10 Questions to Ask Before Renting a NYC Apartment

Whether you’re getting ready to go through your first apartment search in NYC or you’re on your way to your 10th move, there are some important questions you should be asking the leasing agent or broker beyond just the monthly rent and the square footage. Once you've narrowed down your apartments to the finalists, you can use this template to compare your various options. 

Questions About the Apartment
1. Is the apartment convertible into a 2 bedroom (i.e., can you build a wall?)?
Some buildings have units that may be in your price range, but if they don’t allow converts, and that’s what you’re looking for, then you can cross that building off your list.

2. What floor is the apartment on?
Depending on the building location, there are places where you would want to be on a much higher floor than others, however, in most cases, you don’t want to be on the ground level unless it is an unbelievable deal.

3. What direction is the apartment facing?
Believe it or not, one of the more important things to consider when locking in an apartment is what direction it is facing. This will dictate how much sunlight the apartment gets. If an apartment is on a low floor surrounded by a lot of high-rises, it may look gloomy year-round, which in turn, may make you feel gloomy all year.

4. If there is a fitness center in the building, is that free for residents or is there an additional charge?
For some buildings, the gym is included in the rent. For other buildings, the gym may not be included, but the management may be willing to negotiate if you ask them. Also, be sure to check the gym’s operating hours. There’s no benefit of having a gym in the building if you can never get home to use it.

The Lease Agreement
5. How long is the lease term?
Standard leases last for one year. Leasing offices may give different monthly rates for various lease terms (i.e., lower monthly rates for longer terms) so you may want to ask about alternative options. In addition, if an apartment becomes available slightly earlier than you want to move in, try to negotiate a later move-in date. Buildings will typically allow you to move in 10-15 days past when an apartment becomes available. For example, lets say an apartment is ready for move-in on May 1st. Buildings will typically give you the flexibility to move in anytime between May 1st and May 15th, if you negotiate with them (and potentially longer).

6. Is electric included in the rent?
It usually isn’t, but I know some people that have this deal. Electric bills can get up to $200+/month in the summer for a tiny one bedroom, so if you can negotiate this in, that could save you a lot of money. By law, in NYC, rent is required to include heat and water.

7. Is there a security deposit?
Most buildings require a security deposit equal to one month’s rent, but there are some buildings that don’t require any security deposit (like my building).

8. Are you offering any incentives right now?
When the rental market is soft, buildings may offer one or more months of free rent, gift cards, free gym memberships, or complimentary wall construction. Though the current market isn’t what I would consider a “soft” market, it never hurts to ask.

9. Can you pay your rent with a credit card?
I know, I know, it seems like a ridiculous question, but I’ve definitely asked this question before and hey, it could swing the economics in your favor. Most credit cards these days offer 1% cash back at least, so if a building accepts credit cards for rent payments without charging a fee, this could result in a lower net effective rent for you.

10. What is the penalty for leaving my lease early?
Most of the time, I’ve seen a penalty of two months rent for terminating your lease early, but you could potentially negotiate this to one month rent or even ask if you’d have to pay any penalty to the extent you found a replacement.