15 insider tips for renting an apartment in NYC
- Negotiating is tough when it comes to NYC apartments, but not impossible
- Preparing paperwork in advance can help give you an edge
- Understand how a month or two of free rent impacts your month-to-month cost
Finding an apartment to rent in New York City typically is a challenging experience—and right now, especially so. Rents are dramatically higher than they were a year ago. There are also very few apartments available and bidding wars are far more frequent, making apartment hunting an incredibly frustrating experience.
To land a NYC apartment now, you need to be persistent, do your research, and if necessary be prepared to pay even more than the landlord is asking.
Paying more may sound shocking, but “the reality is—it’s a landlord’s market,” explains Gary Malin, chief operating officer at real estate brokerage Corcoran. Even if you’re an experienced renter, there are strategies you should brush up on to track down the best deal and to avoid rushing into a lease and then regretting it. Read on for more advice.
[Editor’s Note: A previous version of the article ran in May 2021. We are presenting it again here with updated information for March 2023.]
1. If you're working with a broker, find a good one
Try to avoid renting a place sight unseen. You risk falling for bait-and-switch schemes, when prospective tenants are enticed with photos but find the apartment is really a different substandard one by the time they get the keys. If you use a virtual tour to check out apartments, make sure you are working with a reputable broker, cross-check information (Google the location and the landlord's name to see what other renters are saying), and ask lots of questions.
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Not all agents have shady intentions, but some disreputable ones try to attract clients by advertising too-good-to-be-true apartments that are not actually available (or at least not at that price). For more on this, read: "Don’t fall for any of these real estate scams." Additionally, checking out a listing in an unfamiliar area or with a broker you’ve never met can put you in a vulnerable position. Consider your personal safety and read: "10 ways to stay safe while apartment hunting in NYC."
Rather than finding an agent through a listing, try to get a personal recommendation from a friend or your company's relocation office.
Another good resource is Brick Underground partner TheAgencyre.com—a tech-savvy brokerage that's helped hundreds of Brick Underground readers find their ideal NYC apartments. (Bonus: If you sign up here, The Agency will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent.)
If you're using a real estate agent, be sure to get an agreement in writing that the agent will disclose any broker fees paid by the landlord and offset your fee by that amount. Unscrupulous agents double-dip without disclosing; they may also steer you toward fee-paid apartments, skipping over a potentially better choice for you.
Determined to skip the broker's fee? Here's a list of the best websites to find a no-fee rental in New York City.
2. Know what you want and ask lots of questions
Figure out what’s most important to you—whether it’s size, price, location, or amenities—and then determine where you’d be willing to compromise.
If you're dealing directly with an on-site leasing agent at a large, no-fee building, understand that even if there are 10 or 20 vacancies, you might only be told about two or three. (Owners typically hold apartments back from the market to put themselves in a better position to negotiate.) So make sure you are extremely clear about what you want—there may be another unit available that fits your needs even better.
Also, the leasing agent won't always volunteer information about any concessions, so remember to ask. Sometimes offered in lieu of lowering an apartment’s asking rent, concessions are more common when the market is slow or in a new building that is leasing up. That might include things like one or two months of free rent, the owner paying the broker’s fee, or free access to building amenities. Unfortunately, bidding wars for rentals are more common than concessions right now.
3. Get your paperwork prepared in advance
Brokers stress the importance of having all your paperwork ready to go. That means you need to have your most recent tax returns, two recent bank statements, a letter of employment or two recent pay stubs, and a scanned copy of your photo ID, as well as signed agency and fair housing disclosures.
Some landlords may ask for a letter of recommendation from your prior landlord. What they really want to know is whether you paid your rent on time. The second thing they want is to know if you're a quiet, clean neighbor.
If you have a pet, make sure you have a letter from the vet confirming they are up to date on vaccinations.
4. Line up a guarantor if you need one
If you don't meet the landlord's annual income requirement—which is usually at least 40 times the monthly rent—you might need to use a guarantor, who is someone who lives in the tri-state area and earns 80 times the monthly rent or has that in bank, savings, or a stock market account if they’re retired.
Usually this person is a close relative, but if you don’t have someone who can help out, you might be able to ask a friend or ask if your roommate has someone who can be the guarantor for both of you.
Another option is to use an institutional guarantor. For example, Brick Underground sponsor Insurent will act as a guarantor for a fee of 70 to 90 percent of one month’s rent.
5. Know when and what to negotiate
Negotiating with a landlord is tough in a very competitive market like this one, or during the rental season’s busy summer months (between May and August). Some signs you have some leverage might include an apartment that has been on the market longer than normal (a couple of days in a competitive market, and multiple days or several weeks in a slow market); a problem of access to the apartment (the current tenant won't allow you to see it); or an apartment in bad condition.
Generally speaking these days, landlords have the upper hand and many renters are being asked for best and final offers when there are multiple applications. Not all landlords will take the applicant offering the highest rent (renters need to be well-qualified too) but understanding the market—and knowing what comparable apartments are renting for—puts you in the best position to succeed.
Many renters find they have better success negotiating perks rather than rent—things like free gym membership or bike storage, or asking for a small improvement to the apartment such as replacing an appliance or having the floor refinished.
Gross Rent Calculator
Some New York City landlords offer a free month (or more) at the beginning or end of a lease. The advertised rent is the net effective rent. The net effective rent is less than the amount you will actually have to pay --- known as your gross rent --- during your non-free months.
Brick Underground's Gross Rent Calculator enables you to easily calculate your gross rent, make quick apples-to-apples comparisons between apartments and avoid expensive surprises. All you'll need to figure out your gross rent is 1) the net effective rent, 2) the length of your lease, and 3) how many free months your landlord is offering. [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]
To learn more about net effective versus gross rents, read What does 'net effective rent' mean?.
If the landlord is offering partial months free, enter it with a decimal point. For example, 6 weeks free rent should be entered as 1.5 months.
5. Know the difference between advertised rent and what you’ll actually pay
When landlords offer concessions like a month or two of free rent to encourage you to sign a lease, they advertise the “net effective rent”. The net effective rent includes a discount, while the "gross" rent is what the landlord is charging you without the discount. It's vitally important to keep both numbers in mind. Sometimes the free rent savings is deducted from your gross rent over the lease term, and other times you pay the gross rent and get your free month at the beginning or end of your lease.
To easily calculate gross rent, use Brick Underground’s gross rent calculator.
7. Manage expectations about noise and pets
Landlords will be hesitant to rent to anyone they think will make a lot of noise, so you may not want to mention, for example, your need to rehearse your saxophone to a prospective landlord or even to your rental agent, who has a long-term interest in keeping the landlord happy.
(Obviously, you need to be a good, respectful neighbor, so you can’t have a jam session whenever you want.) If you have noisy kids or play an instrument, you might want to consider a ground-level apartment or install extra soundproofing.
Have a pet? Many landlords eased their restrictions on pets and bigger dog breeds during the pandemic, so finding an apartment where dogs are allowed isn't as hard as it used to be. That said, even if an apartment is advertised as pet-friendly, some dogs above a certain weight (typically 30-50 pounds) may be restricted. Some buildings may even want to screen your dog before you move in (it’ll be a temperament assessment, behavior training, or another type of evaluation) to ensure they’ll be a good resident.
8. Consider renting a co-op or condo
The application process in a co-op or condo is slower, because you have to pass a board interview, and it can be more expensive as a result of higher, one-time fees, but renting a condo or (especially) a co-op can give you an apartment with higher-quality finishes and nicer amenities in a more well-maintained building.
Most co-op buildings restrict the length of time owners can rent out their units to two years in any seven-to-10-year period, so if you're looking for a more permanent living situation, a condo or regular rental building is a better option. Some condos have term limits too, but they're less strict for the most part.
Make sure your application has been approved by the board (not just the owner) or you can be kicked out after you've moved in. Also, be sure to ask if, as a renter, you will be excluded from any amenities like bike storage, roof deck, or gym, or from having pets.
9. Tap your personal networks
Your personal and professional networks can help you in your apartment search. Let your friends and colleagues know what you are looking for either through social media or in conversation.
You may be uncomfortable revealing your needs and your budget to a wider circle, but it's also possible an owner prefers renting to someone they are connected to rather than a complete stranger.
10. Look for a sublet or lease takeover
Most renters in NYC can legally sublet their apartments for a minimum of 30 days—even if their lease says otherwise—so long as certain procedures are followed and the landlord is notified in writing of the intention to sublet. The leaseholder remains responsible for the rent and for any damage to the apartment.
A lease takeover, also known as a lease assignment, is different. The lease is assigned to a new renter, who must be approved by the landlord and have their finances and background checked. The original tenant is no longer responsible for rent or damages, and the new tenant gets an apartment for the remainder of the lease term without paying a broker fee. There’s often an option to sign a new lease when the original one expires, though not necessarily at the same rent.
11. Check the building amenities against your lease
If your building has a roof deck, gym, bike storage, or other amenities, make sure your access (and any fees) are included in the lease. Sometimes you can ask for the management company to waive the fees.
12. Know your bedbug rights
If you’ve never experienced bedbugs, you want to keep it that way. You are legally entitled to a written disclosure of the building's bedbug history when you sign a lease. To spare yourself a headache, ask about the bedbug history up front. You can't be sure you're going to get an honest answer, but it can't hurt to come across as aware and proactive.
Also check the Bedbug Registry as well as the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development website if you want to find out about ongoing infestation or poor management.
13. Know how to assess a building for kid-friendliness
Looking for a building with lots of families—or one with a more adults-only vibe? Anti-housing discrimination laws prevent real estate agents from discussing whether a building is family friendly or not (or even whether the local schools are good.)
Signs of a kid-friendly building include lots of family-sized apartments (two bedrooms and up) and a well-tended playroom.
You can also speak to the doorman—maybe you’ll luck out with the best doorman ever—or park yourself outside the building before or after school to see if you notice families coming in or out of the building.
14. Perform a late-night soundcheck
Before you sign your lease, visit the building late at night (with a friend, if necessary) to see if any rooftop bars or nightclubs might pose a threat to your peace and quiet. It might not be a deal breaker: Street noise can often be mitigated with some soundproofing.
15. Consider a temporary, short-term rental
If you need somewhere temporary to stay, you might consider a short-term rental. Short-term corporate rental apartments can work if you are in-between apartments or renovating your place. Be warned, there are lots of scams out there.
For more information, read: "How to rent a short-term, furnished apartment in NYC without getting scammed." Another option is to check out co-living spaces (sort of like adult dorms) if you want a turnkey rental with flexible leasing options.
Need more tips and practical advice for bringing your A-game to your search? Read "How to move to NYC: A crash course in finding an apartment here" and Brick Underground's step-by-step guide to renting in NYC.
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