I believe that certain people who have done special evil in this life end up in a particular compartment of Hell where they have to live in New York City and move apartments every few months. They are forced to do so on tiny, unreliable incomes with flaky, unreliable roommates and expensive, unreliable brokers.
For the rest of us, it shouldn’t be so hard. But it is, and it gets harder the poorer you are and the more often you have to work, and more complicated the more people are involved.
To start with, I beseech thee: have faith. There are plenty of apartments out there for you, I promise. Here’s a no-nonsense guide to make the process of finding them a little less like hell on earth (but just a little).
Know What You Need
Renting an apartment is cheaper with roommates, but also more difficult, because everyone wants to see the place to decide if their stuff will fit in whichever room they are silently claiming for themselves, and nobody’s schedules will ever match up. Ever. So, when you have to see apartments alone, go armed with the needs of all parties. Know how far away everybody’s job is, and who is most flexible about the commute.
Bring a camera, a tape measure, and a notebook. Write down the price for each apartment, which utilities are included, how many roaches you saw (decide how many you are willing to ignore), and if there’s counter space or a place to put a kitchen table. Carry a mental picture of your furniture, and project it into empty rooms. Be prepared to pare down significantly. (How important is Grandma’s antique rocking chair? Do you guys really need a couch?)
Measure the bedrooms and closets so that everyone can figure out remotely whether their belongings will fit. Take pictures so your roommates know if there are windows or closets (score!), and where they are.
What are you willing to compromise on? What do you absolutely need? Can you afford to spend more money? The lower your expectations and the higher your budget, the easier this process will be.
Don’t Get Ripped Off
As if this wasn’t all hard enough when everyone has honest intentions, the whole process is unjustly littered with scams and con artists from stage one.
Don’t be afraid to use Craigslist, because more trustworthy websites are frequently more expensive, and plus Craigslist is full of gems like these. Still, know the pitfalls. Apartments that are too cheap to be true probably are. Look at all the pictures and take note of those that are duplicated in multiple listings—these should be red flags.
There are many Craigslist ads that link to websites like Roomster.com, which ask you to pay for a membership in order to message people that are leasing apartments or rooms. Almost all of these are scams; the apartments and people are made up. Don’t buy memberships, and don’t pay brokers before you put a deposit down. Don’t pay any money for anything, or give out your bank info or SSN before you get something first.
I repeat: never pay money or give out personal information until you get something first!
Use All Your Resources
Craigslist is a good jumping-off point, but the world of apartment rentals is so much bigger, and finding an apartment is exponentially easier when you approach it from as many angles as possible. Just you? Look into renting a room instead. One or more roommates? Look into subletting spaces, or find someone with two roommates on the way out.
Websites like Street Easy (I’m sure you’ve seen subway ads for them) offer cleaner, more trustworthy-looking listings than Craigslist, but they are one tier more expensive–out of my price range, maybe, but not necessarily yours, so check it out. but there are also Facebook groups like Gypsy Housing and Broke List, and mailing lists like the Listings Project which sends out weekly emails with non-brokered housing options. This list is by no means exhaustive: do your research into alternative NYC apartment listings.
Right now, you undoubtedly know at least one person who is either currently moving out of their apartment, hunting for roommates, or trying to fill a room. If not, then they know someone else who is. Find them. Send out cheerful emails to people you met at cocktail parties but haven’t spoken to in months. Post Facebook statuses and tag friends in all boroughs.
You probably also know one or two people in real estate. If they’re family or close friends, they may even be able to waive their fee for you. If not, they still have access to information you don’t. Use them.
Walk around the neighborhood you want to live in and you’ll find landlord phone numbers printed on “Apartments For Rent” banners plastered on buildings, and not on the internet. Chat with building supers and maintenance workers, they often know where openings are. So use Craigslist, by all means, but be careful, and don’t limit yourself.
This game is cutthroat. If you’re not richer than everyone else you have to be faster, better, harder, and stronger. Or at least just faster. And more decisive.
We have to wait a few days to put a deposit down, because–no. Stop. Your apartment is already gone. I don’t care if your new pad is in Bensonhurst, Ozone Park, or Canarsie. I don’t care if you had to walk forty-five minutes from the subway to the apartment, or whether you actually got shot at and/or robbed on the way. Someone else wants the place—a lot of someone elses. And if you are the person that this article has been directed to, you’re poorer than them and have a much less flexible work schedule. If you like it, put the deposit down.
The bricks over the windows? The naked neighbors? The hypodermic needles you found on the sidewalk? Just remember that it could always be worse. No New York City apartment is perfect, and you often have to trade superfluous things like real windows for, you know, a real roof. And floors.
Besides, it could always be worse. You could live alllllll the way out in Canarsie.