Apartment Hunting

The Basics

Explore the Rent Guidelines Board’s list of what every New Yorker needs to know about rental housing:

  1. Types of Housing -- New York City’s rental market is very diverse, and includes many rent regulated and subsidized apartments, as well as unregulated “market-rate” apartments.
  2. Rent Stabilization -- It’s important to know if the apartment you live in is rent stabilized.
  3. Affordable Housing -- It can be found if you have the time to look.
  4. Fees -- Be careful about the fees you pay.
  5. Leases -- Leases are important.  If you get a lease, read it carefully.
  6. Roommates  -- State law allows you to have a roommate. If YOU are the roommate you have fewer rights. Be smart about sharing an apartment.
  7. Subletting -- You can sublet the apartment if you have to, but following the correct procedures is essential.
  8. Maintenance -- Proper maintenance of the apartment is your landlord’s responsibility, but there are limits.
  9. Security Deposits -- Explore you (and your landlord’s) rights and responsibilities when it comes to security deposits.
  10. Tenant Responsibilities -- Find out about your responsibilities as a tenant and work with your landlord to resolve problems.  It will usually pay off in the long run.

Click a topic, or press the enter key on a topic, to reveal its answer.

Types of Housing

Rental housing in New York falls into three main categories: market-rate housing, rent regulated housing, and subsidized housing. Rents and lease renewals in market rate housing are essentially matters to be negotiated between the landlord and tenant. In rent regulated housing, rent adjustments and lease renewals are regulated by law. In subsidized housing, rents may be directly or indirectly supplemented by various government programs and terms of occupancy are regulated by law.  View more detailed information about housing types.

Rent Stabilization

If your apartment is rent stabilized, you have certain protections not guaranteed to other tenants, including: 

  • Protection against unlawful rent increases. Rents under rent stabilization are adjusted annually by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board. Additional increases for such things as Major Capital Improvements are permitted by the NYS Homes and Community Renewal. Other increases, such as vacancy allowances and increases for Individual Apartment Improvements may be permitted by operation of law. All rent increases must have some basis in law or administrative order. 
  • The right to renew your lease. In the absence of a specific legal justification for non-renewal, rent stabilized tenants must be given a lease renewal offer between 150 and 90 days before the expiration of the existing lease. A one- or two-year lease may be chosen by the tenant. In addition, the landlord may not evict the tenant except for various causes specified in the Rent Stabilization Code. 
  • Other rights include such things as protections against decreases in service and succession rights for family members and significant others. These rights are described in HCR fact sheets

To find out if your apartment is rent stabilized, look at your lease, or ask the landlord, broker or managing agent leasing the apartment. You may also consult our list of rent stabilized buildings and then, to verify, contact NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the state agency which administers the rent laws. Note that many buildings on our list contain apartments that have been deregulated due to high-rent/high-income deregulation; high-rent vacancy deregulation; expiration of tax benefits; and co-op conversion. If the apartment is rent stabilized the landlord must attach a Rent Stabilization Lease Rider to your lease. The Rider outlines your rights and responsibilities under the rent stabilization laws and provides the previous rent for the apartment. For more information, see HCR Fact Sheet #2.

If your apartment has recently undergone High-Rent Vacancy Deregulation, it’s a good idea to review the rental history for the apartment. Under local law, your landlord has a duty to provide information about the last legal rent and where to file a complaint. If your landlord has not provided such information, you may contact the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) to obtain a printout of the rent history for your apartment. If it appears that the increase to over $2,700 ($2,733.75 as if Jan. 1, 2018; $2,774.76 as of Jan. 1, 2019) that you paid cannot be justified in terms of the prior rent, vacancy allowance and individual apartment improvements, you may file a rent overcharge complaint with the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). Note, however, that if you are not the first market-rate tenant, and the increase you are concerned about occurred more than four years ago, your complaint may be time-barred by a four-year statute of limitations.

Affordable Housing

Finding an affordable apartment is perhaps the most challenging thing about living in New York. For housing that is based on a variety of income levels (depending on the development), go to Housing Types: Affordable Housing. To find privately owned housing (including rent stabilized apartments), see Finding an Apartment.

Fees

What kind of fees are legal?

Generally, the fees you may be asked to pay for securing an apartment are legal. However, be careful not to be taken in by the occasional unscrupulous operator:

  • A real estate broker can charge a broker’s fee for finding you an apartment. The amount of this fee is not set by law. In order to charge the fee, the broker must actually find you an apartment and offer a lease.
  • An apartment referral service can charge a fee for referring apartments to you. However, the fee must be refunded (minus a $15 charge) if you don’t find an apartment.
  • Neither a managing agent nor the owner of a rental building can ask you for a fee in order to rent an apartment. Such a demand is “key money” and is illegal. You can report the managing agent/owner to the NYS Attorney General’s Office if you have some solid evidence. It is doubtful whether a verbal demand would be sufficient to get the AG’s office to investigate unless you have corroborating witnesses.
  • Finally, the owner/managing agent can charge an application fee. Typically, this fee is for checking your references, your credit rating, etc. The fee must bear a reasonable relationship to the cost of doing these things. While a fee of $150 may be reasonable, a fee of $1500 is more likely to be considered key money.

Leases

Why is a Lease Important?

Landlord and tenant relations are governed by statutes, administrative regulations, court decisions and the terms of individual leases. A lease is a contract which supplements or expands upon the rights and obligations prescribed by law.

A lease is particularly important for unregulated tenants. Tenants who are not protected by rent control or rent stabilization are considered month-to-month tenants unless they have a lease which specifies a longer term. Without a lease, unregulated tenancies may be terminated with as little as 30 days notice at the owner’s sole discretion. Additionally, leases for unregulated tenants protect against unexpected rent increases during the term of the lease. Unregulated leases can be almost any length, but are typically one or two years.

Rent regulated tenants have tenure rights and cannot be evicted except for cause. Nonetheless, owners of rent stabilized buildings almost universally demand new tenants sign standard leases. Rent stabilized tenants have a right to choose one- or two-year leases.

It is important to note that many leases contain terms and conditions which have been displaced by statutes. Such matters as subletting, pets, evictions and services are heavily regulated by law. This is true whether the apartment is rent regulated or unregulated. Because of changes in the law, most leases contain one or more clauses that are no longer enforceable. It is therefore important to consult with a lawyer even if a lease provision appears clear on its face.

For more information on Leases, see our Leases - General FAQ, Leases - Renewal & Vacancy FAQ, and the Attorney General's Tenant's Rights Guide.

Roommates

Are Roommates a Risk?

In an expensive housing market, one way to make ends meet is to share an apartment with roommate(s). While this can be an excellent way to find (and keep) affordable housing, here are some things you should know:

  • If you are the only person who has signed the lease, in addition to your immediate family, state law allows you to have one roommate (i.e. an occupant of the apartment who has not signed the lease). Your roommate’s dependent children are also permitted. Any lease provisions disallowing a roommate (and dependent children) are illegal. If your lease originally had two or more tenants, you may have an additional roommate or roommates provided that the total number of tenants and occupants (excluding occupant’s dependent children) does not exceed the number of tenants on the original lease. For example, if three tenants signed the original lease and one moves out, you may have a roommate to replace the departed tenant. 
  • If your apartment is rent stabilized, you may only charge your roommate(s) a “proportionate” share of your rent. A proportionate share is determined by dividing the legal regulated rent by the total number of tenants named on the lease and the total number of occupants in the apartment - not including the tenant’s spouse, family members or the roommate’s dependent children. For example, if you live with your spouse and two children and only your name is on the lease, and you have a roommate who has one child, only you and the roommate are recognized for the purpose of calculating a proportionate share of the rent. You may therefore charge the roommate up to 50% of the rent. 
  • Check your roommate’s background thoroughly (e.g., ask for references; do a credit check, etc.). If you don’t get along or they don’t pay their share of the rent, and your roommate refuses to leave, you do have the right to evict your roommate. However, if the roommate refuses to leave, the ensuing eviction process could be both painful, lengthly and expensive. Remember, until the eviction process is completed, you may have to live with this person. 
  • If you join someone as a roommate (i.e., your name isn’t on the lease) another set of problems can crop up. In most instances, if your roommate (the leaseholder) leaves, you have no right to keep the apartment. The primary tenant might also decide to temporarily sublet to someone, in which case you will suddenly have a new housemate not of your choosing. 

What precautions can you take?

  • If you are the leaseholder, be careful about choosing a roommate. Check your potential roommate’s background thoroughly (e.g., ask for references; do a credit check, etc.).
  • If you join someone as a roommate, try to find out as much as possible about the primary tenants’ plans. Try to get on the lease if possible. If this isn’t possible, your rights are very limited and your ability to stay in the apartment may be cut short at any time.
  • For more information, see our Roommates FAQ

Subletting

How Do I Sublet? 

Under New York State law, a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse a request to sublet your apartment (if you have a lease and reside in a building with four or more units). This protection applies to both rent regulated and unregulated apartments.

If the apartment is rent stabilized, you can sublet for up to two years in any four-year period. If the apartment is not stabilized the sublet cannot extend beyond your current lease.

Subletting an apartment can be a very difficult and complex process. Do not undertake it lightly. You must be careful to:

  • Choose a subtenant who will pay the rent and not endanger your ability to return to the apartment. 
  • Execute a sublease with your tenant. 
  • Follow all of the necessary steps to win approval from your landlord for the sublet. 

Failure to be careful about choosing a subtenant and seeking your landlord’s permission can lead to financial loss and eviction from the apartment.

More information can be found in HCR’s Fact Sheet on Sublets (rent stabilized tenants only) and the Attorney General’s Tenant’s Rights Guide.

For more information, see our Subletting FAQ.

Maintenance

How do I resolve maintenance issues in my apartment?

Under a provision of state law called the "Warranty of Habitability” tenants are entitled to an apartment fit for human habitation without any conditions endangering or detrimental to their life, health, or safety.

Consequently, all tenants, regardless of rent regulation status, are eligible to seek repairs and rent abatements for violations of this Warranty of Habitability. Note, however, that your landlord may not be responsible for the COST of repairs if the defects were due to your negligence or the negligence or abuse of someone else in your household. Regardless of whether the landlord or the tenant is ultimately liable for the cost of a repair or maintenance defect, the owner is obligated to keep the premises in good repair. For a comprehensive list of how to get your apartment repaired, see our Repairs & Maintenance FAQ.

Security Deposits

What should I know about my security deposit?

Virtually all leases require tenants to give their landlords a security deposit. The security deposit is usually one month’s rent, and cannot be more than one month’s rent in rent stabilized housing units.

The landlord must return your security deposit, less any lawful deduction, at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter. A landlord may use the security deposit: (a) as reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear, if the apartment is damaged; or (b) as reimbursement for any unpaid rent.

Landlords, regardless of the number of units in the building, must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not CO-mingle deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must put all security deposits in New York bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. You must be informed in writing of the bank’s name and address and the amount of the deposit.

Landlords are entitled to annual administrative expenses equal to 1% of your security deposit (not the interest earned). If there is any remaining interest earned on the deposit, it belongs to you. However, with interest rates averaging below 1% in recent years, tenants may not be eligible to receive any interest at all. (You must be given the option of having this interest paid out annually, applied to rent, or paid at the end of the lease term. If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord who voluntarily places the security deposits in an interest bearing account must also follow these rules.

For more information about security deposits, see HCR’s Fact Sheet #9 (for rent stabilized units), or read our Security Deposits FAQ and the Attorney General’s “Tenant’s Rights Guide”. If you believe your security deposit has not been rightfully returned to you, see Legal Assistance.

Tenant Responsibilities

What are my responsibilities as a tenant and how can I better work with my landlord?

For tips on having a better relationship with your landlord, please see the Legal Assistance section of our website, which offers advice for knowing the rights and responsibilities of both the tenant and the landlord, communicating more effectively, and using a mediation service before resorting to legal filings.