlords, who convince them to pay for certain repairs or upgrades that they shouldn’t be responsible for. We’ve got an article all about must-know tenant rights in NYC; you’ll find more details there, as well as resources where you can find more information or file complaints. Oh, and make sure you also get renters’ insurance. It doesn’t cost much, and it will come in handy in a lot of tricky situations.

Get to know your neighborhood, your building, and your apartment

Once you get settled in, either on your own or with a roommate, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the building and with the neighborhood. Don’t postpone doing this, because it will give you a sense of security and control, in case unexpected situations appear. Take a walk around the neighborhood to figure out the subway stations and lines, bus stops, parking areas, dry cleaners, laundry services (if you don’t have a laundry room in your building), grocery stores, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, pet shops, and veterinarians, if you’re a pet owner. Make a mental map - or even a physical one - of the neighborhood and start by planning out your daily routes, from home to school and vice versa. 

This is also an excellent time to look at the history of your apartment thoroughly, and see who lived there previously, what issues they had with the place if any, what upgrades or improvements have been made to the building, how has the rent price evolved over the years, and so on. If you find anything unusual or out of order, you can ask your landlord about it or file a complaint. 

Get involved and join your community

If you’ve chosen to move into an apartment for a short while, and aren’t planning to settle down there, then you probably won’t be too interested in getting to know your neighbors or your surroundings too well. However, if you’ve found an apartment that you really like, and you plan to stay put for a long time, then it makes sense to get involved a bit and become part of your community. 

It can be daunting to move into a new city as a young student, and it can also get lonely and stressful at times. Getting to know the people around you a little bit and feeling like you’re part of a community will make you feel more at home and more connected to your neighborhood. Not to mention that it’s good to know your neighbors and to be friendly with them, in case you ever require their help. Try to attend any meetings organized in your building, and participate in neighborhood or community events, to show that you’re willing to be involved and you truly care about your surroundings. Who knows, you might even make some new friends in the process. 

Enjoy college life and your new place!

Finally, the last step is to stop worrying and start enjoying your life as a New York City student. Once you’ve got everything done by the book, and you’ve settled into your new place, it’s time to relax and focus on your studies and on getting to know the city. NYC has so much to offer, especially to young people, in terms of both employment opportunities and entertainment, and it’s essential to take full advantage of these opportunities. 

Finding a place to live can be stressful, which is why it’s crucial to plan ahead and to keep in mind all the tips we’ve shared above. That way, you’ll be able to take a lot of risk out of the equation and be able to enjoy living in NYC to the fullest.