Signing a lease during the COVID-19 pandemic

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

Looking for an apartment and signing a new lease are two experiences somewhat different from what they were before. Starting from switching from onsite to online-viewings, as well as due to the predominant employment and financial uncertainty.

The chances of having to commit to a long-term lease without seeing the apartment in person are very high, so before starting the adventure of looking for a new apartment, you might want to consider some alternatives:

  • Extend your current rental lease: if your contract is coming to an end but you feel comfortable with the place, the neighborhood, and your contractual relationship with the landlord has been smooth, you can ask to extend your lease. If you are having financial difficulties right now, you can also try to renegotiate your contract, and work together with your landlord to come up with fair and convenient terms for both.
    Take in mind that the pandemic financial hardship affects everyone, and landlords and tenants might be having a hard time, so mutual collaboration is crucial.

  • Sublease an apartment: during the COVID-19 pandemic, the listings available for subletting have increased. This could be a great alternative to find accommodation faster, without the hassle of paying the high-fees of a new lease, as well as not having to commit to a long-term contract.

  • Look for roommates to do apartment-hunting together: if you still have to find a new apartment for rent, it might be helpful to first look for roommates and then do the apartment-hunting together. It might allow you both to potentially qualify better for the desired property, plus all the pros of living with roommates!

If signing a lease is still your first or your only option, then check out our guide to sign a lease during COVID

Finding a new home is important and should not be taken too lightly. Here are some useful tips to take in mind before signing a lease:

  1. Research your potential landlord: if a property picks your attention, first check on the internet to make sure that the location corresponds to the one that’s advertised, see if the same property has been recently posted on several websites and by whom, and try to be in contact with the landlord.
    For the ones looking for an apartment in NYC, the Mayor's Office to Protect Tenants summarizes here some helpful Tenant Resource Tools. One of them is “Who Owns What?”, which is a tool to research property owners.

  2. Make sure the apartment is in good condition to be inhabited: especially when you did a virtual apartment tour. Before signing a new lease agreement and putting down a deposit, you might want to ask the landlord or the real estate agent to do another virtual tour and take more time to check the conditions of the kitchen, electricity, gas and electrical appliances, etc.

  3. Review the terms of the lease: take time to read and clarify the terms of the lease agreement, such as the move-in date and possible delays on it, as well as the duration of the contract. You could bring to the table the possibility of having a short-term lease (either month-to-month contract, or a 3 or 6-months lease with the possibility to renew) instead of a 1-year lease.

  4. Calculate the negotiation costs: when signing a new lease, landlords typically request to pay the first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, and the broker’s fee. However, at the moment, some landlords are more open-minded when it comes to reviewing the requirements to potentially sign a lease with a new tenant. Some others might be willing to pay themselves the broker’s fee or to postpone the payment of the security deposit, to be paid later within the duration of the lease.

  5. Be honest about your financial and employment situation: talk in advance to your potential landlord in case your employment situation is uncertain or if you are not planning to stay in the city for a long time. This may avoid possible issues in the future.
Real estate agent and renter

Ask the key questions in time

Check out this list of key questions you should ask in advance to the real estate agent or your potential landlord:

  1. How and when you should pay the rent?: when you should pay the rent, as well as what is their preferred method of receiving the payment (by bank transfer, credit or debit card, or even through a check).

  2. Should I get a Renters Insurance?: Although a Renters Insurance is not mandatory in all the states, it is for most leases in New York City. Despite the possibility of never being asked to provide proof of having one, we still recommend getting a Renters Insurance to be on the safe side. If something happens to the property, you will be covered!

  3. What happens if I lose my job or am unable to pay rent?: Nowadays, some landlords are willing to accept the security deposit as a rent payment in case of financial hardship, and you could repay it later, within the contract's duration.

  4. If I’m unable to pay rent due to financial problems caused by a force majeure, can I break the lease early?: although pandemics are not considered as force majeure, nowadays it’s likely to be included as one, so it might be worth asking this question. Then both parties could possibly check and agree on what would be the conditions to break the lease earlier.

  5. What is the usage of the building's amenities during COVID?: Normally, a chunk of the rent payment covers the usage of the building’s amenities. However, during COVID, most of them have been closed. If that’s the case, then your rent may be lower for some months. Nevertheless, it’s important to clarify what the costs of the amenities are, so you can know in advance how much you will pay after their opening.

  6. Move-in logistics: despite some cities having entered the first or second phase of reopening, it’s possible that some property management companies still don’t allow move-ins., or that some neighbors don’t feel comfortable with the idea. Double-check with the landlord or property manager what are the rules and safety protocols for the move-in, to make sure you or the move-in services company you’ll use complies with them.

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