image of renting an apartment during COVID-19

If you find yourself needing to rent an apartment during the coronavirus epidemic, here are answers to your questions about doing it safely and effectively. (Getty Images)

Renting an apartment during COVID-19 is a challenge facing many New Yorkers who need to move this spring. Nearly every person and business in the country has been affected by the rapid spread of coronavirus, as people everywhere are being urged to practice social distancing and stay at home. Not surprisingly, this is changing the real estate market and leaving many people wondering, if they are in a situation that requires moving, how to find an apartment during this stressful time.

Spring is one of the most popular times to move, and renters are scrambling to figure out if they need to find a new pad, and how — or if they can stay put. “Housing remains a basic human need,” says Jules Borbely, COO and associate broker with Oxford Property Group. “Whether it be employment changes, lease expirations, or growing families, people need to move.”

StreetEasy tapped some experts to answer all your questions about renting an apartment during COVID-19.

Disclaimer: This post reflects the latest news and industry status at the time of publication. It will be monitored and updated as the situation changes. Above all, prioritize your health and safety and that of your fellow New Yorkers. Note that in New York state, evictions have been suspended, and mortgage payments have also been suspended for those facing financial hardship.

Can I Still Look for an Apartment During COVID-19?

Yes. New listings are still arriving constantly on StreetEasy. However, under the latest social distancing measures, most face-to-face interactions, such as  touring an apartment in-person with an agent, or meeting to sign a lease in-person, are restricted. In this new and ever-changing environment, agents, consumers, and StreetEasy are shifting practices to facilitate home shopping.

Showings have now gone virtual-only. Agents can post walkthrough videos from YouTube or Vimeo right in their StreetEasy listings — these will appear in the photo carousel They can also include links to existing 3D Home tours from the free Zillow app. But in accordance with the new rules around social distancing, in-person showings are off the table for now.

Will I Be Able to Get in Touch With a Listing Agent?

Yes. Like many New Yorkers, agents are working from home at this point, and they are available and prepared to help New Yorkers find a home in a safe and effective way. Contact them directly through StreetEasy and explain your circumstances to find out how they can help. All communication can easily happen through email, text, or phone.

Manhattan 1-2BRs Under $3,000 on StreetEasy Article continues below

Is It OK to Rent an Apartment After Only a Virtual Tour?

Yes. In fact, renting an apartment after just a virtual tour is nothing new. “Renting sight-unseen is not a new phenomenon,” says Borbely. “It happened every day, even in the past.”

Agent Jessica Swersey of Warburg Realty agrees. “I have tenant-occupied listings that are no longer allowing access, so the video serves as the sole source of access at this time,” she says.

Other agents also agree, adding that in many buildings, a virtual tour is the only way to view a rental property right now.

Precautions to Take Before You Sign a Lease

It’s important to note that not seeing an apartment before you move in does carry some additional risk, so be extra careful as you consider your next place. The landlord or agent will probably ask you to sign a document stating that you understand the risk of renting an apartment without seeing it. They don’t want any liability in case you are disappointed in person. It’s all on you as a renter.

If I’ve Already Signed a Lease, Can I Still Move In Right Now?

The coronavirus situation in New York City is changing daily. Some buildings — mostly co-ops and condos — have already banned move-ins or move-outs for now. However, a lot of rental buildings were recently allowing it. Check with the building you’re leaving and the one you’d be moving into to see what their rules are.

“I have not seen restrictions on move-ins yet, but amenities such as gyms, pools, playrooms, lounges, etc., are closing down,” says Borbely. “I would advise tenants to stay in touch with their landlord or management company for the latest updates.”

Brooklyn 1-2BRs Under $3,000 on StreetEasy Article continues below

Who Can Help Me Move Right Now?

At the moment, moving companies are considered an essential business in NYC, so they are still open. Naturally, many are taking extra precautions to reduce unnecessary exposure to the virus.

One top-rated moving company in NYC, Roadway, has a special notice on its website detailing how they’re protecting employees and customers. The protocol now includes:

  • Sending home any movers and foremen showing symptoms.
  • Stopping the use of reusable bins and boxes during a move.
  • Equipping movers with sanitizers, masks, gloves, and booties.
  • Allowing virtual in-home estimates.
  • Suspending moves to hot zones.

Other moving companies, like Flat Rate and Oz Moving, are enacting similar guidelines with regular cleaning of trucks and dispatch areas.

If I’ve Already Given Notice to Leave My Apartment, Can I Stay?

If you have given notice to vacate your apartment but would now like to stay, you should talk to your landlord or management company as soon as possible. Both groups are more flexible than usual at the moment.

“Given the current situation and the desire for people not to have strangers in their apartments for showings, it seems like a reasonable request,” says Borbely. “I believe landlords are open to it. Everybody would like to get through this period with as little interruption as possible.”

Many people have requested holdovers during which you can stay beyond your lease, upon approval, and pay additional rent for the time you’re there. However, if the landlord has already rented out the apartment to the next set of tenants, they are obligated under that lease to let them move in. Either way, it would be up to your landlord.

“If they have not rented it to the next tenant at this point, they may be very flexible to allow you to stay another month,” says Swersey. “Landlords do not want vacancy, and they are more likely to keep tenants at the moment than try to replace them.”

Given that this is a truly unique situation, consulting an attorney would likely be your next move if another tenant has signed a lease on your apartment already and you want to stay put.

Keep watching the StreetEasy blog for more tips on navigating the NYC housing market in this uncertain situation.