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How Can a College Student Rent an Apartment in New York City

Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart

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You survived the chaos of high school, got accepted into a college in the Big Apple, and are about to start buying books.

September is just around the corner, and you’re inches away from living the kind of life written about in major American novels.

The only major hurdle you have left is trying to figure out where you’re going to live and how you’re going to rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

New York City renting is a wild ride, to say the least.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be dangerous or impossible for students to rent.

Our quick guide will help you make the most of your home hunt, even when you’re fresh out of college.

Renting an Apartment Off-Campus

Dorming is always an option, if you’re lucky. For many students, having housing is a great way to save a ton of money while you attend college in New York.

However, student housing has a lot of limitations that make it a poor option for many students.

Many colleges simply don’t have enough housing for new students to go around, and almost all universities in the New York City area have certain guidelines about who can use student housing.

There’s a chance you might not make the cut, either due to a shortage, guidelines, or just a lifestyle change.

Older students might not feel comfortable sharing a dorm room with people who are far younger than they are.

Most college dorms will not allow students who are married or have children to move in, either.

Furthermore, even if you do qualify for student housing, many dorms are old and outdated, very crammed, and expensive.

In many instances renting an apartment with roommates can be more cost-effective that living in student dormitories.

Simply put, renting offers you a level of independence and privacy that dorm rooms do not.

Renting an apartment or a room outside of school gives you more privacy and more control over your surroundings and lifestyle.

How on Earth do I afford rent in New York City as a college student?

Being a college student is always difficult, especially when you’re trying to make ends meet in New York City.

Traditional renting policies say that you need to earn at least 40 times your monthly rent in order to be approved for an apartment.

Of course, most college students don’t make that much. Thankfully, there are some options on the table that you can consider.

The most common way to find a place to rent is to get roommates, and if you have friends attending the same school as you do, this is a great option.

Another option is to look into getting a guarantor to sign your lease. Depending on your situation, your school may also have housing resources that can make the move easier.

I have no job. What now?

Don’t worry, you’re absolutely, positively not alone!

Most landlords require college-aged renters to either show full-time employment proof, but there are loopholes.

Many landlords will also allow renters who show that they have proof of full-time student matriculation. In some cases, this is mandatory, even if you do have a guarantor.

What do I need in order to rent in New York City?

A lot of the renting requirements are pretty common sense.

You will need to have an identification card like a driver’s license. You also will need to have a decent credit score, and also show proof of income.

If you struggle with getting income proof or having the minimum income to get approved, you may need a guarantor.

If you make the most of your income through freelance gigs, you will have a much harder time getting rental approval. In these cases, you may need to furnish tax returns and jump through additional hoops.

Thankfully, you can learn how freelancers get approval for renting through our own blog.

What kind of credit score do I need?

Credit scores are a classic measuring stick that is used to predict how likely you are to repay loans on time.

Landlords typically use them to determine whether or not you’re likely to bail on rent. These scores are determined by credit bureaus that track your spending habits, credit use, and loan payments.

The more timely your payments on loans, credit cards, and other forms of debt are, the higher your score is.

Your credit score can range from a low of 350 to a high of 800, with some credit bureaus extending their scores to around 950.

Landlords are far more likely to approve people who have credit scores above 700, with prime renters getting top priority.

That being said, it’s not likely that you will have prime credit as a student. It’s okay, though.

As long as you have a score over 650, you will most likely find a landlord who will rent to you. Even so, it can be a struggle and you may need a guarantor to seal the deal.

Learn about how you can improve your credit score by reading this article.

What is a guarantor?

A guarantor is a person who cosigns on a lease, guaranteeing that you will be able to pay rent monthly.

In the past, guarantors were typically parents who were able to afford the apartment on their own.

That being said, you don’t need wealthy parents to get a guarantor anymore.

There are professional guarantor companies in New York that specialize in assisting college students get approved for apartments.

To learn more read our post on What is a Guarantor on a Rental Application?

What about subletting?

With subletting, you’re leasing from someone who is currently renting an apartment. Just like with regular apartment rentals, you will still probably need to have a credit score check and ID.

Unlike regular 12-month leases, subletting is a short-term offer that typically involves less hoops to jump through.

If you’re looking for a quick fix, a sublease can be a good option for you.

Learn more about your options by reading How to Rent an Apartment in New York without a Job.

What are some of the better neighborhoods for students?

The cool thing about New York City is that you can always find a cool place to live in the area of your choice if you search long enough. Some neighborhoods are definitely more popular with students than others.

In Manhattan, historic East Harlem, Inwood, and Washington Heights tend to be the two neighborhoods college students who do off-campus housing tend to gravitate the most.

They are relatively safe, affordable, and offer excellent commute options for students who are going to Manhattan-based schools like Baruch and City Colleges.

Brooklyn neighborhoods offer a lot more affordability in most cases, but it can be a bit of a journey if you’re based in Manhattan.

Some of the more up-and-coming neighborhoods that remain popular among students in the Brooklyn include Crown Heights, Bushwick, and Bed-Stuy.

Even NYU students have been renting in places as far as Bushwick for years.

The Fort Greene and Clinton Hill areas, while have become more expensive, are still teeming with students as it's home base for many colleges like Pratt University, St. Joseph's College, and Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus.

In Queens, Flushing and Jamaica are always good places to consider. That said, it’s usually a very long commute.

They may be more ideal for Queens College and St. John's student who campuses are based in those neighborhoods.

The Bronx’s Concourse is a good option for people who study in northern Manhattan or the Bronx itself.

How do I avoid being scammed?

Rental scams are a dime a dozen in the Big Apple, and it’s not unheard-of for people to find themselves bilked out of thousands of dollars as a result of a scammer’s trickery. Here are some of the best tips to avoid scams:

Listen to your gut and be logical

There are not going to be many apartments or rooms available at $400 a pop. Most landlords have a lot of potential renters during school season, so if your landlord seems to be way too desperate to get you to rent right now, it may be a scam. If something feels wrong, it probably is wrong.

Work with licensed realtors

A licensed real estate pro will not tolerate scam artists, and many will not tolerate dealing with slumlords, either. Furthermore, scammers will usually shy away from working with a legitimate agent. They may charge a fee, but it’s money well spent in the long run.

Check the apartment’s history

New York has a lot of databases that are designed to help protect renters. Most real estate groups will offer you resources to research your options.

Never rent without seeing it live

If a landlord doesn’t want you to visit before you move in, you probably are dealing with a rental scam.

Do I really need renters’ insurance?

Yes, and if you consider how cheap it is, it’s foolish not to have it.

Almost all landlords expect renters to have renters’ insurance as part of their contract agreements, and they’re right to demand it. Insurance decreases liability.

Renters’ insurance is what covers any damages that happen in your home as a result of an accident, a burglary, or any similar incident.

In some cases, it can even cover items that are stolen outside you home.

If you don’t have renters’ insurance and your apartment has an accident or an injury on premises, you are the one who will have to pay out of pocket.

Considering that most insurance policies are around $30 for a studio apartment, it’s just smarter to be safe than sorry.

How do I avoid a bad apartment?

With prices being the way they are, most students are going to have to give themselves a little wiggle room when it comes to amenities.

However, there are certain things you really can’t tolerate in an apartment.

Every New York apartment is required to have safe equipment, heating, electricity, and livable conditions. Building codes need to be adhered to, and all apartments are expected to be pest-free.

If you notice something visibly wrong with the apartment right off the bat, it may be a good idea to keep searching.

Not all problems are immediately visible, especially if the problem is pest control or sanitation.

Before renting your next apartment, check to see if it was reported on the Bedbug Registry or if the landlord is a known slumlord. It may save you a lot of time and money.

How do I avoid renting in a dangerous neighborhood?

Research is your best friend here, and so is getting a feel for the neighborhood.

The easiest way to avoid renting in a high crime area is to Google the address to find out the history involving the region.

Most police records can also be obtained online, as well as neighborhood crime statistics.

A more personal way to avoid renting in the wrong area is to revisit the apartment at night.

Do you feel safe?

If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t rent there. Reputation matters too. A lot of the best neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan got their solid reps because of their low crime rates.

How do I plan for the lifestyle change?

Renting in New York City as a college student means you will most likely undergo serious lifestyle changes. The biggest issue isn’t the partying or the grocery store trips, but the transportation.

In most cases, students end up ditching their cars because they end up being very expensive to maintain and store in the city.

Unless you’re willing to spend hundreds for parking and keep a keen eye on parking rules, you’re best ditching the car in favor of public transport.

Choosing a commute-friendly apartment is a very, very wise idea. A good rule of thumb is to avoid apartments that require more than a 45 minute college commute.

Certain bills will be much pricier than you may have initially expected them to be, and this is especially true with food and liquor.

Food can be up to 33 percent more expensive at grocery stores, and if you go out, expect to see prices be far higher than what you’re used to at home.

It’s really important to look for close proximity to laundromats and grocery stores if you’re about to move.

Doing the walk to these two venues can save you a lot of money in the long run, if you’re willing to put up with it.