Looking for a roommate you can count on to pay their share of the rent in order to afford living in New York City? Financially that plan makes a lot of sense, but despite being a well-traveled path there’s still the potential for many pitfalls—I should know.
Fresh out of law school and new to NYC, I was determined to find a reasonable apartment without compromising safety and living standards (in other words, no bathtub in the middle of the kitchen). So when I landed a lease for a one bedroom flex on the Upper West Side with Central Park views—from the bathroom, and only when standing on tiptoe—I set out to do what countless other recent grads and thrifty thirty-somethings have done: Search for a stranger to share my habitat, an unfamiliar proposition in a pre-Airbnb era.
Back then, there just weren’t as many roommate-finding options as there are today. My first “matchmaker roomie” quickly became my BFF (and still is to this day), not so my second or third; turns out I had the same success rates when bunking with friends of friends or alumni connections. Which just goes to show that modern-day algorithms can indeed trump old-fashioned analog methods (aka word of mouth), though each method has its pros and cons.
Regardless of which route you take—be it combing through ads on Craigslist (my own go-to) or leveraging a roommate-finder service to do the screening for you (one out of three fails on my own scorecard)—the takeaways are the same: Always do your due diligence. Ask your friends and colleagues for their favorite roommate-finding sites and check for reviews on Yelp and other sites. Pose these 21 questions to prospective roommate candidates, be on the lookout for tell tale signs of potentially problematic roommates, and keep your radar tuned to common roommate scams. And remember: For every scam story you hear there are hundreds of roomie-turned-bestie (or even romantic partner) tales.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article was published in August 2019. We are presenting it again with updated information for June 2021.]
Two more lessons to live by when perusing any site or profile: Go with your gut and have an open mind.
Start your search with Brick Underground’s top 11 sources, any one of which will help you make your own auspicious roommate match (or two or three)—and add to your own only-in-NYC narrative.
Need help finding a rental that allows temporary walls—or a landlord who will accept multiple guarantors? The rental experts at Triplemint, a Brick Underground partner, know exactly where to look. If you sign up here, you can also take advantage of Triplemint's corporate relocation rate—where you'll pay a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent on open listings. Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
Since it was founded in 2014, NYC-based Diggz has expanded into 22 other cities across the U.S. Registering your profile involves completing a lengthy Q and A that probes into your usual sleep pattern, cleaning habits, and other lifestyle matters. Once you are all signed up, Diggz’s proprietary algorithm ranks your potential roommates so the most promising ones are at the top of the list, which you can further refine with search filters (no poring over dead-end profiles). Then it’s up to you to “like” any of those people and, if they “like” you back (a la Tinder or Bumble), to chat with your “matches” through the application before sharing any personal contact information.
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There’s also Diggz Premium Membership if you want to communicate with potential roommates quicker, get unlimited “likes,” and get extra filters if you’re extra picky. If you would prefer to pair up with someone in searching for a new home, Diggz can do that too.
SpareRoom lets you search by zip code or area right from the home page or to go to its advanced search function with the usual (no smoking, pets considered) and not-so-usual (vegetarians preferred, utilities included) filters. You can even screen out any for-fee apartments and agent listings.
The staff also vets all postings to make sure they are legit. If all the above isn’t incentive enough to sign up, get this: Every month SpareRoom awards a different “Live Rent Free” contest winner a free month’s rent and matches that amount in a charitable donation to Breaking Ground, an organization which fights homelessness in NYC.
As its name proudly proclaims, Rainbow Roommates intentionally caters to the LGBTQ+ and gay-friendly community in and around NYC, for a truly localized and specialized experience. Apartment listers can do so for free, while apartment hunters must sign up for a subscription that’s designed to protect the privacy of the participants.
There are three types of memberships ranging in price from $30 for a 15-day account to $93 for 90 days. If those fees seem steep, it might be worth it if you need to find a new home quickly, something the site claims to do (in as little as two weeks on average). Furthermore, if you discover within the first two months that a roommate found through the site is not working out, Rainbow Roommates will give you a one-month free membership so you can find a more suitable situation.
If you count yourself among the many creative professionals in NYC and want an ultra-personal service and no bait-and-switch postings, Listings Project is a bit of a local legend.
Initially launched as the personal project of Stephanie Diamond to help artists like herself find living spaces (and work studios) in NYC, the site has grown into a full-fledged operation that offer rooms (and entire apartments) to rent or sublet, with 300 to 400 no-fee listings on their site each week.
Those looking to list an apartment pay about a $30 fee. Someone from Diamond’s team then goes through each listing to weed out brokers and agents, personally notifying posters if they’ve been approved.
People who are looking for a room to rent then sign up (for free) to receive a weekly email that’s sent out each Wednesday morning, and word of mouth has it that you had better act fast or lose out on the choicest options...or try your luck again the next week (hint: set a recurring reminder on your phone).
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Padmapper isn’t specifically a roommate-search site, nor does it operate as such. That said, you can easily trawl around the interactive map (hence the site’s name) for places that fit your customizable criteria.
A few pointers are in order for room hunters: You’ll need to select the “room” option under “more filters” on the basic search page to find a share, and you won’t receive much in the way of information about who you will be sharing living space with. The results also include listings from Airbnb as well as brokers, which may be a turn-off, though you can filter out Airbnb and for-fee listings. Currently, there are just over 120 rooms available on the site, but watch out for furnished rooms, Airbnbs, and places designated for college students (there are filters for this too).
With “find a roommate without scams” and “we take out the trash for you” as their taglines, RoomieMatch injects a bit of cheeky fun into what can be an onerous process. Its multiple-choice personality quiz delves deep into such quirks as your household clothing preferences, typical television viewing, comfort level with “potential promiscuity,” and what happens to takeout (“I’d rather just use the fridge to chill beer” being one possible response).
RoomieMatch is also a good choice if you tend to shy away from having all your personal information published on the web for anyone to see, since matches are emailed directly to users. If you want to be more proactive and contact anyone yourself, you’ll need to upgrade to the $20 “Cheap Roommate Search” yearly subscription, which might be worth it if you are a frequent subletter or tend to move a lot. And should you need to find another roommate within the 12-month period, the subscription will be gratis.
Brooklyn-based RoomZoom started the same way most good ideas start: Founder Elien Blue Becque was sick of sifting through the dumping ground of Craigslist every time she needed to fill a room in her affordable Williamsburg apartment, which yielded hundreds of emails from people. RoomZoom asks you first to create an account, then fill out a questionnaire that addresses roommate expectations, like level of cleanliness and capacity for social gatherings. According to their site, only about 40 percent of applicants are accepted, so it’s important to complete your profile thoroughly.
The company then creates matches based on budget, lifestyle, and living habits, and sends them back in the form of a ranked list. Of course, AI hasn’t yet taken the place of good old-fashioned personal connection, so once you receive your matches, you can view in-depth profiles of your potential roommates, and message them if they seem like a good fit.
Global and expansive, Roomi is the big (friendly) kid on the block. Like other sites, you can either look for a room to rent or for someone to move into your own apartment. Roomi is free to use but has optional paid features including identification verification, background checks, and profile boosts. This helps potential roommates know you’re verified.
When you click on an individual’s page, for example, you can immediately see if they are been verified along with the person’s name (and photo), verified social media accounts, age, work history, personal summary, and self-ascribed tags such as “foodie, night owl, healthy, bookworm, early riser,” allowing you to glean a lot from an initial glance before deciding whether to chat with that person through the site. You’ll also find roommate preferences for things like how often they clean and if they smoke.
This tried-and-true roommate resource is still the go-to for many New Yorkers, who (like my younger me) offer “skipping the middleman” and “I use Craigslist for everything” as reasons for sticking with it despite tales of scams and other infamy.
As with any of the sites listed here, you need to go with your gut and remain vigilant. Always be sure to meet prospective roommates in a public space and preferably with some friends to help size up any candidates (and to make sure they will get along); and connect via social media to get a sense of a person’s profile. (For more tips, read "How to find a room (and roommate) on Craigslist—and avoid the freaks.")
As with Craigslist, Reddit requires a healthy degree of skepticism and stellar judgment skills to navigate successfully. But if you’re willing to do some wading, reddit.com/r/NYCapartments is generally packed with listings.
You can also find a lot of New Yorkers looking for roommates and asking other real-estate related questions on reddit.com/r/AskNYC. Another pro (or con, depending on your perspective) of this freewheeling forum is that you may find yourself poring over lengthy threads about only-in-NYC queries and complaints (such as the exorbitant cost of application fees) to find actual listings, though if you are new to the rental market you might pick up a few helpful hints along with a new apartment-mate.
What’s great about GhostlightHousing, a private Facebook group, is its “members only” intimacy and exclusivity. You’ll need to request to join—and in doing so to demonstrate that you are an active part of the NYC performing community. Once you’re in, though, you’re privy to a wide range of listings because there are almost 184,000 members.
Note that many of the listings are cross-posted from Craigslist, though when it comes to responses, even a tangential connection with someone forged through a private Facebook group is preferable to no connection at all, putting you at the top of the heap.
—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Lauren Evans.