While house rent in the Bronx is more affordable than Manhattan, if you're coming from out of the area, be prepared for sticker shock. Size, quality and amenities vary considerably. You may end up in a turn-of-the-century studio the size of a closet, where the only amenity is electricity, or you could enjoy a modern two-bedroom apartment with hardwood floors and wonderful views, perched on top of a tower with a heated pool, rooftop deck and doorman.
The only way to be sure of what you're getting is to visit. Time your tour for when everyone else is at home in the building, so you get a sense of how active the community is and how peaceful your potential place is going to be. Paper-thin walls may force you to listen to sweet-nothings from the lovebirds next door and inadequate ventilation may clue you in to who's eating pasta again tonight.
Try everything out at least once in your potential housing for rent. Open and close all closet and bedroom doors, turn light switches on and off, try the climate controls and run the faucets to observe the drains. If you discover any problems, have your landlord write down the fixes and commit to having them done before you sign on the dotted line. Verbal promises have a way of taking forever to fulfill, if they're ever accomplished at all.
Co-ops may look superficially like apartments because some are located in low-rises and skyscrapers. They may also act like condominiums because units are individually owned. They're their own animal, though, so you better be aware of the differences if you score one as your rental home.
Co-ops are membership entities that grant each owner the right to occupy a unit. If you rent a co-op, just as with any private lease, you'll most likely negotiate with a single individual. However, you'll also need to contend with a board of elected representatives, who have the final say in who lives in the complex. If the reps meet only once a month, which is typical, you may need to wait that long to get your application approved.
The number and boundaries of Bronx neighborhoods grow more indistinct with each new population and urban development. The City Planning Commission tallies 49 hoods, the borough president claims that there are 61 and the Mayor's Community Assistance Unit counts 68, according to a New York Times article. The following are just the two major divisions of the borough, each having many smaller neighborhoods.
East Bronx: A relatively flat area lying east of the Bronx River, the East Bronx includes such neighborhoods as Pelham Bay, Parkchester, Van Nest, Morris Park and Eastchester. The housing options include single-unit homes, older tenements, public housing complexes and five-story apartment buildings. The nautically inspired city island looks very much like a fishing village in New England and contains several marinas, yacht clubs and boat yards.
West Bronx: This hillier expanse rises in both elevation and desirability, like in the lush park and forest greenery of Riverdale. This neighborhood is known for its early 20th-century mansions, although it also contains more modern smaller homes and apartment buildings. In contrast, the South Bronx is one of the more affordable, and some say, least desirable, areas of New York, with high-density apartment towers, multi-unit dwellings and public housing developments. Other neighborhoods in the West Bronx include Bedford Park, Woodlawn, Port Morris, Belmont and University Heights.
While the urban delights of Manhattan are nearby, there's also plenty to do in the Bronx itself.
One of the best places to drop your dough is at the Hub, where East 149th, Third, Willis and Melrose meet in the South Bronx. You'll find almost everything in this bustling business district, ranging from toy trucks to big-screen TVs. This miniature Times Square also boasts theaters and more risqu forms of evening entertainment. The Bronx Terminal Market puts big-box stores, like Home Depot and Staples, in one location. For a selection of individual boutiques and well-known chains, try Fordham Road.
For fun that's less strenuous on the wallet, head for Pelham Bay Park. With 600 acres, it's New York City's largest park property and boasts 13 miles of saltwater shoreline, as well as two golf courses and lots of hiking and horse trails. Bronx Park schools you in plants at its New York Botanical Gardens and in wild creatures at its Bronx Zoo.
Get a taste of people power through the community's many events. Catch the Bronx Culture Trolley on the first Wednesday evening of each month for a quick dip into the borough's hot spots. The Salsa Fest offers international flavor in a month-long celebration of south-of-the-border entertainment, art, food and drink. Cheer the participants or ride your own two wheels in the Tour de Bronx, which encourages a non-race through a 25-mile or 40-mile route. Finally, the City Island Arts and Crafts Fairs put together the best in juried artwork for sale as often as twice a year.
Almost everyone in the Bronx is carless and gets around on the subway, which stops at over 70 stations. If you want to travel above-ground by rail, hop on the Metro-North commuter trains from 11 stations. The Metropolitan Transit Authority offers over 40 local and a dozen express buses.
Those who prefer to travel privately can take their wheels to Manhattan on three major north-south avenues: Third, Park or Broadway. (East-west thoroughfares are easier to track because their names start with East or West, depending on their side of Jerome Avenue.) Connecting with other areas are seven limited-access highways, such as the New England Thruway to Connecticut, the Bronx River Parkway to Westchester County and the Major Deegan Expressway, part of I-87 all the way to the Canadian border.