What to look for before you sign the lease
Too many of us have been there: You find what seems to be the perfect apartment, only to discover leaky pipes, a bedbug infestation---or worse. Before you commit, learn how to recognize the warning signs.
Fri Oct 7 2011
Quality of life
Visit the neighborhood first. Don't just walk around once and call it a day. "Check out the area during both day and night," says an officer from the 75th Precinct in East New York, Brooklyn. "It's also smart to explore surrounding streets and visit local shops."
Stop by the local police precinct. "Ask to see the community affairs officer, who can answer your questions [about the neighborhood] and give you an overview and history of the area," advises the officer.
Do your research. You can find weekly reports detailing crime statistics, broken down by borough and precinct, on the NYPD's website (nyc.gov/nypd), or check out SpotCrime (spotcrime.com), where you can search street addresses for crimes that have occurred nearby. EveryBlock (nyc.everyblock.com) collects information such as building permits, restaurant inspections, local news and more.
Use your nose. "If an apartment smells like pesticides, that likely means the place was recently exterminated," says Timothy Wong, technical director at M&M Pest Control (mandmpestcontrol.com) on the Lower East Side. This could signify a larger pest issue.
Look for mouse poop. It's gross, but droppings indicate a possible infestation of the furry little creatures—or other unwelcome visitors. (FYI, you're looking for something that's about the shape and size of a grain of rice.) "Check behind radiators for holes and gaps
where vermin can enter, and make sure the windows have screens," says Wong.
Move the refrigerator and stove. "Glue boards and traps indicate a history of pest problems, and steel wool and foam around baseboards and pipes indicate extermination for mice and rodents," says Wong. "Ask if you can check behind appliances—that's where they're typically hidden."
Again—research! Check the Bedbug Registry (bedbugregistry.com) or Bedbugger (bedbugger.com) to see if the apartment you're scoping out has been listed. But keep in mind that the posts aren't vetted by the sites and could have inaccurate or misleading information.
Start by asking questions. "Don't just ask, 'Do tenants run out of hot water?'" says John Cataneo, owner of Gateway Plumbing and Heating (gatewayplumbing.com) in Soho. "This will result in a simple 'No.'" Instead, he suggests asking more detailed questions, such as, what are the specific times of day when hot water may be lacking?
Take a peek in the bathtub. "Badly stained bathtubs and lavatory basins suggest slow drains and dripping faucets," explains Cataneo. "If the stains are more yellow than brown, it indicates that the building has upgraded to cleaner and safer copper pipes—but still implies a slow-responding super."
Make sure the fixtures match. "Things like mismatched faucet handles, uncovered radiators with flaking paint, water stains or rusted parts are signs of neglect," says Cataneo. This could indicate that management will be less likely to fix larger issues.
Run the water. "Turn on each faucet and close it quickly, and listen for noises and check for adequate pressure and discolored water," advises Cataneo. Problems with any of the above may indicate trouble with the pipes that could require extensive repairs later on. Mismatched tiles around the bathtub walls and silicone sealant around the floor seams could suggest leaks that will require a super to make multiple trips.
Bring up any issues beforehand. Even if you're sure that this really is the apartment of your dreams, don't get trigger-happy. Ask your potential landlord questions, and discuss any concerns or needs you have. "Make sure anything you agree upon is either included in the lease or a rider attached to the lease," says Neil Foresto, senior vice president of New York Residence (newyorkresidence.com).
Don't be afraid to negotiate. "Rents usually increase every year—if there is a chance that you might want to extend your lease in the future, consider trying to negotiate an option to renew and the renewal rent before signing," advises Foresto.
Duh—read the fine print. Most rental companies use a standard lease, but you still need to read it carefully. If a rider or a particular request seems fishy, check it against the rules provided by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (housingnyc.com).