The Search

How to avoid the competition when you're hunting for a NYC rental apartment

  • Tap your personal social networks to find an apartment or sublet
  • Contact the management at large rental buildings to see what's available
By Emily Myers | December 22, 2022 - 12:30PM

Tapping your personal networks is often a viable way of landing an apartment in NYC.


Finding a rental in New York City can be daunting because rents remain close to all-time highs and there’s lots of competition. Using a broker can improve your chances of getting the place you want, but makes the process even more expensive because you have to pay a broker fee.

If you’re on a tight budget, under pressure to find a new rental, and keep losing places to other renters, you may be wondering if there is an alternative route. Turns out you don't necessarily need to go the traditional path of scouring listing sites and dealing with brokers. Read on for different ways of landing an apartment in NYC.

Pro Tip:

Need help finding an apartment you love in one of the most competitive markets ever? Put your search into the capable hands of The Agency, a tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues. The Agency will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent on open listings instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent if you sign up here. Bonus: The agents at The Agency are a delight to deal with.

1) Find a rental or sublet through your networks

Hearing from someone in your online community about an available apartment is still a powerful tool when it comes to finding a place to live in NYC. The best deals and nicest places are often found via well-connected friends and coworkers, so don’t be shy—reach out to your network. Maybe a friend is moving out of an apartment you’ve always admired, and you can scoop it up before it even hits the market.

Most renters in NYC can legally sublet their apartments for a minimum of 30 days—even if their lease says otherwise—as long as certain procedures are followed and the landlord is notified in writing of the intention to sublet. With a sublet, the original tenant is still responsible for the rent so if you take on the sublet you pay the person you sublet from, and they pay the landlord.

A sublet is different from a lease assignment, where the landlord agrees to assign the lease to a new renter, subject to a landlord's checks and approval. With an assignment, you get the apartment for the remainder of the lease term without paying a broker fee. 

Leasebreak is a site that helps renters get out of their lease early. Here you'll find short-term rentals, shares, and full-term rentals. Nextdoor is also a hyper local site organized by neighborhood where members are verified and you may find posts about available apartments in your neighborhood.

Pro Tip:

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 U.S. 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.

2) Consider a temporary, short-term rental

Short-term corporate rental apartments can be a solution if you are in-between apartments, renovating your place, or want to delay your search until later in the winter when there is less competition. If you choose this route, you should know you pay a premium for furnished short-term rentals and beware of scams. Start with this essential reading: “Need a short-term rental in NYC? Read these temporary housing FAQs first”

Airbnb, of course, offers short-term rental options although if you’re renting for more than a month, the platform defines this as a long-term rental. VRBO also has a presence in NYC. For more options, read: "An insider's guide to finding a short-term furnished rental in NYC."

3) If you’re an individual renter, consider co-living 

Depending on the size of your household, you may want to check out co-living spaces. This option typically appeals to individual renters (rather than families) who are looking for flexibility, convenience, and a built-in social life. 

Co-living companies typically handle the entire rental process, including matching you with roommates, and you can also opt to rent an entire apartment to yourself with leases available for one to 12 months. 

4) Apply for an apartment through the NYC housing lottery

If your income falls within a specific income bracket you may be able to apply for a coveted rent-regulated apartment through NYC Housing Connect, otherwise known as New York’s affordable housing lottery. This route won’t give you an immediate solution for finding a place to live—the NYC housing lottery can take months or even years—but landing a rent-stabilized apartment provides long-term affordability for renters offering capped rent increases and automatic lease renewals. 

Keep in mind, it’s called a lottery for a reason—to successfully land one of these below-market rate units, you need plenty of luck and persistence. For more, check out “Six steps for applying to NYC's affordable housing lottery.”

5) Put technology to work for you

It makes sense to start looking for an apartment six weeks before you want to move or your current lease ends. Within that time frame, put your tech to work for you: With an account at listing sites like StreetEasy, you can get daily updates of new and updated listings that match your filters. This allows you to be notified of every possible option that has potential. Be ready to see apartments as soon as they come online. Have your paperwork ready in a digital format you can easily email to a listing agent. 

Clear your calendar for Thursdays and Fridays and be available to see apartments before the weekend. Newly vacated apartments typically come online later in the week for the weekend and it can help to see apartments before everyone else does on Saturday.

Also, check your spam folder in case a response to an email about an apartment has ended up in your junk mail. And avoid other first-time renter mistakes like having unrealistic expectations about the apartment you can afford. 

6) Offer to start the lease early

Can you move within a few days of seeing the apartment? Landlords don't want their apartments sitting empty so if you can start the lease in the middle of the month (earlier than the typical first of the month move-in date) your application may become more appealing to a landlord.

The summer is normally the busiest time in the rental market and that means landlords usually want leases to start and end between May and August. If you’re looking between November and March and are open to a 16 or 18 month lease term, that might put you towards the top of the applicant pool.

7) Identify the building you want to live in

If you are flexible on the layout or floor you want to live on, large rental buildings may have more availability than appears online. Often landlords hold back apartments, known as shadow inventory, to boost demand. Reach out to the management company directly to see what they have available.

Perhaps you have outgrown a studio or want to move on from a roommate situation—if you live in a building that’s part of a group of buildings run by a leasing agent or property manager, you may have luck moving to another unit. This doesn’t mean you avoid the broker fee—many large buildings have brokers that work exclusively for the building and might split the fee with the property managers. 

8) Consider buying rather than renting

It’s a perennial question for those who can afford it—should you rent or buy in NYC? Uncertain economic conditions may have you steering towards a rental but buying can be a hedge against rising rents (and higher sales prices in the future). 

If your main obstacle is coming up with the required 10 to 20 percent down payment, there are some first-time buyer loans and programs available to New Yorkers, including mortgages that only require 3 percent down. 

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. 


Emily Myers

Senior Writer/Podcast Producer

Emily Myers is a senior writer, podcast host, and producer at Brick Underground. She studied journalism at the University of the Arts, London, and graduated with a MA Honors degree in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh. As host of the Brick Underground podcast she has earned three awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.