Qualifying for rental apartments when you’ve retired in NYC

Most landlords in NYC require tenants to make 40 times the annual rent of the apartment. This can be difficult for individuals who don’t have consistent income, much less for those who are retired. Yet qualifying for an apartment or finding housing in NYC is not impossible, even if you don’t receive a regular paycheck. If you’re a retiree searching for rental housing, you should first be familiar with income requirements and guarantors, affordable housing, and special senior rights.

Who counts as a senior?

Though you have to be over the age of 65 to be eligible for a reduced fare MetroCard, you only need to be 62 years of age to qualify for senior housing benefits such as housing lotteries or rent increase exemption programs. Senior citizens also get special housing rights in NYC. A building owner cannot evict tenants from rent-stabilized apartments in NYC if the tenant is “62 or older, has been a tenant for 15 years or more, or is a disabled person” unless the owner provides an “equivalent or superior apartment” at the same or lower rent. Seniors can also terminate their lease without penalty if they are moving into a senior citizen housing complex or health care facility. If terminating your lease for these reasons, you simply need to provide 30 days written notice and documentation of admission to the health care facility or senior housing.

Income requirements for seniors

The standard for most landlords is for the tenant to make 40 times the annual rent. If you’ve retired and don’t have income from a job, you may need to demonstrate liquidity or income from other sources such as a pension, social security, or stocks. These are some documents to have on hand for retirees looking to qualify for an apartment:

  • Social Security statements
  • Pension statements
  • IRA earnings statements
  • Any veterans affairs disability compensation or disability pension benefit statements
  • W-2 and 1099 statements

If you receive cash gifts from family or friends, have them write you a letter detailing how much and how often they give funds. You’ll need to provide proof of the funds hitting your bank statement if the arrangement has already been ongoing. If you have significant savings or investments, some landlords will take a letter from your accountant (CPA letter) or business manager to prove your income and good financial health.

Depending on your financial status, you may also qualify for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program. This program protects senior citizens from rent increases, exempting them from future Maximum Base Rent increases, increases “based on the owner’s economic hardship,” and increases due to Major Capital Improvements. To qualify, you must be a senior citizen (62 years old), be the “head of household” (meaning you are the primary tenant on the lease), have a combined household income of $50,000 or less per year, and spend one-third of your annual income on rent. For questions regarding applications and to find more information on the SCRIE program, you can call 212-863-8494 or visit the NYC Housing Preservation and Development website.

What happens if you don’t qualify?

If you don’t qualify for an apartment based on income and credit alone, you may want to consider using a guarantor. A guarantor can be an institution or a person who accepts liability for rent in the event that the tenant cannot pay. Guarantors must make 80 times the annual rent to qualify for apartments in NYC.

If you have a wealthy family member willing to be your guarantor, there is no additional fee. They will need to complete additional paperwork (every apartment application is different) to prove their income and credit and sign to verify they are liable for any unpaid rent. If you don’t have access to a friend or family member willing to be your guarantor, you can also use an institution such as Insurent or The Guarantors. These services charge anywhere between 75 to 90 percent of one month’s rent for a 12 month lease, but it is a reliable way to find financial backing when you’re unable to qualify on your own.

Senior housing options

Enriched Housing

Retirees looking for housing have a multitude of options in NYC. The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens has a network of affordable housing for seniors who still want to live on their own. Some of these housing options are referred to as “enriched housing,” meaning they provide community and organized activities for residents. While Enriched Housing cannot provide medical care, they can provide residents with personal hygiene, shopping, meals, and medical appointment assistance.

Section 8 Housing

Seniors and retirees may also qualify for Section 8 Housing based on their income. To qualify for affordable housing, you must make 80% or less than the median income in the area. You can check your eligibility on the HPD website. Once you’ve qualified for affordable housing, Housing Connect is a platform to find and apply for affordable rentals. For any questions or for more information on housing options as a retiree, you can contact the NYC Department for the Aging. This department also offers a Home Sharing program, where residents who have extra private space in their home can be paired with a “guest” residents. Participants will need to be at least 18 years old to be eligible, though at least one needs to be over the age of 60. This is ideal for retirees who don’t have family or community in their area.

The NYC housing market is already competitive, with bidding wars and units frequently being rented in less than 24 hours. This makes it increasingly difficult for retirees with no pay stubs or steady income to qualify for apartments. As long as landlords don’t discriminate, they can choose between applicants for an apartment, making it easy to look over retirees living off a pension or social security.

When starting your search, it’s important to be prepared with additional financial statements from a 401(k), pension, or social security to prove income, and to have bank statements or a letter from a financial manager at the ready. Having a guarantor can also mitigate risk for a landlord, but some retirees still struggle to qualify for an apartment. In this case, affordable housing can provide rental units for retirees and, in some cases, provide community and additional support through enriched housing.

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