Finding an apartment in NYC is hard. You’re competing with dozens of other people for an apartment and likely seeing several places a day to find just the right one. So when you come upon an apartment that is affordable and in a great location, you want to jump on it as soon as possible. Never mind the trash in the hallway, broken elevator or signs of water damage on the ceiling. The broker or landlord gives you all the reassurance in the world that everything is under control, so why not believe them, right?
Wrong. As the saying goes, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. And while there’s no landlord and broker out there who will say upfront that they’re trying to swindle you there are a few things you can do to spot a bad deal.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
There’s usually warning signs that point to a bad landlord or building management company. Sure, that apartment might seem perfect, but if you can, take some time to actually notice all the small details not only of the apartment itself, but of the building. Things to look out for include:
- Poor building maintenance – This could be things like peeling paint from the window frames, crumbling bricks, broken steps, rusted guard rails, etc. It might seem small on the surface, but poor building maintenance is a sign the landlord doesn’t care about upkeep.
- Broken elevators – Sure, this isn’t always a red flag. After all, even in luxury buildings elevators can break down. However, it could be a sign of deeper issues.
- Trash in shared areas – if you notice that there’s an overflow of trash in the hallways or near the mailboxes, it could mean a couple things: bad neighbors or bad landlord. Either way, you don’t want to deal with garbage out in the open. It attracts vermin and, especially with spoiled food, smells horrible.
- Mold/mildew – Check the walls, inside the cupboards, around the window and everywhere else. Many bad landlords will simply paint over the problem, so if you smell a fresh coat of paint in specific areas or notice some water damage on the ceilings, then the apartment probably has some mold issues.
Listen to Your Intuition
Most people probably have an inkling that something isn’t right before they sign the lease, but they often ignore warning signs because the deal is too good to overlook or they’re in such a rush to leave their old place, they sign onto the first place they see. It might not be ideal, but if you don’t feel comfortable at any point during the process, leave! A lot of bad landlords will try the same tactics to lock you into the apartment or, at the very least, try and take a lot of your money. If you notice the following things, back away:
- They ask for a large deposit. Generally speaking a standard deposit includes first and last month’s rent, security and, if you’re working with a broker, a broker’s fee. If they’re asking for 6 months upfront or any other exorbitant deposit it’s a warning sign that they’re just trying to scam you.
- You can’t get a hold of the building management or landlord easily. They don’t return your texts, calls or emails within a few days. You have to constantly chase them to get any questions answered and when they do respond, it’s very vague.
- The lease is vague or, worst case, there is no lease. If there is no lease, run for the hills screaming. A lease not only protects the landlord, but it also protects you in terms of your privacy, expectations, rent prices and so on. Not only that, but it proves that you live there and prevents your landlord from throwing all of your stuff out on the curb for no reason. If they’re not offering you a lease or the lease terms are not clear, don’t sign.
- They only deal with cash. If the landlord only accepts cash for rent and deposit, avoid them like the plague. Chances are they’re just trying to squeeze whatever they can out of you for the initial deposit and will ghost you once they get the money. If you somehow end up with an apartment, they can easily say they never received payment and you have no way to prove that you did in fact pay.
- They constantly complain about previous tenants. Yes, there is such a thing as bad tenants and if those previous tenants did a number on the apartment then it might make sense for the landlord to mention it as a reason why they need to do a full renovation or what have you. However, if they’re constantly complaining and calling previous tenants lazy, ignorant, etc. it’s not a great sign as it points to the landlord’s lack of tact and could potentially mean they will act as poor references for you when you end up moving out.
Look Them Up
You use Google pretty much on a daily basis, so why not use it to check on your future landlord and building management? You can google search your landlord, broker, building management or even apartment. If there are any big news stories (murder, robbery) or infractions you’ll find them in the news.
Google can also turn up some reviews on building management via Yelp, BBB, or other sites. If there are issues, you can bet that people will complain though you can’t necessarily verify this information.
If you’re looking for verifiable complaints, you’ll want to go to the Department of Buildings Information System. Here you can see pretty much all complaints filed against your building. And by all, we mean all. You can see everything from crooked cabinets to lead paint issues.
Don’t get hung up on the older violations as chances are the building has probably fixed the big issues. Instead, look at the more recent complaints. If you’re noticing consistent issues such as broken elevator, mold, rats, etc. you might want to think twice before you sign that lease. You can also look to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development database. While they only list complaints from the past year, it lists some important complaints such as vermin issues to illegal wiring to other work.
Speaking of vermin – if you’re wary of bed bugs (and you should be) ask. Landlords in NYC must disclose whether a building has had an infestation or not. But, if you think the landlord is being a bit cagey, you can check the address on the Bed Bug Registry. Not only will this tell you if your building has had or still has an infestation, it also shows you nearby places that have bed bugs.
There’s also a city list of the top 100 worst landlords (NYCHA is actually listed as number 1) so definitely search here for the name of your potential landlord. While you might not be able to avoid bad landlords 100 percent of the time. Hopefully these tips can at least help you to avoid the worst ones in NYC. And when you’re moving in NYC, the last thing you want to do is move again in a few months!