Like so many other Long Islanders who live on the water, Joy Harris returned to her first-floor Bayville apartment after superstorm Sandy to find that flooding had destroyed the house. Unlike countless others now trying to find a place to live on Long Island, her possessions had already been moved to a safe place.
Concerned about the weather forecasts, Harris, 53, an attorney and a judge, had rented a moving truck the Friday before for storing her furniture, parking it in a place where she thought it would be safe during the storm. She put her and her 13-year-old daughter Arianna's clothing, as well as their electronics and emergency bags, in her car that Sunday when the area was evacuated and drove to North Merrick to stay with her 31-year-old son, Nicholas, and his wife, until the storm ended. She also did one other thing most people who have been displaced from their homes didn't think to do -- the Saturday before the storm, she went to see an apartment she could rent. When she returned Tuesday to her home, finding the windows blown out and starfish and seashells floating in the water that flooded the unit, she called Georgia Ioannou of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, the rental agent for the new apartment, and put down a deposit.
Harris and her daughter's things are now at an 1820 Locust Valley Cape she has rented for $2,000 a month. For now, the two are staying with friends in Old Westbury -- because the power is out at the new place.
Harris might have had the foresight most storm victims covet, but she says many of the things she did to protect herself are the things others who are now without housing need to do. "Be persistent," says Harris, who recommends bartering for a room in someone else's house, an idea she considered. "At-home moms can drive other people's kids to school or wait on line for someone to get gas in exchange for being hosted in a home," she suggests.
It's just one creative solution to muse on as the rental market on Long Island gets uncomfortably tighter in the wake of Sandy. On top of the legendarily scarce supply of safe and legal places to rent in Nassau and Suffolk counties -- made worse by a real estate market where many have chosen to rent instead of buy -- a whole new set of challenges faces those looking for a home: Most rentals are not short term, most are unfurnished and most are pet-free.
Still, real estate agents say rentals are out there if you look hard and are creative (just make sure to protect yourself along the way).
SEARCH HIGH AND LOW
The Multiple Listing Service of Long Island offers a searchable rental database on its website: mlsli.com. Users can look for available apartments by community, price, whether it is furnished (you can always rent furniture from several businesses on Long Island) and, most important, length of lease.
Still, you want to search elsewhere.
"Many apartment listings get shared on MLS, but not all," says Wendy Sanders, who, with her husband, Craig, oversees Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate's rental division for Long Island. Be sure to ferret out listings on newspaper, realty and real estate websites as well as Craig's List. Some real estate firms are representing properties exclusively. Laffey Fine Homes is listing short-term rentals at a condo complex in Great Neck, says Diane Leyden, the managing director of the firm's Great Neck office. It is also a good idea to approach leasing agents of apartment complexes directly, says Cheryl Messina, who works in the Babylon office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. Avalon Communities across Long Island are offering short-term leases, she and others point out.
And think out of the box: Snowbirds -- those who head south during the winter -- might be willing to rent out their homes while they are away, says Joyce Styne of Laffey's Greenvale office. Real estate agents should be able to help. "You call a Realtor who is very well aware of who goes to Florida and who knows the buildings where they live," she says.
Another idea Styne offers up: working with a builder to rent a newly constructed home that has not yet been sold. In fact, houses on the market that have not sold will probably end up being a popular solution in the housing crisis. "So many of us are sitting on an inventory of empty houses," says Vicky Germaise, a sales associate in Prudential Douglas Elliman's Mattituck office. "Maybe those owners have hit the wall and would be open to renting," she says, explaining that working with real estate agents would be the conduit to such arrangements.
BE CAREFUL OF LEASES AND FEES
"People are looking for three months or six months," Messina says. But she suggests also seeking out a month-to-month lease in the event that work done on a property is completed earlier than scheduled. Most leases are for a year, which means that there will be a penalty for moving out earlier. The reason for that -- each time there is a turnover in occupancy, the landlord incurs expenses such as repainting, refinishing and cleaning a unit after a tenant moves out, says Sanders, who is based in Prudential Douglas Elliman's Great Neck office.
And in case you have not rented in a while, here's a reminder: Many landlords require rent up front, a security deposit and other special fees, such as for pets, says Sanders, pointing out that many are trying to be flexible right now. Also keep in mind that the norm is for agents, they say, to charge a finder's fee, which may be the same as a month's rent.
CONSULT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
"People are moving without knowing what they are covered for because the market is so tight," says Sanders. "They are taking leases without being approved." The risk, of course, is that you might spend money that you won't be reimbursed for, she says. "You can't shop around until you know how much you have to spend," warns Cristina Callegari of Keller Williams Realty Landmark in Bayside.
Agents say that most rentals near areas most affected by the storm, particularly close to ravaged Long Beach, are already taken. The need around these communities will continue to grow as families struggle to land closest to where children attend school. Don't lose hope that you will find a place to live, but be prepared to reconsider your criteria, says Sanders. "Instead of driving five minutes to get your kids to school, you will have to drive 10," says Sanders. "There is only so much you can do."
With summer over, off-season rentals may be available on the East End, Germaise points out. "Renting from November to May might be all someone needs," she adds. Willing to be flexible about showing a house or apartment while you are living there might be the selling point to convince a landlord to allow a short-term lease, says Thomas Musgrove of the firm Your #1 Realty of New York in East Meadow.
"Be accessible -- have your credit already run and your references ready to go," adds Musgrove, who has specialized in Long Island rentals for more than two decades. Seth Levy of Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates in Woodbury suggests gathering other supportive documentation "to show any prospective landlord that you are respectful and pay your bills on time," including pay stubs, tax returns, and W-2 and 1099 forms.
Where to look
Here are six Long Island rentals -- from houses to apartments within houses to apartments in buildings -- available as of press time. There is a mad rush for housing for superstorm Sandy victims, so they may no longer be available by the time of publication. Compiled by Ann Smukler
Bay Shore $1,300 a month
WHERE 162 E. Main St.
LENGTH OF LEASE Flexible
GENERAL DESCRIPTION One bedroom and one bathroom with an eat-in kitchen
USEFUL TO KNOW The apartment has high ceilings, central air-conditioning and hardwood floors
TO GET IN You need to pay one month's security, the first month's rent and a one-month agency fee.
LISTING AGENT Doris Kennedy, Kennedy LI Realty, Bay Shore, 631-666-9100
Syosset $3,850 a month
WHERE 74 Florence Dr.
LENGTH OF LEASE Flexible
GENERAL DESCRIPTION There are four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
USEFUL TO KNOW There is a new kitchen, a deck off the kitchen and a full basement.
TO GET IN You need to pay one-month's security, the first month's rent and a one-month agency fee.
LISTING AGENT Maria Siringo, Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates, 516-316-8654
Oyster Bay $1,679 to $2,614 a month
WHERE Norwich Gate, 600 Pine Hollow Rd.
LENGTH OF LEASE Flexible
GENERAL DESCRIPTION One-bedroom and two-bedrooms apartments
USEFUL TO KNOW The application fee is being waived; the complex works with a discount moving and storage source
PETS Yes, with conditions (dogs under 30 pounds only, with a monthly fee of $50; fee for cats is $25; there is a maximum of two pets per unit; there is also $400 one-time fee per pet)
TO GET IN You need to pay the first month's rent, one month's security and a $225 redecorating fee
LISTING AGENT Nicole Walsh, Heatherwood Communities, 631-878-2525
North Babylon $1,000 a month
WHERE 36 Kime Ave.
LENGTH OF LEASE One year
GENERAL DESCRIPTION One-bedroom, one-bathroom, eat-in kitchen and living room
USEFUL TO KNOW This is an apartment with a separate entry within a private residence.
TO GET IN You need to pay the first month's rent, 11 / 2- month's security and a one-month agency fee.
LISTING AGENTS Josephine Conte, Mary LiVecchi, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Setauket, 631-941-3100
Hicksville $2,500 a month
WHERE 31 Wishing Lane
LENGTH OF LEASE One year
GENERAL DESCRIPTION This expanded Cape has five bedrooms and two bathrooms.
USEFUL TO KNOW There is a newly renovated kitchen as well as a washer and dryer.
TO GET IN You need to pay one month's security, one month of rent in advance and a one-month agency fee.
LISTING AGENT Joan Tramuta, Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 516-384-5025
Garden City $5,690 a month
WHERE Avalon Garden City, 998 Stewart Ave.
LENGTH OF LEASE Eight months
GENERAL DESCRIPTION There are two bedroom and two bathrooms.
USEFUL TO KNOW The 1,930-square-foot unit has a washer and dryer and access to full-service gym.
PETS Yes (there are additional fees)
TO GET IN You need to pay the first month's rent, a $750 security fee and a $125 per adult application fee.
FURNISHED No (rental furniture is available)
LISTING AGENT Wendy Sanders, Prudential Douglas Elliman, 516-498-2119