Apartment questions answered

Bug situation? Rental history? Landlord responsibility? Your burning apartment quandaries, solved.

Where can I find information about previous tenants?
If you want to get the scoop about a building from a prior occupant (and learn what it’ll really be like to live there), you might have to do some harmless snooping. Those lucky enough to find a rent-controlled apartment can dig through the records that the New York State Division of Housing Community and Renewal (25 Beaver St between Broad and New Sts; 866-275-3427, dhcr.state.ny.us) maintains for such units. For the rest of us, there’s the Internet: PropertyShark allows you to type in an address and perform a property-report search, which includes an ownership summary and any phone records they have from previous tenants. Of course, you can always go the more direct route: “Ask the neighbors on either side of the apartment,” says Barak Realty agent James Miller. Once you have the name, you’re a few clicks away from being Facebook friends.

How do I find out the bug history of a building?
Start at the top. “Go directly to the management company and request a copy of the extermination report for the building,” says Miller, who also suggests contacting the building’s extermination company (the name and phone number are usually posted in the lobby). If you come up empty-handed, hit the Web again: First, plug in the address on the community-review site Bedbug Registry. You can also search the address on the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s website (nyc.gov/html/hpd/home.html) for a history of any roach, mice and other vermin complaints, along with all open violations. “Buildings with significant infestation issues typically have violations, which are noted in HPD’s database,” says Maria Beltrani, a partner at real-estate law firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz. Your fellow New Yorkers love this topic, so a search of Google, Curbed, BrickUnderground or Apartment Ratings might get you answers too. Click here for more tips.

How do I know if my apartment is fairly priced?
“The best way to find out is by checking multiple sources and doing a side-by-side analysis of your apartment,” says Mark David Fromm, CEO and real-estate broker at Mark David & Company. On his researching short list: StreetEasy, Online Residential, The New York Times’ Real Estate section, CoStar, PropertyShark and the NYC Rent Guidelines Board. Many real-estate companies release their own findings—most notably the Real Estate Group New York’s monthly rental market report (tregny.com), which provides price trends by neighborhood. When you do your analysis, look for places that are similar in size, location and amenities—the more analagous the benchmark apartments are to your pad, the more accurate your comparison will be. If you find out you’re overpaying (or are about to), give your landlord a call and try to negotiate—you might just catch a break. (For more tips on negotiating a bargain, visit timeoutnewyork.com/apts.)

How can I find a broker who won’t screw me?
All of the experts were unanimous on this one: The best way to find a trustworthy broker is by word of mouth. “Get a referral from a friend, family member or business associate that has used one in the past and had a positive experience,” says Miller. (Or, click here for more on the best brokers we met while researching this issue.) Don’t know anyone who’s recently dealt with a broker? Instead of relying on biased client testimonials provided by the broker him or herself, check references on your own by reading reviews posted on Rateyourbroker.com, Incredible Agents, RealEstateRatingz and even Yelp. But the best way to keep an agent from pulling a fast one is to really trust your gut. “Never check your brain at the door,” says Safi Bello, an assistant property manager with New Bedford Management. “If something doesn’t sound or feel right, walk away.”

Once I move in, what’s my responsibility and what’s my landlord’s?
When in doubt, check your lease—the obligation for repairs and extermination services are often detailed in there. “Those services are usually the responsibility of the landlord, unless the tenant caused the condition,” says real-estate lawyer Beltrani. “In situations where there is no written lease, the landlord remains obligated to maintain the apartment in good repair and free from infestation and dangerous conditions under the Housing Maintenance Code, Building Code and Fire Code. If a landlord fails to comply with the various codes, the tenant can file a complaint with the appropriate city agency, which can issue violations that must be cured expeditiously.” For more details about specific issues, read up on tenants’ rights at the NYC Affordable Housing Resource Center (nyc.gov/html/housinginfo/html/tenants_rights/tenants_rights.shtml), the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (housingnyc.com/html/resources/attygenguide.html) and Tenant Net.

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