Research your Next Apartment like an Investigative Reporter

Research your Next Apartment like an Investigative Reporter

By Yehudit Garmaise

Lisa Song, who writes for ProPublica, had had enough of leaking radiators, lost mail, uninvited pests plus more apartment troubles that NYC tenants often encounter.

When her frustration reached a peak, Song put her investigating skills to work before moving to her next place.

First, the reporter asked her friends and colleagues to tell her their apartment horror stories, so she could compile a comprehensive list of hazards against which to guard.

After amassing a list of potential apartment nightmares including rats, cockroaches, bedbugs, hissing radiators, and frequently stolen packages, Song got to work.

“I set up spreadsheets, browsed government databases, and questioned the residents of prospective buildings the way I would question reluctant sources.

“It worked: My next two apartments were huge improvements.”

To screen out which apartments to avoid,” Song advised prospective tenants to weed out prospective buildings and landlords in the following ways.

1. Go to the Scene: Trust your own eyes and ears to start your research. Ask yourself what might bother you if you were to come home to this building.

2. Inspect the mail and public areas: to assess whether they are neat and organized or messy and chaotic.

3. Walk through the neighborhood that surrounds the building: to get the feel of it. Also, determine the nearest hospitals to consider whether many ambulance sirens might blare on a nightly basis. 

4. While visiting the building, speak to a few tenants, and ask them whether they are experiencing any apartment-related issues.

5. Research your landlord online: Go to, and type in the addresses of the buildings you are researching.

While sometimes landlords try to hide their identities, JustFix, a nonprofit, pulls public registration files to publicize the names of landlords, buildings they own, and summaries of tenants’ complaints.

6. Get more details: Click on different links to read 311 complaints, such as for pests, plumbing problems, heat, mold, hot water issues, and noise that tenants have filed with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. 

7. Check for broken elevators, illegal construction, and statistics on the building’s evictions and permit applications. Look for buildings with low rates of open violations of Maintenance Code Violations. 

8. Learn about flood risks of individual buildings: by entering addresses into the Risk Factor site to get the projected current and future flood risks. 

9. Check for bedbugs: by looking up buildings on the Bedbug Registry, which includes crowdsourced reports of bedbugs at specific addresses and hotels nationwide.

10. Remember that not everything will be recorded: Because not all tenants feel comfortable calling 311 and filing complaints with the city, speaking with current tenants may always give you the most accurate reports to find your dream apartment.

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