11 questions to ask before renting a luxury apartment in New York

Luxury one- and two-bedrooms rentals at 507 West 28th St. come with two months free.


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So you’ve seen the heated indoor lap pool in the state-of-the-art fitness center, toured the screening room, entertainment lounge, game room, catering kitchen, and pet spa. But take a moment before you rush over to the leasing office to sign on the dotted line. There are plenty of things that make renting in a luxury building different.

[Editor's note: This story was originally published March 2013. It has been updated with new information.]

Here are 11 questions to ask before renting in a luxury building:

1. Do you have to pay extra for the gym?

Sure, the building’s gym rivals your local Equinox, but if it isn’t included in the rent, you might end up paying more than you would otherwise. If you already use the gym at work for a nominal fee, or if you'll have to pay a hefty penalty to quit your current gym (or if you've never ever worked out before), don’t let yourself be won over by the impressive exercise facility.

If, on the other hand, having a gym just an elevator ride away from home sounds perfect to you, check it out at the time of day you would normally want to use it to see if there's a wait for your favorite exercise equipment.

2. How's the cellphone service in those sky-high apartments?

Spotty cell service can be a problem for those who dwell several dozen stories above the earth. Find out if the building offers a technological workaround, like a cellular base station that connects calls through a broadband network. And ask how much extra it will cost you.

3. Is the location convenient enough?

In classic razzle-dazzle New York real estate form, landlords and management companies often compensate for an awkward location—say, three avenues from the nearest subway line—by piling on amenities and charging luxury rents. Work out what your commute will actually look like, and keep your eye on the prize.

“People get excited about amenities they rarely wind up using,” says Phil Lang, co-founder of Triplemint (a Brick Underground partner). "It's important to stay practical."

Lang says that new arrivals to the city and their parents are most susceptible.

“Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by amenities you won’t use anyway. If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before, you probably won’t start now," Lang says. "And if you don’t have a pooch to pamper, the pet spa is useless."

Keep location a top priority. You'll use the screening room/golf simulator/roof deck a fraction of the number of times you'll commute: twice a day, five days a week, all year round.

If the building runs a shuttle bus to the nearest subway line, find out how frequently it runs, and whether it will be operational on weekends.

4. Are guarantors accepted?

Luxury buildings don't come cheap. If your annual income (or your and your roommates' income combined) doesn't add up to 40-45 times the monthly rent, and if putting down a larger security deposit (say, four to six months rent) isn't possible, will you be allowed to call in some reinforcements? 

Many landlords will accept a guarantor who makes at least 80 times the monthly rent and lives in the tri-state area. If you're short on wealthy relatives, see if the building accepts Insurent, an institutional lease guarantor (and Brick sponsor) that guarantees leases for a fee of about a month's rent. 

5. What’s the story with storage space?

Your luxury building is more likely than other types of rentals to offer storage space, bike parking, stroller storage and even wine storage. But is there a wait list? And is the price included in the rent? 

Pro Tip:

Looking for the perfect luxury rental in the perfect neighborhood? Insist on a washer/dryer, swimming pool, balcony or indoor parking? Want a building that's flexible about guarantors, pets, or temporary walls—or will welcome you with a free month's rent?  Put your search into the capable hands of Triplemint, a tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues.  Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with—and they will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent on open listings instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent if you sign up here

6. Are you guaranteed a spot in the garage?

If you own a car, you may be sick of playing the alternate side parking game every morning. But even if your new building has a garage, don’t just assume that you’re guaranteed a spot. Many places have waiting lists a mile long, with people waiting months, if not years, for a parking space.

Find out if you have a chance of getting into the parking structure anytime soon, or if you’ll simply be circling a different neighborhood in search of a spot after your move. Valet parking is also available at a number of buildings—for an additional charge.

7. What is the temporary wall policy?

In recent years, safety concerns have led some major New York landlords to disallow temporary walls in favor of bookshelves or partial walls that don’t reach the ceiling. So if you can’t swing the apartment's rent without a roommate, or afford a true two-bedroom, find out the building’s official policy on carving out your own space. You can also consult Brick Underground's list of landlords who allow temporary walls.

8. Is the building technology-enabled? 

Websites like BuildingLink allow residents to input maintenance requests and send instructions to doormen at any time of the day or night. They also can email you when packages have been delivered. Lang recommends finding out whether your desired building is signed up for such an account, or stuck in the Stone Age using sticky notes to track deliveries.

9. Are dogs allowed?

Luxury rentals tend to be more dog-friendly than many rental buildings (at least if your dog is under 50 pounds. If not, read this). You will probably need to sign a pet rider—an addendum to your lease that lists the number and type of pets you own—and pay a pet deposit. You may also have to ride the service elevator when you're walking your dog, so ask about any special rules that apply.

Many luxury buildings permit smaller pets (under 50 pounds), but prohibit larger animals or exotic pets that might frighten other residents.

10. Do they take credit cards?

Many large buildings owned by national real estate investment trusts accept credit cards. Before you hand yours over, ask whether you will be charged a "convenience fee" for the pleasure/points of putting your rent on plastic.

Brick Underground's

Gross Rent Calculator

What's this?

Some New York City landlords offer a free month (or more) at the beginning or end of a lease. The advertised rent is the net effective rent.  The net effective rent is less than the amount you will actually have to pay --- known as your gross rent --- during your non-free months.

Brick Underground's Gross Rent Calculator enables you to easily calculate your gross rent, make quick apples-to-apples comparisons between apartments and avoid expensive surprises. All you'll need to figure out your gross rent is 1) the net effective rent, 2) the length of your lease, and 3) how many free months your landlord is offering.  [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]

To learn more about net effective versus gross rents, read What does 'net effective rent' mean?.

Per Month

If the landlord is offering partial months free, enter it with a decimal point. For example, 6 weeks free rent should be entered as 1.5 months.

Per Month

11. Can I get a deal?

In the current rental market, many luxury landlords are offering a month or more of free rent and/or offering to pay the broker’s fee. This way, landlords can fill higher-priced apartments without actually dropping the rent. So if you find an apartment you like and it doesn’t come with some kind of deal, ask for one. And check online for similar apartments that come with some kind of concession, so you can make a stronger case for why you should get one, too.