Renter's Guide

With thousands of apartments on the market during a given rental cycle, hundreds that meet some permutation of your expressed criteria, and the inevitable race against invisible competitors, finding an apartment can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack--that happens to be on fire.

Sometimes budget and lifestyle constraints limit a search to the point that an experienced agent can save you countless hours of stress and frustration, provided you do some soul searching with respect to your needs, communicate them efficiently, and paint an accurate picture of any financial or other constraints you may have.

If you have bad credit there are certain buildings that just won't take you, other buildings may accept additional security, or a professional guarantor. An experienced broker can provide alternative solutions, if (s)he is aware of any shortcomings on your credit profile. It's not expected for you to have a full working understanding of all potential sticking points on a rental application, but it is always good to be open and honest with the person who is working on your behalf to get you the best apartment possible.

Once your agent has a clear understanding of your renter profile and your apartment criteria, it is important to gather the appropriate documentation for submission with a rental application. There is not much worse than finding an apartment that you love and missing out on it because you didn't tell your broker you had bad credit, a Great Dane, or worse yet because you had incomplete paperwork.

A landlord will need to verify your identity, credit, employment status, and income. It doesn't hurt to let them know a bit about yourself as well. Sometimes a cover letter, explaining extenuating or complicated circumstances can make the difference between approval and rejection.

Application requirements vary but the following list of documents are good to have handy as soon as you begin your search, so that you are prepared to apply as soon as you identify a desirable unit.

  • Employment letter stating position, salary and length of employment (or start date if you have not yet started), and any information regarding bonus, on company letterhead; (or CPA letter if self employed)
  • Last two pay stubs;
  • Last two years’ tax returns (summary page will suffice);
  • Last two months’ bank statements (online printout is ok);
  • Name, addresses, and phone numbers of previous landlords (not necessary for all situations);
  • Two personal reference letters (optional for most rental buildings, probable requirement for coops and some condos);
  • Two business reference letters (optional for most rental buildings, probable requirement for coops and some condos);
  • Verification of other assets such as real estate, securities, etc.; (optional for most rental buildings, probable requirement for coops and some condos)
  • Copy of photo identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.).

It is important that you are prepared to consummate the deal once your application has been approved. Many landlords will accept one month's rent and one month's security, unless stated otherwise, but it is better to be safe than sorry-- you should be prepared for first, last, and security.

An application for a rental property will have a nominal flat fee between $35 and $350. Most will be under $100, and your broker should let you know if a building has sizeable application fees. Generally these monies are dedicated to administrative fees including credit check and filing of paperwork.

Condos and Coops may have application fees above $100, as the applications are more thorough, especially if a board package is required. Additionally there may be move-in/out fees and/or deposits. Moving Deposits are generally checks that are not cashed unless damage is incurred during the move.

Some Coops and Condos may require insured and bonded movers, others may require a certified check as opposed to a personal check. Your broker will inquire for and provide you with a schedule of applicable fees should you choose a coop or condo. Lofts and furnished apartments may require renter's insurance or additional months security.

With this checklist and an experienced agent, there's not much that can surprise you. Most applications will not require every piece of substantiating documentation possible, but it's better to be prepared.

Finally, the broker's fee. You wouldn't forget to pay your broker for their hard work, would you? Broker's fees are established by general convention and will be discussed with you in person before the closing of your deal. If an apartment is held exclusively by another broker, they will set the fee amount, and your broker's hands may be tied. Unless you are looking at strictly NO FEE apartments you should expect to pay between 1 and 1.8x the monthly rent as a broker's fee which will be due at lease signing.

Your keys will be handed to you at lease signing, at which point you can schedule your move in, and plan your housewarming!