Apartment Hunting Tips

Apartment Hunting Tips

Ways to Find an Apartment

In addition to City-sponsored affordable rental and homeownership opportunities, try these tips for your New York City housing search:  

Real Estate Apps and Websites

There is an ever-increasing and changing set of websites and smartphone apps to help New Yorkers find a place to rent or buy. It’s smart to try several – no single app will have everything. HPD does not recommend any specific company, but a search of the web or your phone’s app store for “NYC rentals,” for example, is likely to bring up many options. Individual listings may also advertise open houses, where you can sign up or walk-in to view an available apartment.


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 websites where you can view available apartments, sometimes even with photos and detailed descriptions.


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.

Classified Ads

Classified ads in paper or online publications often have apartment listings.

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.

Housing Office

If you're living here for professional or educational reasons, contact your organization's housing office or service if they have one.

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.


The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is responsible for the City's public housing and has a Section 8 Voucher program. 

Community Groups

You may occasionally find housing through local government offices or community groups that keep information on neighborhood housing notices.

New Apartment Checklist

Be Prepared

If you find a great apartment on the private market, 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: credit and background check fees may not exceed $20; security deposits may not be more than one month's rent; 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 (with a written notice after 30 days or more, depending on how long you have lived in the apartment). 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.
  • 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 Rent Guideline Board's Web site.