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Renting 101: What To Know Before You Sign a Lease in NYC

Renting in the city that never sleeps can, well, cause you to lose sleep. In New York City, competition is fierce, rents are high, brokers are expensive, and landlords can be awful, but the whole rental process—from finding an apartment to signing a lease to actually living in your very own shoebox—can be much less stressful if you're well-informed. Did you know that basement apartments are illegal and subletting is totally allowed? Or that landlords are more willing to negotiate in the winter? Here are 10 rights, laws, clarifications, and tips that will help you nab an apartment in New York and live happily ever after.
—Wesley Yiin

1. Landlords must provide heat:New to the Northeast and worried about the cold winter months? Don't fret—your landlord is required by law to provide you with heat under certain temperature conditions. (And hot water should be available year-round.) So if you've heard horror stories of landlords shutting off heat in order to encourage move-outs for renovations or whatever other reasons one can come up with to shirk human decency, report it! Of course, depending on the severity of the situation, the fight could take a while, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't act.

2. Your landlord must fix your appliances: Similarly, your landlord is required to replace any broken appliances or fixtures with a machine of comparable quality. In fact, if you want to buy your own replacement, you must obtain permission to do so, and there are associated risks. Also, if the broken appliance is a refrigerator or stove, keep track of what you spend throughout your time without the appliance—you are technically entitled to be reimbursed for some, if not all, of your related expenses.

3. Some apartments are completely illegal: Looking at a basement apartment? An apartment with no windows? Are the toilet and shower located in different rooms? The apartment may be illegal, in which case you should avoid it at all costs. Interestingly, there's actually been a recent call to loosen the rules on whether housing is legal or illegal, but there are arguments to be made on both sides. Apartment-seekers and landlords alike should ask the city's Department of Buildings for a building's Certificate of Occupancy in order to find out the legal status of an apartment.

4. Your landlord can not easily kick you out: It is actually really, really difficult for your landlord to legally evict you from your apartment—usually, only sheriffs or marshals are permitted to do so. This applies to not just the tenant holding the lease, but also subtenants, roommates, guests, and family members. Illegal evictions aren't that common in New York, but be wary of landlords who threaten to throw you out if you don't pay rent or fulfill some other requirement: they're generally aware of the law and are probably just trying to scare you into compliance.

5. Apartment hunting has seasons: The best time to look for an apartment is... well, it depends. Sorry for the cop-out answer, but according to a recent Streeteasy report, it depends. Do you value having tons of options, even if it means having to fight off the competition once you find your dream apartment? Summertime could work for you. Or, do you prefer to move slowly and to negotiate with landlords to find terms you can both agree upon? Might be best to wait until winter. The Streeteasy report has a full list of pros and cons for both rental seasons.

6. Rent-stabilized apartments are not that hard to find: If you can, get a rent-stabilized apartment. Contrary to popular belief, these aren't dirt cheap, but you will be protected by law against sudden rent increases or evictions. You have a good shot of getting a rent-stabilized apartment, as they exceed market-rate apartments in number. While the number of rent-stabilized units has generally decreased over the years, in 2014, they actually made a comeback.

7. Using a broker can be very helpful: Hiring a broker may seem like the right thing to do in this large and unpredictable city. And it probably is, assuming that you're able to find a good one that fits your price. Don't choose a broker based on a listing—do your homework and ask around at work or among friends. If you're not diligent, you might end up with a broker who is swindling you out of your hard-earned money. Keep in mind, though, that broker fees can climb up to 15 percent of annual rent, which is just under two month's rent.

8. Plenty of apartments have no broker fee: That said, if you're confident in your apartment-hunting abilities and that you'll put in the time and effort to find your place, go ahead and go broker-less. Look for no-fee apartments, many of which are located in some of the hottest and most desirable neighborhoods anyway. BrickUnderground has a helpful list of sites with no-fee listings.

9. It's perfectly legal to sublet your apartment: Subletting laws in New York are lax in some ways, but strict in others. For instance, for the most part, landlords of buildings with more than four units cannot deny subletting requests without a "reasonable" explanation—even if the lease states that subletting isn't allowed. This is not true for cities like Los Angeles, where most leases explicitly (and legally) forbid subletting. That said, the request process can take a long time and requires you to already have the name and contact information of your subtenant ready to go.

10. You can break your lease: Because subletting is rather demanding, it may actually benefit you to look into breaking your lease, especially if you aren't planning to come back for a while. While this is oftentimes not an option—after all, the point of having a contract is so that neither side can terminate the agreement unfairly—the lease can be broken if both sides agree to it. It's up to you to convince your landlord that this is a worthwhile option, but some things to consider: If the apartment is rent-stabilized, the owner might be able to make more money if a new tenant comes in. Further, if you already have a new tenant in mind, then, well, there's not much to lose.
· Renters Weeks 2015 [Curbed[