The Apartment Search

Spending all day defending the rights of renters and imploring them to stand up for themselves, to call 311, and to give their landlords the hell that they deserve, sometimes I forget that I’m a New York City tenant too. But I am. And this job has ruined that for me. Before I moved into my current place, looking for an apartment was easy. In fact, it was even kind of fun. I perused Craigslist, I found a few places that looked nice, and I made appointments to check them out. I found one I liked, and one I could afford, and my two roommates and I signed a lease. There were literally three steps. Find place – see place – sign lease. It’s much harder now.

As I gear up for my apartment search, I’ll probably still start at Craigslist. I’ll narrow my search down to a neighborhood I want to live in, at a price range I can afford.

300 results. Let’s begin.

The first apartment is a “spacious” 3 bedroom in “East Williamsburg.” (“East Williamsburg” is RealtorSpeak for “Bed-Stuy.”) There’s no address listed, but the place looks decent, so I call the number listed and I get one. Then it’s off to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Plug in the address; check out the code violations – A, B, and C. Is the management company one of the Really Bad Guys whose names I’ve come to recognize?

With only 16 or so violations, my “spacious” closet-sized apartment makes the HPD cut. Now it’s off to the Department of Finance, where I’ll use ACRIS to check out the building’s financial history. Read the mortgages and tax liens. Check out the debt per unit. If it’s consistent with the neighborhood, I’ll grab an address or two from the financial paperwork, and then it’s off to Lexis-Nexis.

By searching Real Property records on Lexis-Nexis, I can see what other buildings my prospective landlord owns. Write down 20 or so of those addresses, then it’s back to HPD. I really want to know, no, I need to know if my prospective landlord is a scum-bag. All of his properties better be in tip-top shape. After HPD, I’ll check the other buildings in ACRIS too, just for good measure.

I’ll probably also check out eCourts and see what kind of lawsuits the LLC that owns the building has been involved in. If there’s anything bad, maybe I’ll check out the court documents. I’m looking in Brooklyn, whose website isn’t as sophisticated as the Bronx, so once I get the index number of some cases I actually have to go to the County Clerk’s office to check out the details.

If the building passes all these rigorous tests (which, I can tell you, most of them won’t), maybe I’ll call and make a viewing appointment.

“Sorry, someone else grabbed the place since you called earlier. Only in New York, hah-hah! I’ve got some other similar units though…do you want the address?”


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