Below are a few questions to ask when renting in New York. By knowing and asking some of these questions ahead of time, it can save you valuable time and hard earned money along with your sanity especially if you are house hunting in Manhattan’s neighborhood.
Will I get a tour of the place?
If the landlord or property owner can not provide you with a tour of the inside of the unit, be very cautious if you are responding to a print advertisement or an online advertisement. Sometimes actual advertisements are duplicated by fraudsters with lower rent and this creates many victims. If you do decide it is safe and will rent from them, please make sure that you make your initial payment using a credit card or use an escrow service. Credit cards (not debit cards) and escrow services can protect you from fraudulent transactions and helps if the information in the advertisement was duplicated with an intent to defraud those looking for a place to rent.
Do I have to maintain the property?
If you are renting a single family home, the landlord or property owner may require you to do the mowing of the lawns (which you have full use to for picnics and play) during spring and summer and the removal of the snow on the property’s driveway and sidewalks during the winter season so keep this in mind as you may have to do it yourself or ask your teenage kids or kids in the area to do these chores. If you will do these for a lower rent, equipment can be found at Home Depot and similar stores.
How long is the lease on the resident?
When renting, you will want to know how long the lease on the resident will be. If you are planning on moving to New York with dreams of living in the city but the costs are currently beyond your means, you do not want to be stuck in a very long lease when you can afford a better place in just a few months. Be sure to discuss how far in advance you need to give notice as well so you do not loose your security deposit.
How much is the down payment?
Down payments are often non-refundable (and can be applied to the security deposit) so this lets you know how much funds you will have to risk especially if you are not 100% sure that you are taking the place. Be aware that cash may be requested for this transaction since stop payments can be placed on money orders and checks. Before submitting the funds to the collector, ask to see the receipt to make 100% sure that you can receive one the same day as without a receipt, you have no proof of how much you paid.
What method of payments do you accept?
Money orders (not USPS money orders) from grocery stores can be faked, personal and business checks can have stop payments or bounce like a rubber ball so landlords may want to have cash for all transaction or at least the initial deposit. If you become their tenant and will want to pay your rent via check to have a record, you may be asked by the landlord to pay your rent up to seven (7) days before the due date on non-cash payments. Read your agreement carefully to see if such clauses are there.
Do you offer receipts for my payments?
Some landlords may want to tell you that they do not offer receipts since you are paying with a check or money order and would have a record but a receipt from a landlord can prove in court when your payment was received by them especially if a landlord is falsely trying to charge you late payment fees on a valid payment that was given to them on time.
Is heat/hot water included?
Heat and hot water can add to your monthly budget so if this is in your rent, you are not surprised each month with a big bill when lots of water is used in the summer and lots of heat is used in the winter. If renting a unit in a building that features multiple dwellings, you should know that heat must be supplied to you from October 1st through May 31st. If these utilities are placed in your name, be sure to refuse online statements as you will need these statements for points to apply for your New York driver’s license.
Is the residence cable ready?
If you plan to have cable (or similar) service, by having the unit cable ready may give you a break in installation fees from the service provider and avoid you from taking a day off from school or work to wait from an installer. Also, you avoid the installer in damaging the unit to install the equipment which can cause the landlord to hold onto your security deposit when you decide to move.
Are pets (non-service animals) allowed?
If you are not using a site that lists pet friendly apartments or see “pets allowed” in the advertisement, you will want to know if your pet (non-service animal) will be allowed or avoid if you have a serious allergy and want to avoid such roomates and buildings.
How long (ex. 3 or 6 months) is a lease renewal?
When your lease is up, you may want to move out but is having trouble finding a place so it is important to know if you will be back into long monthly or yearly lease.
Can I rent month-to-month after the lease is up?
When your lease is up, you may want to be on monthly lease so you can move quickly. Be sure to find out how far in advance you need to give notice once the primary lease is up as this may be longer than the original lease.
Will you (the landlord) be living on premises?
Getting in touch with the landlord can be tough (unless you are behind in rent) so if they are on the premises, it is easier to get things (ie. leaks or wiring) corrected. The negative side is the lanlord will keep an eye on you and may complain to you about every little thing you do on the site. This could be loud music, your noisy guests or oil leaks from your old vehicle.
What extras (ex. electric, water) will I be responsible for?
Parking, water, electricity are a few things you may be on the hook for or it could be included in the rent. Find out what is included and what is not and if it can be negotiated. Once you get something negotiated, get it in the lease so that it is legally binding.
Will I have roommates and what gender?
If going to college and need peace and quiet to study or is a very private person, a roommate may not be the optimum choice for you even though it may let you pay less on rent and utilities.
Is there parking available and how much?
Having a vehicle and no parking space could spell parking fees at parking lots and garages nearby and occasionally parking tickets for illegal street parking so a more expensive unit with included parking may work out cheaper in the end for you. If coming to New York with a vehicle, the Amtrak Auto Train may be helpful in getting here. If you have multiple vehicles, find out how parking there will work since the vehicle may need stickers to prevent it from being towed away.
Are you close to mass transit?
Vehicles often need repairs from poor maintenance and after meeting in a major accident so while your vehicle is in the repair shop, to save on expensive auto rentals, you will need to take nearby mass transit to and from your residence. If not, you may be unfortunate to have to take a taxi cab or rent a vehicle if you do not have rental coverage in the auto insurance or extended warranty.
How are the educational institutions in area?
Do you currently have children? If you have children or plan to have in the future while at that location, do not forget to obtain reviews & ratings of schools in the area that your child will have to attend. People living on the block who are the same age as your kids may be the one to ask but keep in mind that their kids may attend (private) schools in other areas.
Is there an elevator in the building?
Sooner or later, you will have to shop for food and taking multiple trips of groceries or trash up and down the flight stairs will get on your nerves. If you have a disability or medical condition, a working elevator can come in handy. Keep in mind that elevators do break down as they are mechanical and residents often get attacked in them even with a dorman or security staff in the building.
Is there a doorman at the building?
A doorman can help keep out unwanted guest and also can sign for packages while you are away. As a concierge in a hotel, the doorman can be your guide to finding things in your community after first moving in.
How much times the rent does my income need to be?
You may think you can afford the rent but your landlord may think otherwise. You may be told or can ask when applying if you are concerned. To improve your chances, your income (without overtime) should be at least forty (40) times the monthly rent. Keep in mind the rent will increase when the lease is up so without a raise, you will go under budget as the years go by. Utilities that you may have to pay will increase as well even though service will not improve.
Who can I use for rental insurance?
Your roommate or neighbor’s propane grill (which is not legal on a balcony) starts a fire and your valuables are gone. Are your valuables covered? It may not be covered so make sure your valuables are protected for peace of mind plus temporary outside stay.
Can my guests stay over and how many?
A temporary or permanent house guests can end up using extra utilities (such as hot water for a shower) so some landlords frown upon this as it require them to pay extra money which has to come out of their pockets. With a permanent house guest, this can be consider a lease violation if you indicated on the lease that only a certain number of people will be living there.
When (ex. Immediately, 72 hours) is the lease for the residence binding?
Saw a cheaper place online or in the papers? If you already signed the lease, your deposit to hold the unit may be gone in the wind if you have no grace period to back out of it.
Are deposits refundable and what are the conditions?
If you are considering multiple dwellings and need to change your mind, you need to know how to get your deposits back quickly to use for rent and other expenses if there isn’t a grace period clause in the lease. If you do accept the place, make sure you take photos of the entire dwelling before you move in. After you move out, do the same again as the images can show in court the condition given and returned so it is not held for damages.
Are you the landlord, agent or subletting?
Before you hand over your money, make sure you know if you are getting a place from the landlord, broker or agent. A person may want to move with time on the lease so they offer the place to rent for a few months which make you their roommate. This action is called subletting and may not be legal in their lease. If the actual landlord or owner finds you there on the property, you can be ejected for trespassing as you have no lease with them, barred from reentering if you are not inside the dwelling or be required to sign a lease. Once you sign the lease, you are legally bound to it if you are eighteen (18) years old and older
Does your lease allow subletting?
Lost one of your jobs or additional income? To help with the rent, you may need a roommate but could be evicted if your signed lease does not permit it. Find out in advance or have savings stored away to cover rent for your entire lease agreement.
Will I have problems with the city when I move in?
Some cities or town restrict the time of day a person can move in (and out) of a dwelling. You will need to be aware of this plus any restrictions on your moving vehicle you may need to park for a few hours or overnight. If you are permitted to park at anytime, never park on or cross the sidewalks as this is considered “curb jumping” which you will be ticketed for by local authorities as sidewalks are for pedestrian use.
Who will have keys to the residence?
Did you forget to turn off your water in the bath tub or stereo before going to work? If your apartment is interfering with other residents in the building, then the landlord may attempt to gain access to the residence. If you change the locks and the door has to be damaged to gain entry, you may be responsible for the damages or locksmith expenses to gain entry. Since landlord are allowed to inspect they property, the entry can be considered an inspection.
Can I make changes to the residence?
Don’t like the locks on the door? Is everywhere in the residence painted white? You may want to make the dwelling feel more inviting by adding colors and changing locks but be sure the landlord is fine with this and if you will be required to make things the same again before you leave. Keep in mind that the lanlord may okay paint changes but may want their painters to do it since the home could have been done in lead base paint.
How old is the dwelling?
The age of a dwelling can give an indication to a tenant about lead paint. Unless a residence is fully gutted and renovated, there is a chance that any painted surface can have lead paint hidden underneath. If you start to see the paint peel while living there, get it tested for your safety and those living with you.
Is the property handicap accessible?
If you have a disability or is elderly, see if the residence is handicap accessible.
Is the home for sale?
Normally, you do not have to worry if the home is being sold as the new owner or owners has to honor the current lease on the apartment but if the current owner’s lease states that you the tenant must leave when the place is sold, then you must leave as that is the agreement. This is also a smooth way for a landlord to get rid of a bad tenant who has been causing problems by selling the dwelling to a relative or friend so try and be a good tenant if such a clause is in your lease to avoid this stealth eviction.
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