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The New York City renters’ guide

From where to look to what to bring, we’ve got you covered

A lot of buildings, both low and high rise, throughout a city. Max Touhey

So you’re moving to New York City! Congratulations—you’re going to love it here. (It may take some time, but you will, we promise.)

Once that decision is out of the way, you have another hurdle to cross: finding an apartment. And unless you’ve got a chunk of change saved up to buy a home, it’s very likely that you’ll be looking for a rental. You’ll be in good company; more than 60 percent of city residents are renters.

If you need some guidance in your quest to find your new home, read on for our guide to New York City renting 101, from figuring out your budget to what documents you need with you when you find the perfect place.

Set a budget

Cost is often the biggest issue when seeking out an apartment, since a good chunk of your disposable cash will likely end up going straight to rent. The general consensus is that no more than a third of your annual income should be put toward your housing costs—if you’re paying more than that, you’re officially “rent burdened”—and in New York City, most landlords will only approve renters whose gross annual income is 40 times the monthly rent. (The New York Times breaks down what that means.)

Knowing how much you can expect to pay may help you decide which boroughs to focus on. New York newbies may think of Manhattan when they think of “the city,” but the median rental price in the borough is now well above $3,000/month. The outer boroughs aren’t faring much better, either; the median rent in Brooklyn topped $3,000/month last year. That doesn’t mean deals can’t be had, but it’s helpful to know nonetheless.

Find a neighborhood

Do you want space, or do you want to be surrounded by people? How important is it to be close to a park? Can you really live off of just one subway line? And how much is all of this going to cost?

These are the questions that many New Yorkers ask themselves when picking a place to live. What’s more, finding a neighborhood you love will determine how much you actually enjoy living in the city. But no matter where you live, there will be trade-offs. Here are 11 things to consider when picking a neighborhood in the city, including transit access, neighborhood noise, and more.

Broaden your search

There are myriad websites and apps you can use to find your perfect apartment: StreetEasy is one of the biggest aggregators of listings, and various brokerages—Corcoran, Compass, Triplemint, and more—have their own sites with plenty of apartments (which often show up there before they hit the aggregators). There are also options like Craigslist, or nontraditional sites like the Listings Project or

The point is, no one site is going to have all the rentals that are on the market, any more than a single broker would. So try all the tools that are out there: ones to help you find regular apartments, no-fee apartments, non-traditional living situations, and more.

See the place in person

Visit every rental property that you’re considering. This is crucial for a few reasons: It allows you to ensure that the apartment lives up to what the listing promised. You can also check the place for any signs of water damage, mold, vermin (open every single cabinet, as well as closets and the refrigerator, to look for bugs or mice droppings), or other possible dealbreakers.

If you’re lucky, you might even run into a resident who’ll be willing to answer some questions about the building, its tenants, and your potential landlords. (You can also do some digging into the building before you sign a lease.)

And if anything looks or feels off, follow your instincts. The right apartment is out there; you just have to be patient.

Have your documents ready

Say you’ve found your dream apartment. Now, it’s time to put in an application—but as any New Yorker knows, good apartments can be gone in a split second. If you’re lucky enough to find something that you know is a diamond in the rough, you better have all of the necessary paperwork together. Bring the following documents with you every time you see a new apartment:

  • Photo ID; either a driver’s license or a passport will work.
  • A letter of employment on company letterhead. Make sure it has your salary and start date. If you’re going to college or grad school, get your letter of acceptance handy.
  • Copies of recent pay stubs and bank statements; three months is usually enough.
  • Landlord reference letter that says you’re a dream tenant. (You are, right?)
  • Depending on how intense the building is, you might need other letters of reference, but it’s not that common. Just in case, keep in mind people from both your personal and professional life who could speak highly of your character.
  • Your tax returns for the last two years. If you’re self employed, you’ll definitely need this, and may even want to have a letter from your accountant.
  • Though the management company will probably run a credit check on you as well, it can’t hurt to run one on yourself first to make sure there are no glaring problems on the horizon.

If for some reason you don’t have any of these financial documents, you should have a top-notch guarantor, i.e., someone (probably a parent) who will pay your rent if you mess up. Landlords generally want a renter who makes 40 times the rent, so your guarantor should make 80 times the rent (and living in the tri-state area helps). If you can’t get someone to sign for you, there are companies that act as “surrogate” guarantors, though proceed with caution with those.

Once you’ve decided on a place, the management company or landlord will likely ask you to fill out an application; prepare to also have enough cash on hand to cover the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit (which can be equal to one month’s rent, but no more). There is a possibility that you’ll be paying a broker’s fee, though that should have been agreed upon already. And landlords can only charge $20 for an application fee under the new rent laws.

Know your rights as a tenant

Let’s say you’ve signed the lease on a place you love—congratulations! Now, it’s time to understand your rights as a tenant. If that dream apartment suddenly gets a bedbug infestation or loses hot water for a week with nary a peep from your landlord, you have the right to file complaints and have those issued remedied in the timely manner.

Report any issues that come up in a timely manner, and in the meantime, familiarize yourself with some of the more common tenants’ rights you may not know you have. If you’re renting a rent-stabilized place, be sure you know the rules around those, too. Happy hunting!