Finding a good landlord in NYC
November 2, 2010 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I know how to find a good apartment. How do I make sure that apartment has a good landlord?

After becoming fed up with our situation in our current apartment, my boyfriend and I are thinking of leaving, and soon. But I'm paranoid that we'll end up with another bad landlord who doesn't trust us or isn't responsive to requests for repairs or some other awful landlord shenanigans that I can't even imagine.

Is there anything I can do to find out how a landlord will be before I move into an apartment? Will using a broker help in any way? Are all rental buildings likely to be better in this regard than renting a co-op or condo directly from its owner?

All my previous apartments have been found without brokers, and rented directly from the owner (who, in all cases, used to live in the apartment I rented). Should I avoid that kind of rental altogether?
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've learned the hard way to deal with brokers/real estate agencies only. Every time I've rented from a private individual, I've had problems getting repairs done, problems with them not respecting my privacy, etc. Whenever I've rented through a a real estate management company, dealing with Realtors rather than property owners, it's almost always been smooth sailing all the way.

Regardless, you should always read the lease carefully before signing it, and make sure it has clauses pertaining to repairs, privacy, reasonable notice before they can enter, what specific stuff you're expected to be responsible for, etc. If it doesn't spell out explicitly what you can expect in terms of repairs and all those other things, don't sign it.
posted by Gator at 3:58 PM on November 2, 2010

I have always knocked on doors. Always. I've avoided a couple bad situations by talking to a couple good people in advance. Check out the apt with the broker and, if you love it, go back on your own and ring a few doorbells or wait for someone to exit / enter the building.
posted by Siena at 3:59 PM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my experience, the bigger the building, or the larger the organization handling things, the better off you'll be. Big management companies don't want to be sued constantly for being slumlords, and there will at least be a chance that there will be professional people involved whose job it is to give a shit about your living conditions.

This also seems to be the problem in my building - our landlord is OK-ish, but he has his brother living in the building and acting as super. Said brother has no reason to give a shit about the building, since it's not like his brother is going to "fire" him.

That said, my last place before this one was a co-op rented from the owner. She was the best landlady EVER. Probably helped by the apparatus of a large co-op building which had a maintenance staff, security, and the like, but still. I would probably never even CONSIDER renting in a small co-op or condo building.
posted by Sara C. at 4:13 PM on November 2, 2010

I would talk to friends and try to move into a building that's recommended by one of those friends. I've always had shitty landlords until now. An apartment opened up in our friends' fourplex, and we knew they liked our landlord. He is an awesome landlord (and a really great guy too).

If you don't have any friends who can recommend a landlord, I'd hang around the places you're looking to rent and ask some random people you see.
posted by radioamy at 4:22 PM on November 2, 2010

Oh also do some Googling of the landlord or company's name. The last place I rented from never advertised the name of the company (plus they have like 10 subsidiaries with different names). I wish I had investigated further before signing the lease. There are posts all over the net about how horrible these people are - there's even a LiveJournal community dedicated to the horror stories!
posted by radioamy at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can search the HPD website by address to see if a building has violations. You can't search by landlord or management company. A google search is also worth doing.
posted by Mavri at 4:39 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

As we grow older and start to look at something more than student-budgeted accommodations, the landlords become less drunk.
posted by ovvl at 6:41 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pay attention to how they behave when they show you the apartment. My sleaziest landlord ever a) unlocked the doors immediately after knocking and b) made insinuating comments about the candles around the bathtub in a female tenant's apartment. And once he listened at a door for a minute before making a quick, quiet knock and immediately opening the door - he'd heard the tenants having sex and smirked like hell when the guy came out of the bedroom frantically pulling on pants.
Whatever the landlord does to the tenants whose places he is showing, he will do to you.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:24 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whatever the landlord does to the tenants whose places he is showing, he will do to you.

One thing to bear in mind is whether they can show you the apartment immediately. The landlord who tells you that you can see the apartment, which is currently occupied, half an hour after you call? When you're moving, they'll be showing your place with a half-hour's notice. (Or no notice.) The one that tells you you can't see it until the next day because they have to give the tenants 24 hours' notice will give you that same courtesy.

Of course this doesn't apply if you're looking at apartments which are currently unoccupied.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:28 PM on November 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

A good broker will be able to steer you away from the buildings that are known to have poor management. But brokers will show units that in rental buildings, as well as units for rent in condo buildings. They might be familiar with the building and building management but not each individual who owns the units.

Just because a landlord is quick to respond to repair requests ("I'll come over right away!") doesn't mean they won't be crazy in some other way ("Insured plumbers cost too much! Here, use this non-English speaking repairman I found at the hardware store!" or "Let me repair the damaged part of the floor with this parquet, it doesn't matter if it doesn't match at all! It's on sale!").

Our old building was a condo and the management company was responsible for 30+ buildings in the city. But they weren't perfect and often failed to respond to voicemails about crucial issues like heat in the winter.
posted by kathryn at 9:42 PM on November 2, 2010

Seconding Mavri's suggestion - the HPD has a great website where you can look up any building and see if there are any violations. I used it once a long time ago when I moved to NYC, and it helped me decide between two apartments, because one building had a list of violations, and the other had nothing. It worked out pretty well; the landlord for the apartment I went with (the one with no violations, of course) was pretty great. The HPD's database doesn't account for other species of crazy, it's true, but it does at least help sort out the nonresponsive landlords.

If you want to see the worst of the worst, you can always check out the NYC Public Advocate's Worst Landlords Watchlist. It's pretty scary.
posted by Madame Psychosis at 10:51 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The range of individual experience is vast. I ALWAYS tell people to rent from individuals rather than management companies or religious organizations. The interests of management companies are directly opposed to the interests of community development, tenants' rights, and neighborliness.

If you can, get a landlord that lives in the neighborhood (or the building). They are more likely to take care of stuff more quickly, because your problems are their problems also. My landlord's father lives a couple units over, and this fact helps ensure that our buildings are nice places to live. You wouldn't want your family living in a troubled neighborhood, would you?
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:14 AM on November 3, 2010

My landlord lives on the garden/parlor floors of the brownstone in which I rent a studio on the top floor. I've been having problems with mice, and she's always been very responsive in getting her super/handyman over to my place.

When I had a problem with the last handyman to come by (he was an emergency call when her regular guy wasn't available), in addition to letting him know that there was a problem with him making inappropriate comments on "special DVDs" that I keep on a shelf that's not anywhere near the baseboards he was supposed to be checking, I told her and she fired him promptly.

If you have the postage for this and feel like doing a little digging, I would send a letter to people who live on various floors in the buildings you're targeting and ask them if they'd be willing to email or call you to speak about their experiences because you'd like to apply to live in their building. It's what I plan on doing if/when I'm able to afford to live in a nice building someday.
posted by TrishaLynn at 7:47 AM on November 3, 2010

As others have said, the closer your landlord lives to you, the more likely they are going to be responsive to any problems. My landlord lives literally across an alley from me. Granted, this is in a smaller city, so YMMV, but it's something to think about.
posted by elder18 at 8:21 AM on November 3, 2010

Although obvious sleaziness as mentioned by l'Estrange fruit and madcaptenor above is clearly a red flag, my previous sleaze-lord had a really sweet girl who showed me the apartment. She was a tenant herself in a different building, very cool, we got along well. No idea the mess I was getting into.

One thing I'd make sure of is that if they say "oh xyz will be done/fixed before you move in" - they actually do it *before* you move in.
posted by radioamy at 8:56 AM on November 3, 2010

Response by poster: Many thanks, folks. With all your advice I feel much better equipped to weed out the bad ones this time around.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:17 PM on November 3, 2010

Also, recently posted for your benefit: Who's My Landlord?
posted by TrishaLynn at 12:50 PM on November 3, 2010

My landlord's father lives a couple units over, and this fact helps ensure that our buildings are nice places to live. You wouldn't want your family living in a troubled neighborhood, would you?

This has so far not been a concern for my landlord, who is in fact enabling the neighborhood to become worse and his property to become less valuable by allowing his brother to trash the place. Property owners aren't actually omniscient, even if they are generally good folks.
posted by Sara C. at 12:56 PM on November 3, 2010

One thing I'd make sure of is that if they say "oh xyz will be done/fixed before you move in" - they actually do it *before* you move in.

That's actually a lessons-learned red flag for me. If I have other options or even just time to find other options, "we'll fix this up before you move in" places go to the bottom of the pile.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:20 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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