The Shaft

The off-campus housing lottery part I: Finding housing

This is the first in a two-part series on the NYC apartment struggle. Part I will cover looking for housing and visiting. Part II will cover finding roommates and settling the details. Stay tuned!

While "off-campus" is technically not a lottery, it may as well be—unless you're careful. I moved off campus in my junior year to fulfill fraternal duties (my frat is "off-campus" housing) and in my senior year, I moved into an apartment on 122nd to continue taking care of my dog. I've been through it all—shitty brokers, coked-out supers, caved-in ceilings, vanishing roommates. There's a lot to learn about the non-Columbia world!

If you're looking for off-campus housing, chances are you're either from the class of 2014 newly ejected from the nice, motherly nest of Columbia housing, you're 2015 or above and just too hipster for CU dorms, or you're looking for summer housing. While most of this advice applies mainly to students seeking long-term leases (so 2014 or dose hipsters), sections of this post are useful for summer housing-seeking folks as well!

1. Finding housing

There are so many sites you can go to that AREN'T Craigslist. Apparently, only one in 10 ads on Craigslist are real. And the real ones tend to go fast—within hours. Unless you're a pro searcher, expect to have your hopes and dreams crushed on Craigslist.

One of my favorite sites is Padmapper.com. Padmapper pulls listings from a bunch of sites all over the web and displays them on a map. It has a really streamlined emailing system that makes reaching out to leasers very easy, plus lots of awesome filters—including a "sublet" filter for all you fly-by-summer peeps.

Another good one is Streeteasy.com. A friend swears that he found a no-fee, spacious 2-bedroom in Chelsea for $2,000 a month. I'm not sure if that's possible, but streeteasy.com is where I started my post-college searches, and its a great place to look at.

Of course, there's Columbia Off-Campus Housing, which can be a great place to find a sublet or a summer place. There are also other sites listed on this guide.

2. Visit, and be prepared

Once you find a place online that you find appealing, try to schedule a visit as quickly as possible. And, if you think you have an especially good find — no broker's fee, rent below market value, located well---be prepared. Find out what the early application materials are before visiting, and bring them to your visit: The landlord will often require a good-faith deposit or an application fee to save a spot. Be prepared to drop them on-the-spot. Last summer, a friend of mine found a great place and visited early morning. He got home, filled out his application and called the landlord, only to find that a group visiting right after him had paid a good-faith deposit and snatched the place. Just because your landlord likes you doesn't mean he'll save your spot without the appropriate application materials.

3. When you visit, ask the right questions

ceiling

While visiting, or talking on the phone, there are several very important things to ask a broker or a landlord.

a. Is there a live-in super? If not, how many buildings does he manage?

My super was not live-in. He also managed over 20 buildings. He also—we found out later—was engaged in several illegal yet profitable activities for which he was later fired (and arrested). With him, our ceiling rotted and eventually caved in, our roof leaked, and our heat went off for days at a time. But even with the new super, things take a while to get fixed. You do not want this to happen to you! The best way to ensure this does not happen is to find a place with a live-in super, or at least a super that manages fewer buildings.

b. Has this building ever been cited for any violations?

Even if it was in the past, you want to know whether there were lead-paint violations. Also, you want to ask how frequently bed-bug exterminators need to come by, or if there is a rodent problem. Often these are things that you won't realize until you've already moved in.

c. When is a good time for me to speak with some other residents?

A quick check-in with some of the current building residents can help you predict your experience living here. How has their experience been? Any complaints? How helpful is the super? How responsive is the management company? My management company took hours to respond to the caved-in ceiling call. That was not a fun week.

d. Details. 

What electricity/gas company does the building use? How much does it usually cost? How much is wifi? (These are usually Con Ed and Time Warner, respectively, and usually cost $50/month each for the whole apartment). Where is the nearest laundromat? This one is really important!

Ok, we'll let you work on those steps and check back later with info about signing the lease, finding roommates, cleaning up the details and moving in. Good luck!

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