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Congratulations on beginning your rental journey! For many renting for the first time is an exciting milestone in the quest for independence. But – let’s be honest – it can also be a bit nerve-racking. After all, there really aren’t any Renting 101 classes out there. Fortunately, you came to the right place – I’m here to provide you straightforward guidance on how to rent an apartment in NYC the smart way so you can step out into the rental world with confidence.


There's no doubt finding your first rental in NYC can be tricky, but it doesn't need to be. I believe with any stressful experience in life, it's important to take a moment to LAUGH. What does this have to do with renting, you may ask? The answer to that is, plenty!

Here's what LAUGH stands for:

Learn your tenant rights.

Analyze your weekly/ monthly budget.

Understand your rental options.

Gather your financial documents.

Heed the fees.

Now, let me elaborate.

Learn your tenant rights.

You may be surprised to know not many tenants in NYC actually know they have rights, regardless if they have leases or not. Don’t be that tenant.

It’s crucial to know your tenant rights so you know the appropriate actions to take if you come across any complications throughout your tenancy. This includes understanding the typical responsibilities of a landlord and tenant, and the formal processes in handling disputes. Plus, knowing and understanding your power as a tenant can be kinda fun.

You can find some more information on tenant rights on the NYC Housing Preservation & Development website.

Analyze your weekly/ monthly budget.

This part might be a little boring if you’re not into numbers, but – trust me – it’s essential to know your budget in order to know how much rent you can afford. Get your numbers together starting with your income, then work your way into estimating what your weekly and monthly expenses might look like. Your expenses may include utilities, groceries, lunch, streaming subscriptions, etc.

Once you have all your numbers, deduct your total expenses from your income and you will have an estimated budget for your monthly rent. Keep in mind rent is typically paid on the 1st of every month, so budget accordingly to ensure your rent is paid on time.

If you’re really ambitious, leave room for savings. Savings can be used as emergency funds, or set aside for buying a co-op or house down the road. Ideally you should save 10-20% of your income, but a little goes a long way. It’s also highly recommended to have at least 3-6 months of rent covered in your savings, but more on that later.

Understand your rental options.

There are different types of rentals out there on the market and it’s good to know your options.

Market-rate rentals are the most common in NYC. Sometimes you’ll see market-rate apartments advertised as having “net effective rent”, which could save you some money if done right.

You can also find rentals in co-op buildings. You’ll be asked to submit a board application (with a fee) and undergo an interview for approval. This process is risky and may take a couple months, but sometimes it's worth it as rentals in co-ops are well maintained and carry amenities that regular apartments don’t have, such as door-man service, storage, parking, etc.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a rent-stabilized apartment. Rent-stabilized apartments are affordable housing so rent is usually low, and rent increases are strictly limited based on factors such as Individual Apartment Improvements, (IAI), Major Capital Improvements (MCI), etc.

Last, but not least, you can rent a house. Rent is higher, of course, but this would be a good option for those who are renting with family, or are looking to get their feet wet in owning a house.

Gather your financial documents.

If you want to be a competitive renter in today’s market, you need to have your financial documents prepared. Rentals can go fast so it helps to have copies of your pay stubs, bank statements, and your credit score ready to show when requested. Easy!

Remember I mentioned earlier about having 3-6 months of rent saved? Well, it’s also important to have proof of that so you’ll be seen as a secure tenant making you more attractive to property owners. This is when your bank statements come in handy.

If you don’t, that’s okay – just make sure you have a guarantor who can help you fund the rent, and is able to provide their financial documents as well.

Heed the fees.

You have probably heard about the many infamous fees that come along with renting an apartment in NYC. It may relieve you to know there are only two fees you need to really worry about, particularly when a broker is listing an apartment: the application fee and real estate broker fee.

Yes, you will need to submit a one-month security deposit (ONLY one-month), but this is refunded to you after your tenancy has ended and your apartment is found in good condition.

In NYC, if a real estate broker is listing the apartment you are interested in, the application fee is $20.00 – no more than that (unless you’re renting a co-op). This fee includes a credit report AND background check. However, you can have the fee waived if you provide a copy of both reports and they have been completed within the last 30 days.

The real estate broker fee is typically 15% of the yearly rent, or one-month rent. Now, there is currently some confusion as to whether the landlord or tenant should be paying the fee. Beginning of this year, the Dept. of State (DOS) was working on having the real estate broker fee fall into the hands of the property owner as opposed to the tenant, but this case is still pending due to the pandemic. So for now, prepare to pay the broker fee.

If you are thinking of renting a co-op, be aware there may be additional fees for subletting. However, this varies by co-op.


I hope you found this information helpful. It’s normal for worries to arise throughout the renting process, but prioritize seeing this new experience as an adventure that you are now more prepared for. For extra preparation, keep the below checklist handy:

First-time Renter Checklist
Download PDF • 226KB

If you’re not in a time crunch, give yourself a couple months to search and get an idea of what kind of space works for you. But if you're certain you found the one, go for it because rentals disappear in the blink of an eye.

If you have any questions or need further guidance, don’t hesitate to send an email or text my way and I’ll be happy to clear things up for you. Good luck, and don’t forget to have some fun along the way.

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