If finding a place to live in NYC has you feeling like the focus of an Edvard Munch painting, do not panic because I’ve got you covered!

As a SIPA student who didn’t get university housing, renting in NYC was the only option for me. I currently live at 113th and Frederick Douglass Blvd., in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. While it is small, the rent is affordable, the neighborhood is great, and I love it!

This post is designed to go over some tips and tricks to navigating the off-campus housing hunt in NYC. Finding an off-campus apartment in NYC truly brings new meaning to the phrase playing it fast and loose, so here are a couple of things to keep in mind when searching:

  1. Timing: In New York is it completely normal to obtain an apartment five days before you need to move in. This sounds stressful, but it is very common for apartments and sublets to be advertised a month or less in advance of the move-in date. If you’re on the hunt for an apartment for the fall I recommend checking out Facebook groups like New York Sublets & Apartments and Gypsy Housing, as well as Columbia’s Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) website (also check out their video here). You can also try hunting on Craigslist, but be wary of scams. Furthermore, you can do it the old-fashioned way by going through a real estate broker to find you a place. I myself used Bohemian Realty because they specialize in the upper west side, but note there are brokers fees associated with it. When you find an apartment you like, I recommend putting your application is as soon as possible because the market moves fast and you don’t want to lose it!
  2. Location: When looking for off-campus housing it’s important to know what neighborhoods you want to live int. Most SIPA students live in Morningside Heights, Harlem and the Upper West Side because they are within walking distance or just a short commute away (the 1, B and C subway lines are close to campus). However, there are plenty of students who live in other NYC neighborhoods like Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and Queens. I encourage you to explore them if you’re interested because hey, this is NYC, and you can always commute to school.
  3. Roomies: Deciding on if you want to live with roommates is a big decision, however, most SIPA students live with roommates. Having a roommate is a great way to cut costs, and is really common in NYC. So, how do you find roommates then? If you’re searching for a roommate I recommend filing out a profile on the OCHA Find a Roommate. After creating a profile you will be able to search for potential roommates within Columbia, although you will need a UNI to access it. Additionally, most students find their roommates through the incoming class Facebook and Craigslist.
  4. Be Vigilant: Always beware of scams! I recommend reading this article about how to avoid scams. Never give out sensitive information over email unless you can verify the listing. This should go without saying, but always read and review the lease agreement, you want to make sure you are getting a fair deal, and that there is nothing wonky included somewhere in the text. Never pay in cash as most legitimate landlords and brokers will accept a certified check to hold your security deposit and first month’s rent.
  5. Rent: Rents vary here in NYC, and greatly depend on location and the number of roommates you are living with. I recommend a rent range of $900-$1600 a month depending on your financial flexibility. If you want to live close to Midtown the rents will be significantly higher, however, the farther uptown or into Brooklyn you go, the cheaper it tends to get. In New York most landlords require you to demonstrate that you have around 40x the rent before you sign. If you cannot meet these requirements, then the landlord will ask for a guarantor to co-sign the lease with you. If you are an international student I recommend taking a look at the International Students & Scholars Office website (ISSO), which will give you more information on the housing process.
  6. Other Expected Costs: If you use a broker, there will usually be a broker fee attached. This can get pretty pricey, so I recommend being conscious of the broker fees when searching for your apartment. Furthermore, many apartments have an application fee. This varies from place to place, but I’ve seen them anywhere from $25 to $200, so be prepared to cut a check on the spot when you are applying for an apartment.

Okay, I know that may have been information overload, but these are things I wish I had known before doing my first apartment hunt two years ago. While the search can be stressful, do not worry — I promise you will find something! I hope you find this helpful. (Incoming students, keep an eye out for information about SIPA Admission’s Housing Webinar taking place in early July 2019.)