The Search

Questions renters should ask to avoid living in a badly managed building

By Austin Havens-Bowen | January 12, 2021 - 2:30PM 

There are warning signs to look for and apps to download that can help you avoid bad management companies. 

Austin Havens-Bowen for Brick Underground/Flickr

You have a lot of choice these days when it comes to finding a new rental because there are so many available apartments—but don’t get your head spun. You still need to ask lots of questions and looking into a building’s management is part of your homework—especially if you’re spending more time at home these days. 

Thanks to falling rents and generous freebies, you may land an apartment that you couldn’t afford last year. This can be exciting, but from the moment you arrive at the building, there are things to look out for, questions to ask, and even online tools to help you dig deeper, so you don’t end up living in a poorly-managed building where repairs go ignored or rodents run free.

Victoria Vinokur, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens, says that curb appeal and well-appointed common areas are things to watch out for. “This is important in any market, but in the times of Covid, having a clean lobby, entrance doors, and hallways are a must,” she says.

Another sign of a good management company is what kind of forms they use during the application process, especially in light of the new 2019 rent laws, Vinokur says. “Make sure the management company uses updated forms. Following the 2019 new rent laws, there are new and updated residential lease forms and riders.” So, if the landlord is flouting these laws, for example, by asking for more than one month as a security deposit (which is no longer allowed), then you should keep looking.

Here are some more ways to check out a management company and the building before you sign the lease for your next apartment.

Use an experienced or local broker 

If you use a broker who has experience in the neighborhood that you’re searching in, they should be familiar with which management companies to stay away from. They also may have a relationship with certain buildings, which means you might get into a sought-after building a bit easier. You should also use an experienced broker because they should “have a solid frame of reference on whether a management in a certain building is good or subpar,” Vinokur says. They’ll also be on top of the changes to the rent laws in case the building isn’t, like application fees, which are capped at $20

Ask the right questions and look for warning signs 

There are some questions that you should ask the broker, the super, or whoever is showing you an apartment that can indicate how well the building operates. For example, if you ask how repairs are handled, and there’s no direct answer, then you might want to cross the apartment off your list. 

Becki Danchik, a broker at Warburg Realty, suggests that you ask questions like “does the super live nearby and how often are they in the building?” and “how often does the building get exterminated?” 

“Don’t be afraid to ask how long it takes for management to respond to issues that can be routine or who to reach out to in case of emergency like a leak,” Vinokur says. 

You should also ask if there’s an after-hours or weekend support staff, if fees are both refundable and non-refundable, and does management allow you to do a walk through to verify the condition of the apartment and appliances. If the answer is yes to most of the questions, then the management likely checks out.

There are also warning signs to look out for like a clean lobby, maintained amenity areas, a functioning elevator (if there is one), and signs for extermination sign-up and repair requests.

“If there is laundry or storage in the building it is a good idea to take a close look at how well-kept those areas are,” Danchik says. “A clean basement is a reflection of how well the building is managed.”

Check out Yelp reviews

Yelp isn’t just for restaurant reviews—many NYC building management companies have profiles on the site too. It’s a good way to find out what former, current, and potential tenants have experienced with the management company. Some include having a bad super, having trouble viewing an apartment after a scheduled appointment, and issues with getting a security deposit back in a timely manner. 

Keep in mind that most people are more likely to write reviews when they have bad experiences rather than good, but at least you can see what sort of issues you might have to deal with.

There are apps and sites for this

Just like most things these days, there are apps that let renters rate buildings, which makes it easier for you to sort through ones run by shoddy management companies. Openigloo lets renters review their building, rating water pressure, cleanliness, pest control, and the responsiveness of the landlord. 

Allia Mohamad, co-founder of Openigloo, previously told Brick that her team is thinking about adding other factors like garbage management and how likely you are to get your security deposit back quickly.

You can also check out websites like Localize, which compiles public information about a building, and RentCity, which uses public data to rate and review residential buildings. You can also get information on recent building complaints, open violations, and updates on problems like mice, all of which are signs that a management company might not be on top of their game.

 

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