On Housing…

apartment_adsWhere to live? is usually the first concern for a newly arrived immigrant. Extended family, friends or acquaintances usually can host you at the start, but eventually you will need to find your own place to live.

In New York City most people rent apartments, especially if you are new to the city.

Most buildings are privately owned. A landlord (a person or a management company) usually asks for typical documentation to apply for housing (for example, credit reports, Social Security Numbers, in-state co-signers). Most new immigrants need someone to co-sign a lease (a rent contract) to guarantee the monthly rent payments. There are special programs for affordable housing provided by the local government – see some information below; please note the waiting lists are long.

A security deposit (usually equal to two months of rent) is money you pay a property provider when you sign a lease. This is money they can use for cleaning or damages that result from your living in their property. Property providers may deduct those charges from your security deposit but must return the remainder of your deposit. By law, property providers have 21 days after you move out to return the balance of your security deposit.

How to look for housing? Here are some tips and information:

Apartment Hunting Tips

Finding an apartment in New York City can be a daunting process. In today’s tight real estate market, stories abound about apartment hunters seeing scores of units before finding a suitable one, only to be outbid by a prospective tenant with check in hand. It is also common to hear anecdotes about unbelievable deals on centrally-placed apartments found simply by word-of-mouth. How do apartment hunters actually find a place to live in New York City? Check out our Top Ten List to see the most common ways New Yorkers find apartments.

Ways to Find an Apartment

#1: Brokers: One of the most common methods of finding an apartment in New York City is using a real estate broker. If you know what neighborhood you want to live in, it’s usually best to find a broker based there. Many brokers also have Web sites where you can view available apartments, sometimes even with photos and detailed descriptions.

#2: Word-of-Mouth: There is good news for those who would prefer not to pay hefty brokers’ fees: a substantial number of New Yorkers find their units by word-of-mouth, mostly from friends, relatives, and co-workers. If you’re looking for an apartment, make sure everyone you know knows that you’re looking.

#3: Classified Ads: The third most common method used by recent movers is a classic: the classified ad. Movers cite using the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Daily News, local or community papers, and Newsday. Foreign-language or ethnic newspapers, such as El Diario and the Jewish Press, are also a good source of classified ads. Many newspapers now post their classified ads online, so make sure to check out the Web sites of local papers and online message boards like newyork.craigslist.org.

#4: Walking Around: A small but notable percentage of movers find their apartment when they simply see a “For Rent” sign. It can pay to walk around the neighborhood you want to live in and look around.

#5: Housing Office: If you’re living here for professional or educational reasons, don’t neglect your organization’s housing office or service. They know what you often don’t about renting in New York City and it’s their job to help you find a great new apartment.

#6: Apartment Referral Service: Referral services are a growing resource that savvy hunters, especially those who are comfortable searching on the Internet, should not neglect. For a monthly fee these services will provide you with a list of no-fee apartment rentals as they become available.

#7: Finding a Vacant Apartment in Same Building: Other movers find their apartments in the same building in which they already live. Be proactive and talk to neighbors, doormen, supers, landlords, and/or your management company to see if another apartment is available in the same building.

#8: Going on Waiting Lists: Affordable housing is often offered through waiting lists or application lotteries. If you have time before you need to move, put your name on waiting lists and/or fill out applications for affordable housing through the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC), or the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA).

#9: Community Groups: You may occasionally find housing through local government offices or community groups that keep information on neighborhood housing notices.

#10: Apartment Guides: Lastly, don’t forget to rely on resources like our Apartment Guide. These general references provide information about leases and other housing issues.

New Apartment Checklist

Impress the Landlord.

If you find a great apartment, fend off likely competitors by being prepared: check your own credit history and bring along a current credit agency report; if possible, ask your previous landlord to write a favorable letter of reference; and also ask your employer, co-workers, and friends if you can use them as character references (bring a list with names and telephone numbers).

Fees and Deposits.

Find out exactly how much you are expected to pay up-front to rent the apartment. Note: security deposits may not be more than one month’s rent in stabilized units; fees to superintendents or doormen, commonly called “key money,” are illegal.

Ask for a Lease.

Leases provide many important protections for unregulated tenants such as a fixed rent for the duration of the lease. Unless you have a lease, your landlord can also evict you without giving any reason (after 30-days written notice). However, if you want the flexibility of moving on short notice, you may not want a lease.

Read your Lease.

It is important that you examine your lease carefully. Once you and your landlord sign it, the lease is considered executed and you have in effect agreed to every provision inside it. Check for the following:

Does the lease state the correct rent, address, and landlord?

Does the lease mention all the amenities agreed upon? Be sure to write down any oral agreements.

Check your lease to find out the due date for your rent each month, as well as what late charges apply if you miss the deadline.

Check to see if utilities are billed separately or are included in your monthly rent.

Are there any special building rules? Find out if your new building is: pet-friendly, has limits on guests, has restrictions on running a home business, etc.

What happens at the end of the lease term? Can you renew automatically? What happens if you break the lease? Can you sublet or assign (transfer) the lease?

Who is on the Lease?

If you are a renter, having your name on the lease gives you more protections and rights than any unsigned tenants. If you want your partner, child, spouse, roommate, or relative to have lease protections, it is a good idea to put their name on the lease at the outset (later additions may trigger a vacancy increase in stabilized apartments). But also be aware that more names on the lease may mean more complications in the future if relationships change.


If you are joining a household as a roommate, try to find out what the primary tenant’s plans are. If the primary tenant leaves and you are not on the lease, you have no right to stay in the apartment. If you would like to stay at your discretion, see if you can add your name to the lease, although this may trigger a substantial rent increase in stabilized apartments.


If your apartment is rent-stabilized, be sure to keep the following in mind:

Ask for the Rent Stabilization Rider. The Rider describes the rights and obligations of tenants and owners under the Rent Stabilization Law. It also states the previous rent for the apartment.

Ask if the building is operating under the 421-a or J-51 tax incentive programs. If the building was built with the aid of a tax exemption, your rent is regulated for the period of the exemption (usually 10-20 years). At the end of this period, your landlord can charge “market” rates.

Are you the first tenant in a decontrolled unit? If you are the first tenant in a previously rent-controlled apartment, the owner should have negotiated with you before charging a rent. You have 90 days from the first day of receipt of notice (called the RR-1 form) to file a “Fair Market Rent Appeal” (FMRA) if you want to challenge the new rent.

Landlord’s Right to Access.

If you are concerned about privacy, be sure to ask for wording in the lease limiting the landlord’s ability to enter your apartment (except during emergencies). Tenants in multiple dwellings also have the right to install and maintain their own locks on their apartment entrance doors, but you must provide the landlord with a duplicate key upon request.

What Happens if Your Landlord Leaves?

Landlords must notify tenants, by registered or certified mail, of the name and address of the new owner. New owners of rent-stabilized buildings are responsible for returning any security deposits and interest. This responsibility exists whether or not the new owner received the security deposits from the former landlord (When a building is sold, the landlord must transfer all security deposits to the new owner within five days, or return the security deposits to the tenants). Foreclosure of the building also does not affect your lease.

Need More Help?

For more information on your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, check out the NYS Attorney General’s Landlord/Tenant Guide. Also, if you are moving into a rent-stabilized apartment, you have additional rights as a tenant: check out the NYS DHCR Factsheets on our Web site.

Problems with a landlord? Know your rights! Information is available here in different languages: http://www.lawhelpny.org/issues/housing

See more information on resources for immigrants in our previous post here.




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