Housing options

We are located at Columbia University Medical Center (630 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, United States).

Please note that the following document are personal opinions and recommendations contributed by various members in Gao Wang’s group, and should not be considered official information from Columbia University.

[Gao] Finding suitable housing in the NYC area can be a challenging task, but with patience, you can always find a place that meets your needs and preferences, given the ample housing options available in NYC and its surrounding areas. Keep in mind that the housing you choose can significantly impact your work-life balance, so I suggest that you take this task seriously. Based on my personal experience, here are some overall tips:

  1. Take your time: Upon arrival, consider finding temporary housing for about a month. This will give you ample time to explore various neighborhoods and nearby options before finalizing a more permanent housing arrangement.
  2. Keep your commute in mind: It’s important to live within reasonable commuting distance from CUMC. This will allow you to interact with your colleagues in the lab and avoid lengthy travel times. If you’re uncertain about where to live, consider stretching your budget a bit to find a comfortable and convenient place to stay during your first year.

Overall, it’s important to consider lifestyle factors such as whether you want to live in Manhattan vs outside of it, or live by yourself vs share a room with someone. By taking the time to carefully evaluate your options, you can make a well-informed decision that suits your needs and preferences.

Temporary Housing options upon arrival

Here is a link for temporary housing and hotels for the first week or month upon arrival. Some of them have a 30-day minimum​​, which should give you enough time to settle down. You may need to call or email them about specific requirements and other details.

It might also be helpful to take a look at the airbnb and booking.com to get a temporary place to live, but when booking from private landlords you need to be careful and check their reviews, and be prepared for the worst that they cancel you the last minute — you should think of some plan B just in case.

General considerations

To rent an apartment, it is important to keep the following points in mind:

  1. Income requirements: Some apartments may have income requirements for renters during the application process. You need to ensure that your income meets the requirement, or find a commercial guarantee or provide an additional deposit certificate to prove that you can afford the rent.
  2. Application process: The application process can take more than a week, and you may need to pay various fees such as application fee, hold fee, Occupancy Certification fee, deposit, and rent. Fees may need to be paid by a check drawn from a US bank account, so you may need to ask your friends in the US to prepare the checks, or find a place to transition upon arrival, open a US bank account and then get a check with your cash in the interim.
  3. Pet policy: If you want to bring a pet with you, you need to ensure that the apartment allows pets and be aware of the pet fees charged by the apartment. You should also be cautious about hotels/Airbnb that claim to allow pets, as they may only allow dogs not cats, or the other way around. It is best to call and confirm their pet policy if they don’t reply to emails.

Commute considerations

When it comes to housing, it’s important to consider your commute options, including the Columbia shuttle bus. You can find the shuttle’s route and schedule on the transportation section of Columbia’s website, and the bus usually has the Columbia logo on it. Even when a third-party service is used without the logo, it’s easy to spot other Columbians waiting for the shuttle.

While the Manhattan route of the Columbia shuttle may not be as convenient as the New York subway network, it is free for the Columbia community. For those living in Manhattan, using subway trains and buses is often the most convenient option for commuting.

To make the most of your commute time, consider listening to audiobooks. Audible is a great app and service, and Amazon is a good vendor for audiobooks.

Columbia resources

  • Columbia worklife office: https://worklife.columbia.edu/housing-relocation
  • Columbia Off-Campus Housing Assistance is a good resource for Manhattan options: https://ocha.facilities.columbia.edu/ It includes available rooms and apartments in non-Columbia-owned buildings and sublets of units in Columbia-managed housing. You can find the list of apartments along with their locations on a map, and also post about yourself (I got several inquiries about available rooms within a week, so people really use it! And I trust it more than just some random app or website because it is usually someone who studies or works at Columbia that has access to this).
  • Columbia roommate finder: https://ocha.facilities.columbia.edu/roommates is Off-Campus Housing Marketplace Listings. Here you can find affordable apartments to share with Columbia affiliated students, postdocs and faculties.

You may need a Columbia UNI to access Columbia resources. If you need it please communicate with Gao to have HR process and grant you a UNI after you signed the offer letter.

Columbia University has also recommended some real estate agencies, such as Corcoran, that are efficient in responding to emails.

General resources

  • Zillow: https://www.zillow.com
  • Trulia: https://www.trulia.com/
  • Streeteasy: https://streeteasy.com/ - for New York
  • Apartments.com: https://www.apartments.com/

Some of these websites also offer the services of realtors who can assist you in finding a suitable apartment. However, it’s important to note that they may prefer to work with clients who are physically present in the area.

Another helpful resource is to search on Google Maps using the phrase “leasing office” for the area of interest. By clicking on the pins that appear on the map, you can obtain their contact information. These are typically commercial apartment buildings that have their own website, and their listings may not be available on external websites.

If you’re interested in using a realtor, some lab members have had success working with specific agents in the past. You can reach out to us for some referrals and contact information. With a referral, some agents may be willing to help you remotely by taking tours of apartments and sending you pictures.

Agents and agent fee

Trulia and other similar websites offer a wide range of apartments listed by private owners, which can often be more affordable than commercial apartments. However, it’s worth noting that some listings may come with a listing agent fee equal to one month’s rent, which you’ll need to pay.

If you decide to hire an agent to help you find a rental apartment, they can split the agent fee with the listing agent, which can be helpful, especially if you’re not physically in the area to view properties yourself. However, it’s important to confirm whether you’ll only need to pay one agent fee.

Despite the added fee, renting through a private owner may still be cheaper overall than approaching a commercial apartment leasing office directly, given the lower rental prices. In this regard, hiring a buyer agent can be a worthwhile investment.

Room sharing

Here are a couple of facebook groups, primarily for room sharing in NY. They regularly post available rooms for rents (be careful about scams!):

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/1952394528216508/
  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/1262075723841084/
  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/columbiauniversityoffcampushousing/

Most rooms include all utilities (electric, gas, etc) in the price.

There are also some wechat groups for room search and share among Chinese scholars. Gao can send you via wechat a Fort Lee housing group if you are interested in that option.

Tips from lab members

Please contact Gao to grant you the access to the lab-wiki repo on github in order to read these documents (strongly recommended):

What ChatGPT suggests on housing tips?

[a “conversation” with ChatGPT on March 4, 2023.]

Question: I’m relocating to Columbia university medical center. Can you provide me some tips about finding a rental apartment in NYC and surrounding area including Fort Lee, New Jersey?

Answer: Of course, here are some tips for finding a rental apartment in the NYC area including Fort Lee:

  1. Determine your budget: NYC is known for its high cost of living, so it’s important to know how much you can afford to spend on rent each month before you start your search.
  2. Research neighborhoods: Each neighborhood in NYC has its own unique vibe and amenities. Do some research to determine which neighborhoods are within your budget and have the amenities you want, such as access to public transportation or proximity to parks.
  3. Use online resources: Websites such as StreetEasy, Zillow, and Craigslist are popular resources for finding rental apartments in NYC. You can filter by price, location, and amenities to find apartments that fit your needs.
  4. Work with a real estate agent: If you’re short on time or would like more personalized assistance, working with a real estate agent can be helpful. They can help you navigate the rental market and find apartments that meet your criteria.
  5. Be prepared for the application process: Landlords in NYC often require a lot of documentation during the application process, including proof of income, credit reports, and references. Be prepared to provide this information and have it readily available.
  6. Consider transportation options: Fort Lee is located in New Jersey, so you may need to consider transportation options if you choose to live there. The Columbia University shuttle and public transportation options may be viable options for commuting.
  7. Schedule viewings in advance: NYC is a busy city, so it’s important to schedule apartment viewings in advance to ensure that you can see the apartments you’re interested in.
  8. Don’t rush the process: Finding the right apartment can take time, so be patient and don’t rush the process. It’s better to take your time and find an apartment that meets your needs and preferences than to settle for something that doesn’t.

Question: I’m relocating. What are some general tips about renting an apartment?

Answer: Sure, here are some general tips about renting an apartment in a new city:

  1. Research the neighborhoods: Before you start looking for apartments, do some research on the different neighborhoods in the city. Each neighborhood has its own unique vibe, and you want to make sure you find one that suits your lifestyle.
  2. Set a budget: Determine your budget before you start looking for apartments. You don’t want to waste time looking at apartments that are outside of your price range.
  3. Check online listings: Start your apartment search by looking at online listings on websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Craigslist. These sites can give you a good idea of what’s available in your price range and preferred neighborhoods.
  4. Schedule apartment visits: Once you find apartments you’re interested in, schedule visits to see them in person. It’s best to see multiple apartments in one day so you can compare them.
  5. Bring necessary paperwork: Be sure to bring all the necessary paperwork with you to the apartment visits. This includes your proof of income, identification, and any references you may need.
  6. Ask questions: During the apartment visit, ask the landlord or property manager any questions you have about the apartment, the building, and the neighborhood.
  7. Read the lease carefully: Before signing a lease, read it carefully to make sure you understand all the terms and conditions.
  8. Consider a roommate: If you’re on a tight budget, consider getting a roommate to share the rent and other living expenses with.
  9. Be prepared to negotiate: Landlords may be willing to negotiate on the rent or other terms of the lease, so be prepared to negotiate if you find an apartment you really like.
  10. Don’t rush: Finally, don’t rush into signing a lease. Take your time to make sure you find the right apartment for you.