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With Barnard already sending out housing applications, students are starting to think about their living options for the upcoming semester. If you’re considering moving off campus next spring, then you’re better off starting your apartment search as early as possible, as apartment hunting in New York is notoriously difficult.

If you’re wondering how to start your search and what to expect during the process, Spectrum has some tips.

Starting your search

Before you start browsing New York rental websites and falling in love with a fully furnished two-bedroom apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows, you should have a clear idea of your budget, what utilities you want, and how many roommates you’ll be living with. Apartments will differ in the utilities and amenities they come with, such as heat, laundry, internet, cable, and furniture. As you look at prices, keep in mind what is included in the rent, and add whatever isn’t included as additional costs that you’ll have to cover.

1. Off-Campus Housing Assistance

Faculty often need help finding places to live off campus, and Off-Campus Housing Assistance has been helping them out for years. OCHA is a Columbia-run website that allows faculty and students to find rental housing and roommates near campus. It has images, prices, and virtual tours listed for each individual property, as well as the option to sign in with your UNI and browse properties as a Columbia community member. It’s important to note that you must use a Columbia email address to register. OCHA has a built-in feature to submit an inquiry via email, making it easier to contact the proprietor. It also includes a useful FAQ section that provides guidance on how best to organize your housing search. Furthermore, Columbia housing has posted a video on YouTube about tips for finding an apartment in New York City, which is worth looking at if you’re entirely new to the process.

In addition, OCHA has developed a cooperative relationship with two New York City real estate and relocation agencies, Corcoran and Douglas Elliman. They provide free counseling and reduced brokerage fees for Columbia affiliates. To use these services, contact Susan Rader, Corporate Relocation Coordinator, 212-508-7168 direct,, and Christine Haney, EVP Global Relocation and Referral Services, 212-303-5250 direct, 646-709-2947 mobile,, respectively.

2. Columbia University Off-Campus Housing Facebook group

The Columbia University Off-Campus Housing Facebook group, with just under 18,000 members, allows students and proprietors to post about rental properties within walking distance of Columbia. Updated regularly, it is a quick and easy way to seek out reliable listings, as you can Facebook message the landlord. You can also post your current bludget as well as what kind of amenities you’re looking for, and people are likely to comment on your post with offers.

There is another Facebook group of the same name with about the same number of members, so make sure to check that out too. Barnard students can also check out the Barnard College Off Campus Housing group to look for potential roommates and listings. Finally, there are broader New York-based groups you can join for postings in New York City. The Black/POC Housing Share NYC group is also another option for Black and POC individuals who are looking for a safe space to live with each other.

3. Other websites and databases

StreetEasy is one of New York City’s most popular listings aggregators, and allows users to track both sales and rentals. It has a variety of search options that enable users to filter results by amenities, square footage, location, a broker’s fee or lack thereof, and many other criteria according to the user’s choosing. StreetEasy also has a new virtual viewing feature that encourages users to explore a 3D tour of the apartment and even allows on-site visits for certain rooms if you’re located nearby.

Frele is a comprehensive marketplace for New York City rentals that allows users to look at listings by the length of the lease, location, budget, and apartment size. If students are looking for short-term leases, they are easily accessible on Frele. You can also sort listings by price and explore more affordable options. Leasebreak has similar features, with a focus on exclusively providing short-term rentals. There are also websites catered toward students looking for off-campus housing like Student.

Here is a list of some other websites linking you directly to rental properties near Columbia:


Naked Apartments








As you search for apartments, you can use websites like Localize to check the address for any recent construction nearby, the views you’ll have, as well as the average hours of natural light you’ll be getting in the apartment. StreetEasy also offers neighborhood information when you’re looking at listings on there.

Renting requirements

After scouring through rental websites and finding an apartment that fits your needs, you’ll need to apply. There’s a lot that goes into an application, and a landlord considers many factors before accepting you as a tenant. In Manhattan, most landlords require that you show an annual income that is at least 40 to 50 times the monthly rent (in Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey this is cheaper). A loan may count as a source of income but they do look less appealing on your application. In other words, you’ll need a high credit score (at least 700) to present to the landlord or even a guarantor to increase your chances of getting the apartment.

What is a guarantor?

It might not be surprising that many students do not meet the income requirement that landlords have, meaning you’ll need a guarantor to co-sign the lease and guarantee they can cover the terms of your lease. If you are sharing this apartment, you’ll need to check with the landlord to see if multiple guarantors are accepted. A guarantor will need to show that they make at least 80 times annually what the monthly rent is.

Many landlords require guarantors to be from the tri-state area so they can sign the original copy of the lease. However, if you cannot find a guarantor who fulfills these requirements, you can pay for a guarantor from insurance firms or professional guarantor services. These firms will each have different requirements and payment plans depending on your level of income and citizenship status. For a list of top New York firms and their services, visit this link.

International students

As an international student, you’ll need to present your passport, U.S. bank statements, a letter confirming your enrollment status at school, and proof that your student visa will be valid throughout your lease.

If your guarantor is a family member or friend who lives outside the tri-state area, then you will most likely need to use a third-party service mentioned above. In previous years, landlords would accept a larger security deposit equal to six times the monthly rent; however, this prepayment method has not been allowed since 2019.

In addition to this list of resources, there are a myriad of other housing websites available to search for the perfect apartment in terms of proximity, budget, and safety. It’s important to seek out help from available services at Columbia and take advantage of free housing consultations if you’re new to the process, because it can easily get overwhelming. If you’re looking for someone to live with, it might be useful to reach out to Barnard and Columbia students in similar positions who are also looking for roommates.

Staff writer Lina Bennani Karim can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

Staff writer Nandini Talwar can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

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