Upon moving to New York City on my own, I was completely swept away with the idea of what my ideal apartment would look like – from my decorated outdoor balcony, large airy windows, and which neighborhood I would grab coffee in. After tours upon tours of units before finding the one that best fit my specific needs, design taste, and personal lifestyle, I came up with a solid list of questions to ask the property manager or leasing consultant. For New York City residents, and those moving to New York for the first time, apartments are the way of life, so keep this list handy as you schedule those tours!
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What are the Lease Terms?
From month-to-month or year-to-year, one of the first points of discussion with a landlord is understanding the basic, but most important, terms of your lease. Have these questions written out and jot down the answers for your own records:
- What date is rent due, and is there a set grace period to pay it?
- Exactly how much is due every month?
- Will rent increase during certain times of the year?
- How should rent be paid: electronic, check, or cash? (Always ask for a receipt or proof of payment)
- Are any utilities included? (Heat, water, gas, electric, garbage disposal, doorman services)
- Do I need renters insurance?
- What are the terms for property managers to enter my apartment?
- If I need to move during my lease, is subletting the unit allowed?
- How and when do I get my security deposit back?
- Is it a no-fee apartment?
What are the Building’s Security Features?
Many luxury apartment buildings in New York City have friendly doormen to wish you a great day in the morning, greet you when you get home, collect packages and deliveries, and monitor the security of the building. Besides having a doorman, ask the property manager how safe the neighborhood is. Better yet, pick the brains of current residents and get the inside scoop on their first-hand experience.
Besides front entrance safety, familiarize yourself with other entrances and exits of the apartment building. In case of a fire and the elevators stop working, where are the stairwells and fire escapes located? In addition, is each apartment unit equipped with a smoke detector, fire extinguisher, or sprinkler system? If your apartment is close to the ground level, are the windows locked? How well lit are the entrances, exits, parking garages, and hallways? Remember what your parents told you: Safety first!
What Kind of Changes Can I Make to the Interior?
Blank white walls don’t give the warmest welcome to your new apartment – let’s be honest. As a huge fan of HGTV, Pinterest, and my security deposit, I have quite a few boards dedicated to apartment-friendly decorating ideas. (A lot of which are DIY!)
Most leasing agreements state that the apartment must be cleaned and returned to it’s original state upon moving out – which brings us to looking at acceptable decor options. From painting accent walls to hammering nails to hang frames and accessories, get written consent from your landlord on what’s allowed. You can still have fun with accent furniture, especially from Canvas Home! Structural changes are almost never allowed, and always remember that if you make a change or cause damage to the apartment’s interior, it could cost you your security deposit!
My Favorite Design Accessory: Removable wallpaper. I have a faux-wood accent wall in my dining room that gives the space an extra homey touch of character. The best part? No glue, no damage, and it peels right off!
Are There Additional Storage Options?
It’s no secret that space can get tight in NYC apartments – especially if you want more of it. With this fact in mind, luxury apartment buildings often offer additional storage space for rent. This is a great option if you’re an avid cyclist and need a place to store your bike, or if you love to ski on the weekends and need a safe place to put your gear in the warmer months.
Are Pets Allowed?
Pets are members of the family to some (I am one of those “some”), and this could be a huge deciding factor in whether or not you sign a lease. To save yourself time before scheduling an apartment tour, call the leasing office and ask what their pet policy is. Since apartments are so common in NYC, and can often be on the smaller size, many landlords will have size and breed restrictions. If your cat, dog, rabbit, bird, or any other furry friend you have fits the bill, scope out how pet-friendly the building is.
- Is there a dog play area?
- Are there safe, well-lit walking trails or parks nearby?
- Do I need to climb X amount of stairs to bring my dog in and outside?
- Is my dog a barker? Will he be disruptive to neighbors?
Whether you’re a current pet parent or are thinking about adopting in the future, check out our guide to living with dogs in an apartment!
Am I Given a Parking Spot?
If you’re one of the few people to own a car in New York City, always ask the landlord if parking is available at your prospect building. Some complexes have on-site parking garages, others may offer a discounted rate to park your car at a nearby garage, and some may not have parking at all. You may be left with the option to use metered street parking, but this can be hard to find and expensive. Regardless of your parking needs, remember that this will tag on an extra bill every month, especially if you’re apartment hunting on a budget.
Stock Up Your Tenant ToolboxIt’s a smart idea to keep a tenant toolbox under the kitchen sink to fix things… Other than the kitchen sink!
Who Can I Contact for Emergency Repairs?
It seems that faucets begin to leak and windows won’t open when you need it most, right? The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to know 24/7 maintenance is just a phone call away. Ask the property managers what services the maintenance teams cover, how they can be reached, and their normal hours.
My Golden Maintenance Tip: Don’t try to fix it yourself! Sure, if you need to swap batteries in a light, have at it. But if your oven won’t turn on, or the bathroom vanity is spilling water on to the floor, leave it to the professionals to take care of. After all, you don’t want to cause more damage!
What are the Residents Like?
The apartment is beautiful. The amenities are top-notch. The management team and doormen make you feel welcome and safe. There’s even a dog-friendly park across the street. You and your roommate even agree! But how are your new neighbors? If there’s one tip I always keep in mind as I walk around a potential apartment building, it’s to notice tenant etiquette. Do they say “Hello” in passing? Do they hold doors for others? Are they simply friendly? You want to start and end your day on a positive note, right!?
You may not always see your neighbors, but you may hear them! If you’re a busy professional, you may want to live on a floor with others who have similar schedules. This would avoid hearing late night footsteps above you or music from the unit across the hall.
If you happen to run into a current tenant, ask what their experience living in the building has been like, and how fellow residents are as well. Property managers maintain the building part time compared to tenants, so take advantage of their information!