How to Apply for an Apartment in NYC, & Signing Your Lease

Applying for an apartment in NYC and the surrounding area is not as easy as it is in many areas of the country. Owners and property managers are usually much more strict in their financial requirements, and the amount of documents that must be submitted along with your application surprises many first time NYC renters. Below is a guide provided by Urban Edge to make sure you are as prepared as you can be, and to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Be Prepared to Sign and Secure Your Apartment--Today

There are plenty of great apartments in NYC for almost all budgets, but they can go fast. A common "rookie" mistake when hunting for apartments in NY is not being ready to sign on the spot, and watching someone else grab your dream home. At certain times of the year (especially during the prime rental months of May through September) many apartments will rent in a matter of days. The better the deal (and who doesn't want a good deal), the quicker it will rent. We've seen apartments that were on the market for less than a day. When renting an apartment in NYC, start looking no more than 30 to 45 days before you're willing to move. We have noticed a trend of people doing research 60-90 days in advance. Understand, however, that if you begin looking that early, it's strictly to get a feel for what you can get in your price range. Most landlords don't know what will be available more than 30 days in advance, and apartments are rarely on the market for a full month. Odds are, any apartments that you look at now, will not still be available next month (or sometimes even next week). While the summer months have the greatest supply of apartments, they also are the months the greatest number of people are looking (and consequently higher prices). If you have the option, moving during the months of November and December can often yield the best deals. However, since most leases don't come up for renewal during that time period, you will also have less apartments to choose from.

How Much Money Will I Need to Secure an Apartment in New York City?

Make sure you have enough money in your checking account to sign that day. Don't be caught short if you find the perfect apartment and the landlord is ready to approve you right away. An application fee of $25 to $100 is usually required. Usually a personal check is accepted, though some landlords are known to require cash or a money order. A more recent trend is for owners and property managers to require a good faith deposit to be included with the application (usually in the $300-$600 range). Bascially, the landlord wants to know you're serious about renting the apartment, and not out applying for multiple apartments at the same time. If you are approved and sign a lease, the deposit is usually applied to your first month's rent. If you are denied, the deposit is returned to you. If you are approved and decide not to sign a lease, you forfeit the deposit. If the landlord asks for one of these deposits, always get a receipt, and preferably a signed agreement outlining the conditions of the deposit. At the lease signing, most apartments require a security deposit, usually the equivalent of one month's rent (the standard in New Jersey is generally 1 1/2 months rent). If your credit score is not good, the landlord may still rent to you if you prepay some of the rent, or if you give them a larger security deposit (often 2-3 months of rent). You will also be expected to give a check for your first month's rent, and occasionally your last month's rent, when you sign your new lease. Thus, to be on the safe side, you should have the equivalent of around three months rent in the bank when you start looking. Of course, that figure assumes that you're not using a broker to help find your apartment! Please note that many landlords will not accept out-of-state checks. If at all possible, have an account based in New York. Also, be aware that a good number of landlords will require that your security deposit and initial rent checks be certified checks, not personal checks (usually you can pay with a personal check after the first month). Keep in mind that by law, the landlord must place your security deposit in a separate account from the account that your rent money is deposited in. So no, you cannot just write them one check to make it easier. Some landlords may accept money orders as well, and recently some owners and property managers have started to accept credit cards (usually American Express). The landlord will most likely tell you what they require once you've been approved, but it's always a good idea to ask, rather than show up to sign the lease and not have the right checks.

Applying--and Getting Approved--For an Apartment in the Big Apple

Apartment lease agreements usually aren't terribly complicated, but if you see a home that you love while looking for an apartment in NY, you should be ready to apply on the spot. The apartment's landlord or management company will supply the application itself—it's usually a fairly simple form, and shouldn't take more than a few minutes to fill out—but you should have copies of all the necessary back-up documentation at the ready, including:
  • A signed letter of employment, on official company letterhead (original, not photocopied), stating your current position, annual salary (guaranteed plus bonus, if applicable), and length of employment. Your company's Human Resources department can usually help you with this.
  • Two to three most recent pay stubs.
  • Your most recent federal tax returns, especially if are self-employed, and can't provide either of the above. (Note: some landlords will want to see both pay studs AND your tax returns, some just one or the other).
  • Up-to-date copies of your bank statements, both checking and savings accounts.
  • A list of your past 3-5 residences, along with the landlord's name and phone number.
  • A photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport.
Less frequently required, but you should still have on hand in case you need them:
  • A letter of recommendation or verification from your current and / or previous landlords.
  • A list of references—your accountant, or lawyer, or past employers—with phone numbers, to put on the application, if necessary.
If you have bad credit, your parents are helping you pay for the apartment, etc. you will probably need someone to cosign your lease. For more information on this, please see our page about Guarantors and Cosigners. Once you're done with the rental lease agreement application, and have handed over all of your paperwork, the landlord or management company will run a credit report on you (at your expense), and let you know if you've been approved, usually within a few days. Rarely will they let you know on the spot. Some owners and property managers may also run a background check, and a housing court check. These may have separate fees, or it may all be rolled into the application and credit check fee. A housing court check looks to see if you have sued, or been sued, in New York City Housing Court. At this time, a housing court check does not distinguish whether you won or lost your case. Because of that, it is usually best to resolve tenant/landlord disputes outside of court, if at all possible (this, of course, is not always possible or feasible) so that you don't have a "record." A good rule at this stage is not to get too excited about an apartment until you have actually signed the lease. Remember: there are likely other applicants for the same space, so better to keep your expectations in line to avoid the heartbreak of "losing" a place you never actually had. Sometimes a landlord will collect applications for a week or so, then choose the one they feel is most qualified. Always ask for an approximate date of when you may hear if you've been approved.