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When you're renting an apartment in New York City, there are some pretty big monetary hurdles to overcome: You typically need to put down the first month's rent plus a security deposit. Then there's the dreaded broker fee, which typically ranges from 12 to 15 percent of your annual rent, though sometimes as little as one month.
Broker fees are levied by agents who help you find an apartment. In some cases, having an expert do the heavy lifting for you is worth the hefty price tag, if you don’t have time to DIY, can’t find what you want on your own, you're planning to stay put for a couple of years or longer, or your employer is paying for your broker as part of your relocation expenses.
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published in May 2019. We are presenting it again here as part of our winter holiday 2019 Best of Brick week.]
If, however, you have the time and grit to conduct your own search, and want to save some money upfront, there’s the no-fee apartment. These come in two varieties: Apartments you can rent directly from a landlord or management company and apartments where the landlord pays the broker’s fee to entice you to sign a lease. No-fee apartments are prevalent when the market is slow, or in a new building with units to fill, or in an apartment that's hard to rent for some reason. Currently, about 35 percent of new leases in NYC come with no broker fee, a percentage that has been slipping in recent months as landlords gain the upper hand in the market.
If you exhaust the DIY method—or just feel exhausted—sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered by Brick Underground partner Triplemint. A tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment searches of classmates and colleagues, Triplemint will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent versus the usual 12 to 15 percent if the apartment is an "open" listing (versus an "exclusive" listing where the fee is split with the broker holding the listing.) Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
Ready to begin your search? Keep reading for Brick Underground’s newly updated list of the best websites for finding no-fee apartment rentals, listed in alphabetical order. While you’ll likely wade through some duplicate listings across the sites, playing the field will maximize your options.
Good for: Finding an apartment from smaller mom-and-pop-type landlords, especially in the outer boroughs
If you’ve ever hunted for an apartment, bicycle or futon, you’re probably familiar with Craigslist. Its enduring popularity proves that you don’t need a fancy (or even modern) interface with bells and whistles to make an effective real estate tool for both renters and landlords—as long as you use it with discretion.
Under the site’s housing tab, you can choose "all no-fee apartments" or "by-owner apartments," then narrow your search according to your housing preferences. You can then further refine those preferences according to amenities, like whether it has a washer/dryer and whether pets are allowed. The map function is especially useful if you’re looking in a specific neighborhood, and also helps give you a sense of an apartment’s actual location, versus where its poster claims it is. (This is very common switcheroo in NYC real estate, unfortunately.)
But Craigslist is literally a free-for-all, so take care to avoid scams, and only search apartments with photos, which is another filter option. We’d also recommend investigating the building and the neighborhood more closely, including information like bedbug history and neighborhood crime rate (more tips on that here), as well as plugging the address into the city's Building Information System to check on things like outstanding violations. Also look up the name of the management company and broker to see if any red flags appear. For further neighborhood and landlord intel, look up the building on Localize.city and Rentlogic.
2. Facebook/word of mouth/social media/Nextdoor
Good for: Getting an apartment through a personal recommendation
High-tech search options abound, but hearing from a friend of a friend or someone in an online community about an apartment is still a powerful tool in the world of New York City real estate. The best deals and nicest places are often found via well-connected friends, family members, and coworkers, so don’t be bashful—reach out to your network.
Post on Facebook, hit up your college's alumni network, send a mass email to everyone you’ve ever met in the city, and use any of your other social feeds of choice (go ahead and try Twitter or Instagram or even Snapchat to get the word out through those networks are more geared toward sharing photos, videos, and opinions than looking for services). By reaching out you're letting your network know that you're on the hunt. You’ll be surprised by how serendipitously the timing can work out to be.
Good for: Short-term rentals
Taking over someone's apartment is a surefire way to get around having to pay a broker fee and get a deal if you don't need a long-term lease. Renters who need to get out of their lease list their apartments on Leasebreak, so listings here are for less than a year, which can be helpful if you're in between jobs, cities or just looking to try a place out for less time. And if you like the apartment, there's usually a chance you can renew the lease—meaning you'll score a new lease with no broker's fee.
The site has both fee and no-fee listings, and it's simple to search all five boroughs using the “no fee” filter. According to Leasebreak, around half of its results fall into that category. The listings are for sublets, rooms in apartments and entire apartments, and many of the listings are also for furnished spaces. Listings are searchable by how long you want a place as well as move-in and move-out dates.
4. Listings Project
Good for: Vetted listings for artists and creative types
Listings Project is a weekly email list that's carefully curated by Stephanie Diamond and her team and caters to artists and other creative types searching for everything from studio space to sublets to long-term rentals. It has around 400 no-fee apartments listings per week. It started small but has expanded to much of the U.S. plus 70 countries around the world. The email has also evolved over the years, and become increasingly easy to use. The benefit for prospective renters is huge: they can trust that each listing has been vetted by the team. Brokers, apartment managers and third-party services are not permitted to submit apartments.
Diamond says the service is vital to supporting the arts community. "It draws on the belief that we are our best selves when we feel both grounded as individuals and deeply connected to a vibrant, energizing public," she says.
To rent an apartment in New York City, most landlords require you to earn an annual salary of at least 40 to 45 times the monthly rent. If you don't—or if you’re an international employed person, self-employed, non-employed with assets, retired, or an international student or US student—you’ll need to find a guarantor for your lease who earns at least 80 times the monthly rent and lives in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Or you can turn to Insurent Lease Guaranty. Accepted at more than 4,700 buildings across the city representing over 475,000 apartments, Insurent Lease Guaranty is a quick and easy way to get the apartment you want. Click here to learn more.
5. Naked Apartments
Good for: No fee and "low-fee" apartments
About 60 percent of Naked Apartments' listings are for no-fee rentals, which you can find by clicking the "filter" button at the top of the screen and selecting "no fee." (There's also a "low fee" filter that pulls up rentals with broker's fees of 9 percent or less.) The site has a variety of options for no-fee listings across all five boroughs. The majority are concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Naked Apartments was acquired by StreetEasy a few years ago (both are now part of the Zillow Group), though both have their own sets of features. Naked Apartments includes “open” listings (versus exclusive listings), which are advertised by more than one broker, while StreetEasy sticks to verified exclusives. (What this means for you: There are more listings on Naked Apartments, but many of them are duplicates, posted by different agents.) That's why the site gives renters the ability to group duplicate listings, allowing you to choose which broker to contact (i.e., in a no-fee scenario, a situation where the landlord is paying the broker's fee) based on reviews from former clients (brokers can't delete these from the site), and compare apartment descriptions. Seeing how different agents describe the same apartment is a great hack for separating hyperbole from reality, and sussing out which agent might be the most professional to work with. You can also compare broker response time and fees.
The site is also very thorough in vetting its posters. By verifying brokers’ licensing information, checking utility bills and public records for management and FRBO listings they attempt to weed out those who post inaccurate listings.
Other features include the "viewings on demand" tool, which lets renters schedule an apartment viewing by clicking on one button, and the app, which lets you keep track of apartments you've seen with notes, photos, and a checklist to help keep you organized.
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.
Good for: No frills, with quality control
NYBits is one of the oldest rental listings site in New York, and its straightforward interface makes finding no-fee listings easy. The site is refreshingly simple and focuses on transparency. Each listing includes the exact address for the apartment, which is unique, as well as the role of the poster (owner, manager, or broker). The team also researches each post before putting them up. This helps cut down on duplicates as well as bait-and-switch scams, and allows you to research a building on your own more easily. Postings are also limited in how long they can be active.
Also, no fee is the default search setting, though users can also switch to the “all-listings” option. About 60 percent of the site's listings are available without broker’s fees, according to NYBits. You can navigate the site by building type (condo, co-op, rental), neighborhood and companies (brokerage, property managers, individual brokers) and see apartments available in specific buildings.
New features include a map at the bottom of every search results page, which makes it easier to see exactly where all the apartments in the results are located geographically. NYBits also recently created rental alerts. Users can receive notifications when a listing from a preferred building or search criteria appears on the site. And in NYC real estate, time is of the essence.
Good for: Some handy filters, and scoring listings to punish shady behavior
Around 60 percent of listings on RentHop at any given time are no-fee, either listed by the owners, or by a current renter looking to hand over their lease to a new tenant. In fact, by-owner and sublease/leasebreak listings are prioritized on the site, as are exclusives and listings that offer the full address. RentHop has tens of thousands of listings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, searchable by filters for "no fee" or "reduced fee," with the option for a map-based search.
Last year, the site upgraded its system to analyze apartment photos and determine whether they’re relevant to renters—are they of the space itself, or common areas like the gym, or the building’s exterior? The relevance of the photos is included in what's called the "HopScore," which was developed to identify and encourage accurate listings and ethical behavior among real estate professionals. RentHop says the HopScore is what allows them to take open listings because the company's quality control algorithm ranks apartment listings based on "manager responsiveness, listing quality, and freshness." Allowing open listings (and not relying on exclusives) is what allows RentHop to say it has the highest number of rental listings in New York City.
New search filters include: No flexes (only true apartment sizes versus convertible units) and floor plan inclusion. RentHop has also implemented catch-all keyword searches: type in "thick walls" and all 50,000 listings will be parsed.
Scammers are also actively shut down: RentHop employees personally verify email addresses and usually have an actual phone conversation with new listers to make sure they're legit. And if you're on the hunt for someone to share that apartment with, they've got a roommate finder tool, in which renters are matched up with roommates based on the answers given on a questionnaire.
Good for: Getting the 411 on buildings too
StreetEasy is one of the best-known sites in New York City for both sales and rentals. It's part of the Zillow Group, which is, yes, named after the kingpin of search sites in just about every city in the U.S. (The Zillow Group also includes Naked Apartments, Trulia, and Hot Pads.)
StreetEasy features a prominently placed "no-fee only" search filter on the site, as well as the option to save your preferred searches and receive notifications if something new hits that market that fits your criteria. According to StreetEasy, in 2018, 57 percent of its listings were no-fee and the highest concentration of the apartments were in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Williamsburg and Crown Heights.
StreetEasy only accepts exclusive listings—so that means there no duplicate listings from multiple agents for you to wade through—and they are verified with the listing provider. Listings can be provided by agents, brokerages, owners, management companies, or developers and are provided directly or via a syndication vendor.
On both the mobile app and the website, you can connect with an apartment's agent or landlord instantly. (And the app has a useful "map view" feature that lets you see what listings are nearby—ideal for when you're out and about scoping neighborhoods.) The site is also good for research thanks to their building pages, which let you find more info about the specific building an apartment is listed in—things like amenities and zoned public schools—as well as price history so you can see rent trends on comparable apartments.
Honorable mentions and more
One of the more user-friendly options on this list, Zumper has been moved this year to Honorable Mentions because it also operates as a brokerage, collecting fees on rentals of its Zumper Select apartments. That said, the site also offers plenty of no-fee apartments. Zumper even has a specific no-fee page for NYC. According to Zumper, 40 percent of its listings are no-fee, and the rest are either full fee or limited fee. The no-fee listings are easy to filter and identify thanks to badges that indicate the listing type. No-fee listings in Manhattan remain more numerous than in the outer boroughs, but around 25 percent are in Brooklyn, and 10 percent are in Queens. The site allows you to create alerts and offers neighborhood guides, maps, and a mobile app. Zumper also recently rolled out feature that allows users to compare a listing's rent to rent trends in a neighborhood.
Urban Edge features 100 percent no-fee apartments with around 8,000 listings from across the metropolitan area with 30 percent in Manhattan and another 30 percent are in the northern New Jersey area (Hudson, Bergen and Essex counties). About 16 percent are in Westchester and Nassau counties and 9 percent in Fairfield County, Conn, The listings on Urban Edge are from data feeds or from landlords who send in the listings that are entered manually by staff.
Igluu allows users to search specifically for no-fee rentals (about 4,000, or 30 percent of the listings) You can search for listings with photos, deposit free (according to Igluu, it's the only platform in the city that has these two search functions) and guarantor accepted. Igluu's search engine can sometimes bring up unwanted results but the design also includes a Google Map with bright yellow bubbles indicating how many apartments are located in an area. The map is very user-friendly.
Finally, if you're new to the city or just interested in exploring a new neighborhood in a comparatively no-strings way, consider co-living—a growing, trendy new phenomenon where you can rent a fully furnished room in an apartment that's pre-populated with potentially like-minded roommates. There's no broker's fee, and lease terms are far more flexible than a regular apartment lease.