Far too often, landlords lease apartments that don’t meet legal criteria and can put you at risk. As a renter, it is important to know your rights and know what to look for to avoid getting taken advantage of by a landlord. 

According to tenants’ rights attorney Sam Himmelstein, four common situations to be wary of include:

  • An attic or basement bedroom without a window. A space marketed as a bedroom must meet a variety of requirements to prevent the potential occupant from being exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning or being trapped in the event of a fire, according to New York City Housing Preservation and Development. Landlords sometimes try to illegally pass off substandard basement or attic rooms as bedrooms.
  • Certificate of occupancy that does not match its use. Sometimes landlords will list an official use of the building as something other than residential or forget to update an existing certificate of occupancy from a former use, such as a hotel or doctor’s office use. Other times landlords will fail to get a permanent certificate of occupancy altogether. Without a current and accurate certificate of occupancy for the building, you the renter cannot legally move in.
  • Improperly added bedrooms. Pressurized walls are popular in New York City, but landlords sometimes have them installed in inappropriate locations to try to create an additional bedroom. This can mean that the space that is being called a bedroom does not have a window or is too small to legally be a bedroom.
  • Separate leases for bedrooms. When a landlord offers separate leases for bedrooms, the individually rented spaces typically come with internal locks. This limited access is illegal because it can block exits, creating a fire hazard.

What to look for

As you are looking through apartment advertisements, know the market rate for quality apartments in the area you are looking at. Also, consider the words “basement”, “attic” and “flex” as red flags.

When you tour apartments, consider all the ways you will be able to leave the space if there is a fire. Avoid apartments or bedrooms without windows or with windows that are too small for you to crawl out of in an emergency. Then, when you get home, consider verifying that the certificate of occupancy on record with the New York City Department of Buildings seems to match the use that you saw.

There are many considerations when looking for a new place to live, but regardless of how good of a deal an apartment may seem to be, it is never in your favor to rent an apartment that is unsafe or illegal. Know what to look for to avoid wasting your money on a space that is less than you legally deserve.