Housing options

We are located at Columbia University Medical Center (630 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, United States). We suggest looking at options and prices already, but start your search 2 months before you move.

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/)

On these websites you can also find realtors who can help you find a place. But they may only work with someone who is physically here.

You can also search on Google Map the phrase “leasing office” for the area you are interested in, and click on the pins that pops up on the map to get their contact information. These are usually commercial apartment buildings with their own website and listings are not available from external websites.

Some people in the lab have used realtors for their search — you can reach out to us for some names/contacts we have worked with in the past. With referral these agents may comfortably work with you to look for a place remotely (by taking the tour for you and send back pictures).

Additionally, Columbia Off-Campus Housing Assistance is a good resource for Manhattan options:

  • https://ocha.facilities.columbia.edu/ (You have to sign up and login to access a full list. I’m not sure if the list will look different for those with Columbia UNI versus those with a guest account)

If you want to find a place after you are here so that you can check them out in person, then AirBnB can be a good resource for a couple weeks rental while you search for a full year lease.

Agents and agent fee

Some apartments found in, eg. Trulia, are listed by private owners and in many cases are less expensive than commercial apartments. However there is sometime a listing agent (the agent you contact for requesting information for it) fee worth of a month rent that you have to pay. If you hire an agent to shop a rental apartment for you, they will split the agent fee with the listing agent so you don’t have to pay them separately — in such cases a buyer agent can be very helpful particularly when you are not physically in town to check things out. But please ask and confirm if it is the case about paying only one agent fee. Because the rent itself is low, it may still cost less in total after paying the agent fee, compared to when you directly approach a commercial apartment leasing office.

Options in New Jersey

Many of us live in Fort Lee, NJ. There is a free Columbia University shuttle that goes back and forth every day. The shuttle stops at the Constitutional Park, Fort Lee, NJ. There is also a shuttle to the main Columbia University (Morningside) campus. Biking from Fort Lee is also a great option. A bicycle under $100 from Walmart will do for commute purpose if your budget is tight. Otherwise, Craigslist is a great resource for used fancier bicycles (that people bought but decided to sell due to a lack of usage). You can also Google search “Bike exchange” or “Bike exchange facebook group” and find local people to trade used bikes. Electric bikes/scooters are now allowed in NYC (since 2020) — another good option but less safe in my view compared to bicycles. Housing is more affordable there for the same condition of apartments compared to Manhattan. Fort Lee also has great public schools, an important consideration for those who has kids.

In Fort Lee NJ (in 2020), anything $1,200-1,500 monthly will go fast and will be hard to find (usually studios). If you go further South (such as Union City), you might find something easier in this price range.

Fort Lee utilities information

Electricity and internet: call PSE&G the electricity provider and tell them your rental apartment address and the expected move in date. They will create over the phone an account for you and email you the information for you to create online your profile at their company to pay for the bills.

PSE&G also offers to search for you internet options available and help you set up internet service so you do not have to compare and call the providers separately. Not all internet providers cover your apartment building so it would be best to use some services such as this to help you find the appropriate internet plan. I use Verizon Fios for 300Mb/s download for $39.99/mo (a good deal as of 2020). If Verizon is not an option in your building, Spectrum is a decent alternative.

Options elsewhere in New York

In addition to Manhattan, Yonkers (NY) is another option to look into, and some people live in Queens but that’s quite a commute.

Room sharing

There are a couple of facebook groups, primarily for room sharing in NY. They regularly post available rooms for rents (Be careful for scams though):

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

Most rooms are in the $1,000-1,300 monthly price range, but usually include all utilities (electric, gas, etc).

There are also some wechat groups for room sharing among Chinese scholars. Gao Wang can send you via wechat those groups if you are interested in that option.