the NYC Apartment Checklist – Red Flats to Look Out For

Hunting for an apartment in New York City is a pain in the ass.  Having to run all over town only to see one disappointing apartment after another is enough to beat even the most determined renter into submission.  It is tempting to sign a lease for the first apartment that you see that is not a complete rat hole.

Be too hasty, however, and you could end up trapped in an unlivable apartment, with no way to break your lease.

Before you sign away your soul —make sure that the apartment you are considering passes this seven point checklist.

The NYC apartment hunter’s checklist:


Check for Critters – NYC is a city with a lot of character, and by character, I mean critters.  From rats that are the size of a small dog, down to itty bitty roaches & bed bugs- they come in all shapes and sizes.  When you are checking out an apartment, make sure you do a thorough job of looking for signs of an existing, or looming critter infestation.

Critter checklist –

  • Look for any holes (mice can crawl through holes as small as a dime) that might allow pests inside – good places to look are where the floor meets the walls and around windows.  The presence of holes doesn’t mean that the apartment necessarily has an existing pest problem—but holes can provide critters with easy access to your apartment and increase the chances that there will be an issue in the future.
  • Look for signs of mice droppings on and inside the stove—stoves are a popular hangout for mice—consequently it is a good place to look for evidence of their presence.
  • Look inside the cabinets for signs of pests (mice droppings or roaches).  Pay special attention to the corners of cabinets as this is where roaches like to lay eggs—which look almost like specs of pepper.
  • Check for the smell of trash in the hallways — trash attracts critters.  They love it.  If you smell trash in the hallways of your apartment building, chances are waste disposal is not being properly taken care of and critters are more likely to become a problem.

Can you really afford it? – Sure, you may be able to qualify for an apartment lease, but that does not mean you should get the most expensive apartment for which you can qualify.  While you can qualify for a $1,500/mo apartment with a salary of $60,000– after taxes, food, cable and utilities there will be barely anything left to pay for all those $200 bar tabs.

Sunlight – Many NYC apartments receive a minuscule amount of natural sunlight.  While this may seem like a trivial detail, there is a body of research which suggests the amount of sunlight a person receives can greatly affect their mood, and their health.  Make sure your perspective apartment receives an adequate amount of sunlight – or run the risk of being stuck in a dark, depressing living situation.

Check the murder map - Being on a budget does not mean that you must compromise on safety.  There are many safe, affordable, neighborhoods in NYC that will accommodate all but the most budget constrained renters.  Don’t become a statistic—make sure the apartment you are considering is not smack in the middle of a homicide hot zone.

Noise -   This is New York City—if you demand piece and quite then you are moving to the wrong place.  No matter how tightly sealed or modern your apartment is you can almost be guaranteed that some city noise will seep in.  However, this does not mean that you should pick a place that is intolerably noisy.  When you are inside the apartment, pay attention to how well the windows block out street sounds.  Outside of the apartment, you should make sure that there are not too many bars or nightclubs nearby that may play loud music or attract crowds late into the night.

Sources of noise to check for:

  • Bars & nightclubs
  • Businesses that attract an unsavory element
  • Long-term construction projects

Do a circle – Before you sign a lease, walk the circumference of the block that the apartment is located on.  Locate the nearest grocery store, dry cleaner, gym, or other essential businesses that you plan to frequent—make sure that they are within an acceptable distance (some neighborhoods, such as the financial district, are lacking in businesses that cater to residents—make sure you are aware of this and comfortable with the compromise.

Laundry – Some apartment buildings, especially those located in downtown neighborhoods, do not have any laundry facilities of their own.  Make sure there are laundry facilities in the building, or if not there is at least an affordable laundromat nearby.   For many renters, the only laundry options are extremely overpriced laundromat that can easily add $500 a year in expenses—a lot if you are on a tight budget.