Why Doesn’t Anyone Want Prepaid Rent?

giant check

In the last few months, I’ve had several people searching for a rental ask me if they could prepay a year’s rent. So what happened?

First, let’s talk about why they wanted to do that, and the answer is simple–they didn’t meet the landlord’s requirements for renting. As we all know, renting in New York City is hard. One of the toughest requirements for many people to meet is the 40x one month income bar. That means that if the rent is $2000/month, you must earn $80,000.  Now if you a) have been working for a few years in finance b) are a first year law associate at a large firm c) are a professional athlete, you can just shrug your shoulders at that minimum (and by the way, if you are any of those, you probably are not looking at $2000/per month apartments). If, however, you just graduated from college and have a non-paying internship, you’re a full-time student, you’re self-employed with variable income, you work for a start up and have more shares than weekly dollars, you have a working class job, or hey, you are an heir/heiress and you have plenty of savings, but no verifiable emplooymnt or income, well, then it’s a real problem.

Most people deal with this in two ways–they find a roommate (or roommates) whose combined income gets them all over the 40 times income bar, or they get a guarantor (guarantors are usually required to earn 80 times the one months rent). Those options weren’t available to the people I met, so they thought that they could get around the requirements by offering to prepay a year’s rent. And you know what? Most landlords didn’t go for it.

That seems crazy, right? I mean, why wouldn’t a landlord be thrilled to have the one lump sum payment? Wouldn’t it be nice to know they have at least one tenant taken care of, with no late payments, no missed payments, nothing to worry about. Done and done and done. But no deal–almost all of them said they preferred a guarantor, and one said that they would take a prepayment, but the tenant would still have to fill out the application and show some kind of reasonable income. Maybe a small landlord who is renting out shares of their two or three family house would have been willing to do it, or maybe a co-op or condo owner who is subletting might go for it (though the co-op board usually has to review rental applications and they might be as tough as a landlord). But your average building management company? No.

The renters (who both came from out of state and were not used to the obstacle course that is renting in NYC) were completely puzzled by this. One pair eventually scaled down their max rent until it met the requirements, ending up with a much smaller apartment and different neighborhood than they wanted. The other got a guarantor.

But it did make me think a lot about why landlords are so resistant to the prepayment offer. I did a little research, but didn’t find many answers. So here are the best guesses I came up with:

  • The landlord worries that for some reason the tenant will have to break the lease and the landlord will then have to pay back the tenant for the months not used. Landlords do NOT like writing checks to tenants.
  • Management offices just aren’t equipped to handle a tenant whose account is different than everyone else’s. I swear I’ve walked into some management offices that looked like they were straight out of 1994, with ancient computers and overstuffed filing cabinets and the occasional typewriter. I really feel for the poor administrativve staff working in these kind of places. So these places just aren’t cut out for things like “These numbered apartments get a bill every month, and these don’t, and was their lease renewed and they now DO need bills?” It’s not hard to imagine some kind of error happening where the billing department loses track of the fact that the renter has prepaid and starts sending out late notices and late charges to the tenant, creating a mess for both parties. I honestly think that’s the reason why landlords are reluctant to accept prepayment–just to avoid confusion.

    The moral of this story, then, is that if you were hoping to get around a landlord’s income requirements by prepaying, bury those hopes. A guarantor or roommates are still your best bet. And if you have enough cash lying around to prepay a year’s rent on a typically high-priced NYC rental, well, maybe you should see how far you are from a downpayment to buy an apartment…

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