Finding & Applying for Housing
Finding A New Home
As many tenants know, moving can be a costly and stressful process. In many cities, including Albany, there may not be enough affordable housing units to meet the needs of residents. Being on a tight timeline, having limited financial resources, and transportation barriers can also make it more difficult to find housing.
Some people may find themselves needing to make housing decisions quickly, without taking enough time to figure out whether a unit really meets their needs and its their budget. This is why it is important to consider your housing wants vs. needs, as well as how much you can really afford to pay for rent each month.
Know Your Housing Wants vs. Needs
It is important to understand your housing wants and needs in order to have the best rental experience possible. Needs include things you must have in order to be safe and comfortable in your housing. Wants are items that would be nice to have, but are not necessary to live.
A Housing Needs and Wants Checklist can help you to prioritize what is most important to you in your housing. You can view or download a copy of a Housing Needs and Wants Checklist from the "Helpful Downloads" tab to the right.
Know What You Can Afford
One of the first steps to take when looking for a place to live is to figure out what you can afford to pay for rent each month. You will need to consider all of your sources of income and expenses, including any expenses related to housing (e.g. utilities, parking, laundry costs, etc.).
A good rule of thumb: Try to keep your housing costs within 30% of your take-home pay.
Searching for Housing Online
The following websites may be helpful in looking for affordable rental units:
- HUD Resource Locator: www.resources.hud.gov/#
- New York Housing Search: www.newyorkhousingsearch.gov
- Craigslist: www.albany.craigslist.org
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/marketplace/category/propertyrentals
- Rent.com: www.rent.com
- Apartments.com: www.apartments.com
- ForRent.com: www.forrent.com
- Apartment Guide: www.apartmentguide.com
- PadMapper: www.padmapper.com
- Hotpads: www.hotpads.com
These websites are not affiliated with nor endorsed by the City of Albany; this listing is only intended to serve as a resource for residents in their housing search.
- Do not send money or personal information to anyone you have not met in person.
- Do not apply for or rent a unit without visiting first.
- If it seems too good to be true, it may be a scam.
Did you know? You can quickly look up property ownership records for free by visiting https://albanyny.mapgeo.io.
Other Ways to Look for Housing
Searching for listings online isn't the only way to find a place to live. You can also try these methods:
1. Walk or drive the neighborhood you want to rent in. Many rental listings are never posted online. Try checking the following locations for rental ads: grocery stores, bodegas, gas stations, libraries, churches, community centers, etc.
2. Contact a local housing services provider or non-profit agency for leads. These organizations sometimes maintain listings of available affordable rental units. The following is a listing of some of our housing and related service providers in Albany:
- Albany County Department of Social Services (DSS)
- Administers financial assistance program (TA) for Albany County
- Works with individuals and families coming out of homelessness
- Phone: (518) 447-7300
- Address: 162 Washington Ave, Albany, NY 12210
- Website: www.albanycounty.com/departments/social-services
- Albany Housing Authority (AHA)
- Administers federal Section 8 and other voucher programs
- Maintains public housing residences
- Phone: (518) 641-7500
- Address: 200 S Pearl St, Albany, NY 12202
- Website: www.albanyhousing.org
- Catholic Charities Housing Office
- Homeless and Travelers Aid Society (HATAS)
- Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY)
- Offers STEHP program for families coming out of homelessness
- Phone: (833) 628-0087 -- Legal Line
- Address: 95 Central Ave, Albany, NY 12206
- Website: www.lasnny.org
- United Tenants of Albany (UTA)
How to Compare Rental Listings
During your housing search, you will probably look at a number of rental units with very different features. It can be helpful to use a tool such as a Rental Comparison Chart to evaluate these units. A Rental Comparison Chart allows you to easily sort information about each unit, and it can be a helpful reference later on so that you do not forget the details of any property you have visited. This can help you to make a more informed decision. You can view or download a Rental Comparison Chart from the "Helpful Downloads" tab above.
It is especially important to consider each property's condition, property manager or owner, and the rental policies. The following can help you decide whether or not a rental unit is suitable for you:
Questions to Ask a Potential Landlord
- When is this unit available? How soon are you looking to fill the unit?
- How long is the lease term?
- Does the unit have an ROP (Residential Occupancy Permit)?
- What is the monthly rent? Where/how would I pay rent?
- What is your typical rent increase when someone renews a lease?
- What are your general rental policies like? You may ask to see a sample lease to get an idea of this.
- Are any utilities included with the rent? How much are utilities on average? By law, the landlord must provide you with utility statements for the last two years if you request them.
- What do you like the most about the apartment?
- What’s the best thing about this neighborhood?
- Are there issues with noise or crime in the neighborhood or around the property?
- What is your maintenance policy? How long does it usually take to make repairs?
- Who takes care of maintenance and business matters? If not the landlord – Is there a
property manager nearby?
- How long do your tenants usually stay in their units?
- What do you think makes someone a good tenant?
- What parking options are available?
- Where can I do laundry?
- Are there outdoor areas that I can use?
- Is there additional storage if I need it?
Getting Through the Application Process
Filling Out a Housing Application
Making sure that your rental housing application is complete, truthful, and neat can help to show a potential landlord that you would be a good tenant. Landlords can legally deny any applications that are missing information or include inaccuracies, so be sure to fill out your application completely and honestly. Your rental application is your opportunity to make a good first impression on your future landlord.
Many landlords charge application fees to offset the costs of background and credit checks. In New York, property managers can only charge application fees that cover their actual out-of-pocket costs to screen a potential tenant. The maximum application fee is $20.
Before you submit your application and pay any fees, you should make sure you understand the landlord's screening criteria, including income limits and any expectations for your rental history. You should only apply to rent a unit if you are serious about living there. If a landlord makes you feel rushed or pressured to finish your application, you can ask to take the application home to return at a later date.
A sample rental application is available above to view or download from the "Helpful Downloads" tab above. You may find it helpful to print and fill out the sample rental application, because you will have all of the information together in one place when it is time to complete an actual rental application.
Dealing with Barriers to Housing
When you complete a rental application, you may realize that your landlord could find some negative information about you from a credit report or background check. One idea to handle that situation would be to include a brief letter explaining your history with your rental application. This may help the landlord to better understand your side of the story.
If you made a mistake at a previous rental unit, you can tell the landlord what you have done (or will do) differently to fix the situation. If you were involved in a situation that was not your fault, you can still reassure the landlord that you will not have those problems in the future.
The following template may be helpful when writing a letter explaining your situation:
- At my old apartment, ___________________________________________ happened.
- This was because ________________________________________________________.
- Since that time, I have ___________________________________________________.
- I hope that _____________________________________________________.
Here are a few examples:
1. "At my last apartment, I fell behind on rent due to COVID-19. I applied for rental assistance, and that helped me get caught up. In the future, I will set up automatic bank transfers to make sure my rent is paid on time. I hope that my struggles during the pandemic will not prevent you from renting to me, because I believe I will be an excellent tenant."
2. "My former roommate used to have big parties late at night. Even though I wasn't involved with the parties, our landlord got upset with both of us. Because of that situation, I will not allow my this person to visit me at my new apartment. I hope that the actions of my old roommate will not keep you from renting to me."
A full-length Sample Explanation of Barriers Letter is available to view in the "Helpful Downloads" tab above.
TIP: You may wish to practice explaining your story briefly to a friend or family member. Once you are able to describe what happened in your own words, you can try writing it down.
Rental Application Screening & Fair Housing Laws
Many landlords use a tenant screening service to help them evaluate rental applications. These services collect information about prospective renters (such as credit histories and background checks). Landlords may also use their own methods of evaluating rental applications, but they must follow state and federal Fair Housing laws.
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that requires landlords to treat all of their tenants equally, regardless of their personal characteristics (such as race or gender). When landlords do not provide equal treatment to their tenants, this is called "housing discrimination." Examples of housing discrimination may include:
- Giving one applicant for housing priority over others
- Refusing to make repairs for certain tenants
- Refusing to rent to certain types of people
- Telling someone that housing is unavailable, when this is not the case
- Requiring higher rents or different lease conditions for the same accommodations
- Denying certain tenants access to services or facilities
In New York State, it is illegal for landlords to treat tenants differently because of their:
- Race or ethnicity
- National origin
- Biological sex
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Familial status (e.g. whether you are married or have children)
- Disability (including mental health conditions)
- Source of income (e.g. Section 8, Social Security, etc.)
What Information Can Landlords Request When I Apply?
Landlords are allowed to ask you for the following information on your application:
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Monthly income
- Employment status*
- Credit score
- Who will live in the unit**
- Rental history
Landlords are NOT allowed to ask you about your:
- Marital status
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
- Participation in public assistance ("benefits")
* Landlords can ask you about your employment status, but they cannot refuse to rent to you if you use another lawful source of income (e.g. not working due to a disability, but receiving Social Security or Section 8 benefits).
** Landlords can ask you who will live in the unit, but they cannot prohibit your children from living there (as long as the unit will not be overcrowded).
Know Your Rights! If you believe you have been treated unfairly, contact: