Essential Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment in New York City

The PropertyClub Team
Dec 26th 2019
Finding a decent place to rent in New York City is no easy task, especially nowadays, when prices are surging, and everyone’s fighting for the same listings. But if you’re one of the lucky ones and you’ve found an apartment you like, don’t rush in and sign that lease without asking a few critical questions first.

Let’s say you’ve gone through the hassle of browsing listings and looking at apartments, trying to find a great place to live in New York City, and you’ve finally found something you like. We know that the competition is tight, and you should waste no time showing your interest and landing the apartment you want, but it’s crucial to get a few things straight before signing any papers. So, before you get going on your application checklist, be sure to have this next list of questions ready to ask your future landlord. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so it’s good to make sure you’ve got everything covered before you move in. Check out below the most crucial questions to ask when renting an apartment in NYC:

What are the lease terms? 

An essential aspect to cover before signing an apartment lease is getting to know the terms of said lease. Sit down and talk to the landlord to figure out things like security deposits, lease renewal options, notices to vacate, the duration of your contract, your move-in date, and so on. Make sure you understand everything that’s in your lease agreement and raise any concerns with the landlord. If you’re not sure of something, you can also consult with a real estate professional to make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re about to sign. 

How will I pay the rent, and what does it include?

Before you sign up and get ready to move into your new apartment, make sure you understand what’s included in your monthly rent. Ask your landlord about utilities; are they included in the monthly fee, or will you need to pay for those separately? Think about how much you’ll have to put aside each month on living costs, not just on your base rent, and maybe try to negotiate a better number. This is also the time to find out how you will pay your rent; will you pay your landlord in person, via post, or electronically? It’s important to note that electronic payments might charge you a processing fee, as well, so include that in your negotiation. 

Will my rent go up? If so, when and under what circumstances?

New York City landlords are allowed to raise rents once it’s time for renewal, or in the case of major capital improvements to the apartment or the building. Ask your landlord about future rent hikes, and also ask them if there are any plans in the works to upgrade the building. You don’t want to move in, only to learn that your building is a noisy construction site and that your rent will end up being higher a lot sooner than you were expecting. You should also do a bit of research to see if your apartment is or has ever been rent-stabilized or rent-controlled; some landlords might try to raise the rent when a new tenant moves in, basically taking the unit out from rent regulation. 

Am I required to get renters’ insurance?

This is one of the most important aspects to cover when renting an apartment in NYC. Some landlords will require you to get renters’ insurance before you sign the lease, but in many cases, they won’t. However, you’d be much better off getting renters’ insurance anyway, because it can come in handy in a plethora of situations. Don’t think that your landlord’s insurance will cover any problems, because you might end up paying for repairs or damages out of your own pocket. Read up on what benefits renters’ insurance brings; it’s not at all expensive, and it can be incredibly useful. 

What’s the apartment history?

More often than not, you’ll find a listing that sounds too good to be true. The price is very reasonable, the location is excellent, it looks functional and modern, and the landlord seems very friendly and even eager to negotiate. Before you jump the gun and sign a lease, do some research to find out about the history of the apartment. You want to know if there were any issues with the unit or the building, like bed bugs and other infestations, or if there are safety concerns in the building or neighborhood. Ask your landlord about it, and if you’re still not convinced, you can file a request online to view property records and check for yourself. This is one of your fundamental rights as a NYC tenant, so don’t overlook it. 

What changes can I make to the apartment?

Everyone has different tastes, and a lot of people will be willing to rent a less luxurious apartment if it comes at a better price, in hopes of sprucing it up afterward. But before you start planning out any renovation work, make sure you discuss this aspect with your future landlord. Find out what you’re allowed to change in the apartment; some landlords will be opposed to you drilling any holes in the walls to decorate them, for example, or they won’t be too thrilled about your idea to repaint the walls or remove doors. Take a good look around the apartment, tell your landlord about what you’d like to change, and see how they respond. 

How are repairs handled, especially in emergencies?

Things tend to break around an apartment, like appliances, electrical installations, furniture items, and other things of this nature. It’s crucial to know what steps you have to follow in case a situation emerges: who you have to contact and how you contact them, how will the work be done, who will pay for repairs or damages, and so on. You should be well prepared for any emergency, like if your electricity, heat or water is cut off because you can’t get on with your daily life without these essentials. Make sure you know who you have to call and how long such problems will take to solve. Also, try to learn about your rights as a tenant in these types of situations, so that you know who is responsible for what in your apartment. 

Is the apartment pet-friendly or not?

If you’re looking for a rental in New York City and plan to move in alongside one or more pets, then don’t leave this aspect out until the moment comes to sign a lease agreement. Make sure you either filter your search to include only pet-friendly apartments in NYC or mention the fact that you have a pet to the landlord the first chance you get. You don’t want to waste time looking at apartments and negotiating with landlords, only to end up being refused because you failed to mention you have pets. Nowadays, landlords are very open to renters with pets, so don’t be afraid to bring it up. 

What’s the guest policy in the building?

Many landlords have strict pet-friendly or non-pet-friendly policies, but you should know that some landlords also have a strict guest policy. It should be fine if you have a guest staying over from time to time, but if you want to host someone for more than two weeks in any six-month period, you might be required to add them to the lease as a tenant. Keep this in mind, and also be aware that if you add a second tenant, your landlord might increase the monthly rate, and you won’t really be able to do anything about it. Think about whether you’ll want to have guests over for more extended periods, and discuss any issues with your landlord so that you won’t have problems later on. If you do end up deciding to take in another tenant, make sure you also get a roommate’s agreement to avoid any issues.

Am I allowed to sublet the apartment?

Unforeseen situations can always emerge, and you want to be prepared for what will happen if you have to move out suddenly or if you can’t afford to pay your rent anymore. It will help if you have a guarantor that can take over payments if you can’t, but if you don’t have anyone who can guarantee for you, then subletting might be another choice. However, to make sure everything is legal, you must get approval from your landlord if you want to sublet the apartment - written approval, that is. Be sure to discuss this with your landlord before you sign a lease agreement, as some landlords will explicitly say that they don’t allow tenants to sublet. 

What if I need to break my lease?

It’s possible that at some point, you might want to break your current lease for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve outgrown the space, or you got a new job that’s too far from your current apartment, or you’re not getting along with your landlord or neighbors, you can’t afford the rent anymore, and so on. Breaking a lease in NYC is not easy to do, and you’ll have to discuss it with your landlord when you first move in. Some landlords will require you to assign your lease to someone else, or they will want to find another tenant to sign a new lease before they let you move out. Talk over these potential situations with the landlord, so you know what your options are in case you need to break your lease. 

Is my landlord allowed to enter the property?

Even though you’re a renter and not the owner of the apartment, you’re the one who is living there and not your landlord. Legally, the landlord can’t just waltz in whenever they like to check up on you or on the apartment. Make sure you’ve got that explicitly stated in the lease agreement, and discuss the exact terms with the landlord. You can agree to let the landlord come in for a visit once a month, depending on your schedule, and put that in the lease, so you’re covered in case they won’t respect this rule. 

How safe are the building and the neighborhood?

Let’s say your apartment is terrific, and you love everything about it and are ready to move in. Before you get excited and start moving your things, be objective, and scan the building and the neighborhood. Ask your landlord and your future neighbors about security and safety; is the building secure? Have there been any break-ins? Is the area a safe place to live? Is it dangerous at night? Knowing all there is to know about the location and crime rate of your new apartment is important, because you want to feel safe and secure and not worry about your belongings when you’re out of town.

What are the neighbors like?

This would be a good time to do some research on who else is living in the building. Ask your landlord about your future neighbors: what age groups do they belong to, are they singles or families, are they students, are they noisy, have there been any complaints from past tenants, and so on. You can go as far as to knock on some doors and ask them about the building and the area; this way, you’ll get to know them a little bit and also get a tenant’s perspective on what it’s like to live there. 

What’s the parking/transport situation?

Last but not least, if you have a car, you’ll want to know about what parking options there are in your vicinity. Does your apartment come with a parking space, or does the building offer public parking nearby? Are there any parking garages in the neighborhood, and how much does it cost to park there? If you don’t have a car, then you’ll want to know about public transportation options close by. Either way, ask your landlord about this and scan the neighborhood yourself and see what options you have available. 

These are all crucial questions to answer before you sign any lease agreement, and answering them will help you tremendously in the long run. You’ll be prepared for any situation that might arise at your new place, and you’ll feel a bit more at ease knowing the ins and outs of your lease and your new home. Good luck with your apartment hunt!