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Checklist of what to look out for on an NYC apartment rental search

Updated on January 30, 2017
View from an apartment I recently visited.
View from an apartment I recently visited.

It's a(n urban) jungle out there

For those of you who have lived in New York City, you likely look to your first experience as a resident - the apartment rental experience - with a bit of disdain. For the NYC apartment rental experience can be complicated, overwhelming, and exhausting - a broker, who may or may not have your best interests in mind, whizzes you through apartments you thought only existed in third world slums, you are convinced that a seven floor walkup with narrow staircases will be "charming" (try explaining THAT to your movers) and your price range - a stretch for your first NYC salary - is suddenly looking like it won't buy space in Harry Potter's cupboard beneath the stairs.

As I begin my search for my second New York apartment, I made myself a "checklist" of things to look for when exploring each new apartment. As I could not find an adequate list online, I thought I would share mine with you. Here, in my best attempt at descending order, is a list of things to look for when searching for an apartment rental in New York City

Neighborhood and General

  • Proximity to subway (or walkability to work). How far is the apartment from the closest subway(s) (literally, how many minutes will it take to walk from the apartment door to the subway entrance)? How long will your commute to work take once you get on the subway, or, is your place walkable on a daily basis? Is this adequate in the tough parts of the year, such as December (30 degree weather), April (pouring rain), and August (90 degree weather)? Aside from work, does the subway take you to neighborhoods that you would also like to explore?
  • Overall neighborhood. What amenities does the neighborhood have? Where can you buy groceries (and is it close enough to carry them to your door)? Do you have good restaruants? Accessibility to laundromat/dry cleaner/post office/drugstores? Would people "go out" in your neighborhood, or will you always be travelling to them? Are you okay with that? If you are a parent, is the neighborhood kid friendly? Is it near schools that you would send your child to? Is the street that you're looking to live at well-lit?

Building Specifics

  • Type of building. Is your building walkup or elevator? If walkup, can you carry at least 2 shopping bags up to your apartment without wanting to keel over? Does the entrance feel safe at night?
  • Amenities. Does the apartment have a doorman (and does that matter to you)? Does a super live in the building? What is the super's reputation? If not, how often is the super in the building (and do they live nearby)? Are there any party rooms, gyms, pools, roofdecks you have access to as a tenant? Is there laundry within the building or do you have to take it out to do?
  • Tenants. Do the tenants of the building look like they will share a lifestyle similar to yours (e.g., do you want late night partiers, or daytime workers that take it easy at night)?
  • Pest record. Have there been a lot of rodents or pests in the building? Has the management taken care of them if they have seen them? Ask an existing tenant of the building if you see them as they are most likely to tell you the truth on this! I personally try to avoid locations very close to restaurants and construction as they tend to be the worst offenders.

Apartment Specifics

  • Apartment Layout. Is the apartment in a layout where I can comfortably put a bed, couch, desk, etc. in the places that I want? Will there be any sharing issues if I have a roommate (Repeat to yourself: A railroaded apartment will very likely NOT work.)? If I am putting a wall up, will it block off natural light in one room or the other? Will the rooms still be an adequate size? Is the "living space" comfortable enough to hang out in with 1, 2, 5 people?
  • Storage Space. Is there enough storage and closet space for all of your stuff (not just clothes, but household goods, towels, etc.)? Is there enough room for food and plates in the cupboards? If not, could you comfortably place something in the apartment that will allow you to store these things?
  • AC Units. Are AC units present? If not, will you be able to install one?
  • Windows. Are there screens on the windows? Are they reasonably clean (be someone loose on the word "reasonable" as it is New York after all :) )? Will you be able to install them if not?
  • Plugs and Electric. Are plugs in reasonable places for your TV, computer, router, kitchen appliances, and if not, will an extension cord suffice? Is there enough lighting in the apartment, or will you have to bring some in?
  • Bathroom. How is the water pressure in the shower? (Turn it on.). How old does the sink, toilet, bathtub look? Is there a window or fan in the bathroom for ventilation (the answer to this may be no in many, older NYC buildings, but you should at least look).
  • Direction facing. Does the apartment face the street? Is it a street or avenue? If it is an avenue, will there be a crazy amount of noise at night? Can this be curbed in some way?

Please feel free to add any others you may think of in the "comments" section below.

No apartment you find will satisfy all of the above, but this will hopefully at least provide you with some consideration points as you make a final decision. Good luck!

For more information on the NYC apartment rental process, see:

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