Off-Campus Frequently Asked Questions
General Renting in NYC
Using the OCHA Site
How do I qualify for an apartment?
In New York City tenants, as a whole, must make at least 40 times one month’s rent and have a good credit history. However, there are always exceptions.
Applicants should make approximately 40x the monthly rent (or have a qualifying housing voucher). So, if an apartment is $2600 per month, then your total household annual income should be at least $104,000. Good credit history, generally a score of 670 or higher is required.
If you don’t have a credit history you can use guarantors. Landlords usually only accept guarantors that live in the city or the surrounding Tri-state area so they can sign an original copy of the lease. If this isn’t the case, like for many students, you may need to use an institutional guarantor like RHINO.
While requirements may differ depending on the apartment or landlord, guarantors are required to earn 80 to 100 times more than the monthly rent. Documents required to be submitted by your guarantor include the same that renters submit: two pay stubs, two bank statements, tax returns, and a letter of employment. If they are self-employed or own a business, a certified public accountant may provide a statement regarding their income.
Once guarantors sign, they become responsible for any missed rent and the lease conditions.
Since international students won't have income, they may also use a guarantor. But since the guarantor has to live in the United States, they need to use a 3rd party guarantor. Many landlords will consider a 3rd party guarantor for an international tenant. Note: The student has to ask which of the 3rd parties will be accepted. 3rd Party guarantors to look into are: The Guarantors, Insurent, RHINO.
What if I don’t qualify, what are my options?
You'll need a guarantor. Guarantors are usually parents or family members. However, there are 3rd party guarantors you can find online like RHINO.
You can also use the sublease and roommate portal to search for a sublease and roommates. Using the filters you can narrow down your search based on location, bed count, price, amenities, and roommate-specific filters.
What is RHINO?
Rhino is a 3rd party lease guarantee service. You pay a monthly fee to Rhino, and in exchange, they issue a bond to ownership for that lease amount so they are covered in the event of a payment default. The fee varies based on the rent amount and how much coverage is required, but is generally about 6.5% of the insured amount. Rhino can also serve as a security deposit replacement.
Can my guarantor only guarantee my portion of the lease?
No. They are responsible for your portion and for anyone else on the lease.
What's due upon lease signing?
Typically, first month's rent, security deposit and broker fee if applicable.
Do landlords take pets?
Allowing pets to reside in an apartment depends on the management company or landlord. Some management companies and landlords may have weight restrictions on the pets allowed along with breed restrictions. Assistance animals may be exempt from this policy but you will need to contact the management company or landlord for the policy. You can utilize the pet filter on the “Listings” page to see only apartments which will allow residents to have pets.
What is the difference between Gross & Net rent?
Most apartments have gross rent and net rent. If $2,400 is the gross rent, that’s going to be your price before any specials or discounts are applied.
When landlords run a special, for example, one month free, the net price would be $2,200.
This is calculated by taking one month’s rent ($2,400) and dividing it by 12 months, then removing that average price. $2,400 / 12 = $200. $2,400 - $200 = $2,200. That is net rent over the course of 12 months.
Net rents are usually because of a special or discount that the landlord is offering (ex: 2 months free) but you must still qualify for the gross rent. Be sure to ask for clarification on what your actual monthly rent will be.
What will the lease read for the rent cost?
Your lease will read the gross rent amount.
Can I use a credit card to rent an apartment?
Most landlords will not accept credit cards to rent an apartment. For the first payment when signing the lease, they prefer some form of guaranteed funds, like a cashier’s check, certified check, or bank check. After that, subsequent rent payments can be paid by personal check or through bill-pay services.
I found an apartment I like; what do I do now?
Once you've found an apartment, you will be asked to fill out a rental application, submit documentation and pay application/credit check fees.
* You may need the following documentation:
- Letter of employment and salary verification
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
- Name, address, phone number of previous landlords
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of personal and business references
- Photo identification (driver's license, passport)
I’ve got the apartment! What should I expect at lease signing?
Typically, you will be asked for the following:
- Two certified checks (first month’s rent and one-month security deposit)
- Pay any brokerage fees (up to 15% of one year's rent) which are due at lease signing.
- Make arrangements for a move-in date with your landlord or building superintendent.
- Contact utility companies to set up services.
When should you start searching?
One month in advance from your move in date is recommended. Tenants are only required to give landlords a 30 day notice to vacate. If you search in advance you may find some properties, however, it is recommended you wait closer to your move in date because there will be more options available during that 30 day timeframe. It is important to see the apartment, meet the landlord, and see the neighborhood. Try to come to NYC 3-4 weeks before moving in to visit the property and plan to stay at least 3-4 days searching and scheduling showings.
Changes in NY Rental Law
Recently NY Rental laws changed. You can no longer pay a year's rent up front. Landlords can also no longer ask for the last month’s rent in addition to the first month's rent. While there are very few exceptions, the application fee should never exceed $20 (this includes a credit report). Lastly, landlords must refund your security deposit within 14 days of moving out.
Is using a student loan/grant to meet requirements an option?
While it is possible to use student loans, grants and stipends towards rent, it is not recommended. Given the time it takes to get loans, grants or stipends, you may not receive the money by the time you need to pay rent.
How can you verify that apartments found are legitimate before making a deposit?
Have a conversation with whoever you are talking to. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If they are someone who has a room for rent, ask them for verification and ask to see their paperwork. If they are a landlord or broker, meeting them in person is ideal. You can ask for their license and/or documentation. If they are showing you an apartment, you can also call the front desk to verify what you’ve been shown is real.
Typically how far from campus are the apartments available?
This depends on where you want to live and how comfortable you are commuting. Each listing on the OCHA site has walk, bus, bike, and drive times from every property to popular buildings on the Columbia campus. This allows students to see how far their commute will be, but does not include the Number 1 train that takes you straight to campus. On the train, students can expect a 10-30 minute commute depending on what neighborhood they live in.
What is the process landlords and property owners must go through to be able to list on the College Pads site?
Landlords/Property Owners can sign-up to list on the Columbia University Off-Campus Housing Marketplace by completing the form at the bottom of this page, and a brief 30-second video of how to use the Marketplace's Landlord Portal can be found here.
Every listing on the marketplace is vetted before being approved to be on the platform. From landlord, pricing, images & availability all data is validated. New listings are added every day to the marketplace.
Do I need to hire a broker?
No, hiring a broker is not a requirement, though some choose to do so to help them understand the process further.
When using a broker can I confirm who owns the place, or if it's a sublet? Is it even necessary to confirm that the renter owns the place? How do I know who I can trust?
It’s always good to be aware of scams. Ask to see the brokers or real estate agent's card. You can also look up their firm to guarantee that they actually work there.
This site has a list of all active NYC brokers and real estate agents: https://appext20.dos.ny.gov/nydos/selSearchType
Never send money to someone you haven’t met or for an apartment you haven’t seen.
I’m having a problem with my broker and I want to make a complaint. What do I do?
Your first recourse, when having a problem with your broker, is to get in touch with that person’s supervising broker or the lead broker in their office. You can usually find contact info on their website under “Our Agents”. If you are unable to get results, then you can consider filing a complaint with the Division of Licensing Services N.Y. State Department of State.
What is a sublet?
A sublease is the re-renting of property by an existing tenant to a new third party for a portion of the tenant’s existing lease contract. Using the College Pads filter you can sublease posts by the bed count, bath, price, CU-Managed Sublet, room for rent/whole unit, and amenities.
What are Columbia University managed sublets?
Columbia Managed sublets are approved by Columbia Residential. Full policy is here: https://residential.columbia.edu/content/subletting
I want my own apartment, but I’ll only be at Columbia for one semester. Will I be able to find an apartment for one semester?
Short-term apartments are difficult to find, as most apartments have a one-year lease and can be very pricey. You may need to consider renting a room in an apartment share for a short-term place to stay.
You may search for a “room in apartment,” also known as an apartment share, which does not require financials or a guarantor. You will be renting a private bedroom and sharing the common space. You can locate an apartment share on the Off-Campus Housing Marketplace site by:
Searching the Subleases tab, under More Filters, select Room for Rent.
Do you have any advice about protecting myself when I rent a room from somebody?
Yes, do the following:
- Confirm the room is being offered by the primary tenant or owner of the apartment. Ask to see paperwork to verify their identity (i.e.: a lease or ownership papers, a photo ID).
- Make a written roommate agreement between you which should include the exact address, move-in/move-out dates, rent, and security deposit, utilities that are included with rent, policies with visitors and overnight guests, sharing of cleaning for common space, kitchen privileges, return of the deposit, etc.
Does Columbia own any of the rental buildings for graduate students?
Yes, there are rental units for graduate students that are owned by Columbia University. These units must be applied for and there is often a waitlist. The best thing to do if you have any questions about on campus housing is to visit residential.columbia.edu. The fastest way to get a response is to go to the chat section on their website.
Does Columbia have temporary housing in which I can stay for a few weeks while searching for an apartment?
On the Columbia homepage, search for the Office of Work Life. The Office of Work Life has a section on their website for temporary accommodations.
What information and services are available for international students?
Please visit the https://isso.columbia.edu/ website for frequently asked questions and resources for international students.
What are the boundaries of Morningside Heights?
The boundaries of Morningside Heights are from 110th on the southern boundary to 125th Street on the northern boundary, and with Morningside Drive on the eastern boundary to Riverside Drive on the western boundary.
If I can’t find a place in Morningside Heights, where should I look?
If you can’t find a place in Morningside Heights, the next best thing would be to start looking at neighborhoods situated along the 1 train line, since this is the only train the goes directly to Columbia (stop at 116 Street.). Just south of Columbia is Manhattan Valley and the Upper West Side, and just north and east of Columbia is Harlem, all of which are within walking distance or about two to three subway stops on the 1 train. North of Harlem is Washington Heights, Inwood, and Riverdale, all of which are situated along the 1 train and are within a thirty to forty-minute commute, door-to-door.
Which subways stop at Columbia?
The only train that stops directly at Columbia is the 1 train, which stops at 116th Street and Broadway. Other subways within a ten minute walk include the A, B, C, and D trains, which stop at 125th Street.t up service.
How do I use the Off-Campus Housing Marketplace as an affiliate?
The Off-Campus Housing Marketplace allows affiliates to search available rooms and apartments in non-Columbia-owned buildings as well as sublets of units in Columbia-managed housing. Prospective roommates can also post and search profiles on this site. A brief 30 second video on how to use the Marketplace as an affiliate can be found here.