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486 Warren Street (Compass) 486 Warren Street (Compass)
Once you’ve found and been approved for an apartment in New York City, it is tempting to immediately sign on the dotted line and start looking for a mover - after all, with Manhattan rents at all-time highs and those in outer boroughs starting to creep up, it's understandable that one would want to lock in a deal as soon as possible.

However, signing too quickly can lead to regrets down the line. From hidden costs to restrictions on painting to rules about who or what can share your unit, it is important to know in advance what you are agreeing to rent, for how long, and under what restrictions. Here are the top ten questions you should always ask your broker or management company before signing a lease.

1. What is the lease length and can you break it early?

In most cases, your lease will be either one or two years, but in some instances, a lease may run for more than one year but less than two years. This typically happens with November to February move-in dates and the logic is simple. Since the demand for rentals is lowest from November to February, rental prices typically drop during those months. As a result, landlords often end up parting with units at a lower rate (e.g., a one-bedroom unit that could be easily rented at $3,400 in July might be listed as low as $2,900 in January).

To ensure the apartment eventually reverts back to a desirable lease date (e.g., April to October), you may be asked to sign a lease for over one year but less than two years. While there is no reason to avoid signing, the request may indicate that the management company is eager to hit you with a large rental increase once your year-and-a-few-months lease has passed. And if you’re renewing your lease during a period of high demand, negotiating will be much more difficult.

2. When does the lease start?

In many North American cities, people rent apartments one to two months in advance and moves only happen on the first day of the month. In New York City, this is rarely the case. Units are nearly always empty when they are rented, and management companies and even private landlords are typically eager to start leases immediately. This means that whether or not you’re ready to move, you may find yourself paying for an apartment as soon as the day after you sign the lease.

Before signing, clarify when the lease starts, and if you really can’t move in until the first of the month, attempt to negotiate. In some cases, you may be able to push back the lease date by at least a few days, if not until your desired start date. Assuming you’re working with a broker, ask them to intervene—this is precisely the sort of service you’re paying for when you work with a broker.

3. Are there any rules about who or what can occupy the unit with you?

From people to pets, it is important to know who and what can share your space. On the people side of the equation, you’ll need to list anyone living with you. If they are part of your immediate family (a spouse or child), it is unlikely you will experience any problems, but according to New York City’s Housing Maintenance Code (PDF), there are some restrictions. For example, the code states, “Every person occupying an apartment in a class A or class B multiple dwelling or in a tenant-occupied apartment in a one- or two-family dwelling shall have a livable area of not less than eighty square feet. The maximum number of persons who may occupy any such apartment shall be determined by dividing the total livable floor area of the apartment by eighty square feet. For every two persons who may lawfully occupy an apartment, one child under four may also reside therein.” Technically, this means that if you’ve flexed a 650-square-foot apartment into an apartment for a family of four, you still have a lot of room to spare. On the other hand, four adults bunking in a 300-square-foot studio are technically breaking the law.

While monitoring how many people are living in any given unit is something the city has not traditionally put much effort into policing, at the time of a lease signing, compliance is important.

As for pets, if you’re a renter, you may find yourself without many rights at all. Management companies and individual landlords can prohibit animals. Co-ops and condos are also free to make up their own rules about pets. This means that unless you have a service animal and the documentation to prove you need a service animal in your life, if you rent in a no-pet building or simply from an owner who would prefer to not accommodate pets, you’ll need to find a new home for your cat, dog, or iguana or you’ll need to look for housing elsewhere.
Get clear on how many people can live in your apartment and if pets are allowed.

4. How and when is rent paid?

A growing number of New York City management companies use some form of rental management software. These systems enable renters to pay their rent online anytime and generally allow for debit or credit card payments. Still, some management companies are doing things old-school style and simply send a notice with an expectation that a rent check will arrive by or before the first day of the new month. It is important to bear in mind that management companies that have not yet automated typically only accept checks received by mail. If you travel frequently for work and are not always able to write and mail a rent check in person, be certain to ask about payment options before signing a new lease.

5. Is renters insurance required?

While not required everywhere in North America, most New York City leases do ask renters to acquire renters insurance. Although it is unlikely that anyone will ever ask you for proof, bear in mind that if you don’t purchase a policy and something happens, you’ll be out of luck. Fortunately, unlike home insurance, renters insurance tends to cost only about $12 to $15 per month for a basic policy.

6. Can you modify your unit?

Before you start to dream about renovating your apartment, clarify what you can and cannot do and what you can do but only with the owner’s permission. This holds true for major renovations, including adding pressurized walls to create new rooms, and minor renovations, including painting projects.

7. Who handles maintenance issues, including emergencies?

If you’re renting from an individual, you will likely deal directly with the owner when maintenance issues and emergencies arise. If you’re renting in a co-op, you may be asked to direct all concerns to your building’s superintendent or conversely to first contact your management company who in turns contacts your co-op’s superintendent to address the problem. In addition, your management company may have a different protocol for dealing with regular maintenance issues and emergencies. Whatever the protocol, ask in advance. If it is unclear who you can reach out to when faced with an emergency gas leak or plumbing disaster on a weekend or holiday, it is probably best to not sign a lease at all.

8. Are there laundry facilities in the building and if not, can you install a washer/dryer?

Before you move in, find out whether the building has laundry facilities and if not, whether you can install your own washer and/or dryer. While some owners are happy to let tenants install these appliances at their own cost and others will permit installations but only if you agree to use an installer of their choice, other owners prohibit installations under any circumstance. Usually, this reflects the fact that in older buildings, the flow of water from a washer can overwhelm the building’s plumbing capacity. If having laundry in your unit or at least in your building is a deal breaker, be certain to clarify access and installation terms before you finalize your lease.

9. What certificates or additional deposits are required to move in?

While subdivided homes and many smaller buildings have no regulations about when you can move in or out, if you’re moving into a co-op or condo, you’ll need a certificate of insurance. Essentially, this offers proof that your mover is insured and assures that any damage incurred during your move (e.g., a scratched elevator wall) will be covered by your mover. Notably, some co-ops will also ask for a small move-in deposit. This additional deposit, which usually ranges from $250 to $1,000, is also collected to ensure that the co-op can cover the cost of any damage incurred during your move. Although management companies are expected to inform tenants about move-in deposits in advance, it is a small detail often overlooked.

10. What is the lease renewal process?

Finally, before you commit to your new apartment, confirm that the lease can be renewed and ask about the process. Will you be sent a lease renewal with the option of declining or renewing and if so, at what time of year should you expect the renewal to arrive? The most important question to ask in New York City, however, is whether or not you’re signing a regular lease or a lease on a rent-stabilized apartment. To find out whether your unit is rent-stabilized, visit the New York City’s Rent Stabilized Building Lists site. Notably, on rare occasions, units that are rent-stabilized are rented at market rent, so it is always a good idea to clarify your unit’s status prior to signing. In the end, you may be able to rent your unit at a lower rate and moving forward, you’ll be protected from steep rental hikes whenever it is time to renew your lease.
Signing a lease too quickly can lead to regrets down the line.

Rental Listings under $3,000/mo.
900-New-York-Avenue-01 900 New York Avenue, #2R (The Corcoran Group)
From the Listing: Residents are sure to enjoy these brand new luxury units with their exquisite charm, high-end appliances, stylish finishes and a beautiful open floor concept. From the sundrenched queen bedrooms to the fully equipped chefs kitchens this is a chance to enjoy all the modern trappings of Brooklyn’s finest accommodations.The building also comes fully equipped with a full array of amenities including a laundry room, large shared backyard, as well as storage room. See floor plan and full details here.

912-Broadway-01 The Stockton, #6N (The Corcoran Group)
From the Listing: Upon entering this spacious apartment layout, residents are greeted by expansive windows allowing plenty of natural light to flood the main living areas. The residential interiors boast modern kitchens featuring grey cabinets, quartz countertops, and stainless-steel appliances, as well as bathrooms with contemporary finishes. Advertised rent reflects one month complimentary rent. See floor plan and full details here.

322-East-61st-Street-01 322 East 61st Street, #3C (Living, LLC)
From the Listing: Beautiful studio in the heart of Lenox Hill! Features include bright windows with sunny exposures, strip-wood flooring, island kitchen with dishwasher and microwave, marble finishes, and abundant closet space. See floor plan and full details here.

1966-First-Avenue-01 1966 First Avenue, #1V (The Corcoran Group)
From the Listing: Newly renovated, this stunning home features comfortable living spaces and ample and similarly sized bedrooms, stunning natural sunlight, abundant closet / storage space and the meticulously crafted designer details you have always desired. See floor plan and full details here.

1228-Bedford-Avenue-01 1228 Bedford Avenue, #1 (Brown Harris Stevens)
From the Listing: This spacious true two bedroom apartment offers plenty of room to live, work and enjoy! It’s very bright and features an open kitchen with stainless steel appliances including a dishwasher, a super-wide living room with three windows, a dining area, hardwood floors, two large bedrooms that fit queen beds plus other furniture, tons of storage, and a bonus room that could be used for storage or a small office. See floor plan and full details here.

3333-Broadway-01 Riverside Park Community, #D11D (Compass)
From the Listing: Large 1 Bed - 1 Bath - Renovated - Hardwood Floors - Heat, Water and Gas Included **Custom Kitchen** - Granite counters - Stainless steel appliances - Custom cabinetry - Open breakfast bar - Custom lighting - Vented hood for cooking - New Windows See floor plan and full details here.

26-14-Jackson-Avenue-01 26-14 Jackson Avenue, #5C (Compass)
From the Listing: Welcome to 26-14 Jackson Avenue, a premier collection of luxury rental residences, offering spacious and thoughtfully-designed studio, one-, and two-bedroom units in the vibrant Court Square section of vibrant Long Island City Queens. All apartments boast sleek stainless steel appliances, beautiful hardwood oak flooring, and generous closet space. Residents enjoy countless building amenities, including a state-of-the-art fitness center, part-time attended lobby, and a furnished roof deck with gorgeous picturesque views of Long Island City, Queens and the Manhattan skyline. See floor plan and full details here.

125-Kings-Highway-01 125 Kings Highway, #5H (Compass)
From the Listing: Brand-new 2-bed with top-of-the-line finishes in an amenity building. Highly useable layout with separate living and dining. Stunning natural light pours through large windows in every room, Bathroom fitted with custom stone finishes and soaking tub. Stunning kitchen, sprawling counterspace and well equipped with high spec appliances. Garage parking, elevator, laundry in building, fitness center, and private outdoor space add up to a seamless luxury experience. See floor plan and full details here.

70-East-79th-Street-01 70 East 79th Street, #4A (Sotheby's International Realty)
From the Listing: Extra-charming large studio in a prewar townhouse between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue. North-facing onto 79th street, this bright studio is filled with prewar details, high ceilings and spacious closets. There is a pullman kitchen and a decorative fireplace, updated bathroom. It is on the fourth floor (no elevator) but very much worth it. See floor plan and full details here.

620-Lenox-Avenue-01 Savoy Park, #9S (Bohemia Realty Group)
From the Listing: Laundry Room, Children’s Playroom, Shared Outdoor Space, Courtyard, Dogs and Cats Allowed, Dog Washing Room!! FiOS, Package Room, Amazon Hub, Bike Storage, Community Recreation Facilities, On-site maintenance. A/C unit activation available for $28 per month (per room/unit). All utilities included! See floor plan and full details here.

Additional Info About the Building

Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.