For some NYers, renting a separate studio is the answer to the WFH dilemma

By Jennifer White Karp  |
December 17, 2020 - 3:30PM

This studio, 88 Greenwich St., #3003, is available as a home office and is asking $2,400 a month with no broker fee.

Bond New York/StreetEasy

Some New Yorkers are finding the whole work-from-home scenario tough to pull off because their apartments are too crowded, noisy, or lack privacy for video calls. For those who are not going back to the office anytime soon, the solution is to rent a separate studio apartment to use as a home office.

If you can swing it financially, it makes sense on several levels: A residential apartment provides a more socially distanced way to work than a shared co-working space, there are more studios on the market, and they’re increasingly affordable.

In fact, rents for studios have been dropping steadily for months. According to the Elliman Report, in Manhattan, the median rent for a studio in November was $2,150, down from $2,600 in June and in Brooklyn, the median rent for a studio last month was $2,123, down from $2,500 in June.

Josh Sarnell, a broker at The Corcoran Group, rented several studio apartments recently to New Yorkers looking for a place to work.

“I’ve rented an apartment to two people who are working for a non-profit that is temporarily closed. I’ve also rented studios to personal trainers and yoga instructors to use as private studios for one-on-one sessions with clients,” he says.  

A studio apartment in the same building as a primary residence is a solution for the juggling act that working parents are faced with these days.

In one rental building on the Upper West Side, he’s worked with parents who rented a studio apartment down the hall from their primary home to use as a work-from-home space, so they can take turns working uninterrupted by their children but still be nearby.

Sarnell found this to be the solution for his own family as well.

“My wife and I rented the studio next door to our apartment to use as an ‘office annex.’ We just put a desk and our other office furniture in there and are able to access the wi-fi through the shared wall. My wife works from home in HR and we have an 18-month-old son. Last night for example, my wife got some work done while I gave our son a bath, then we switched off and she put him to bed while I worked.”

Staying on the right side of the law

Keep in mind that while you can run a business from your apartment, a so-called home occupation, New York City zoning rules limit home-based business to 25 percent of the total floor area, and no more than 500 total square feet of floor area.

To avoid getting in trouble for using a residential space as a commercial space, it’s important that the studio apartment be used solely by the renter—you can’t run a business that requires foot traffic, or staff.

Those are the requirements BOND New York agents explain to tenants, and Michael Cohen, an agent at BOND New York, says that these days, studios are more readily available because renters are able to trade up to a one bedroom with concessions for what they would have previously paid for a studio.

What you can expect to pay

Cohen worked with an attorney who wanted a studio to use as an office. Cohen found a studio in a luxury doorman studio on 89th Street and Fifth Avenue. “The unit was in rough shape and the landlord was only requesting $1,800,” Cohen says. His client made an offer of $1,600 that was accepted.

He says renters looking for an apartment to use as an office should approach it like a typical apartment search and then ask the landlord if it can be used as an office. It's rare to see a studio apartment listing that explicitly says it is for use for work from home. Perhaps that will change as work from home becomes permanent for more companies.

Cohen is already on the bandwagon. His listing for a studio in Fidi, 88 Greenwich St., #3003, says it is available as a home office or furnished apartment rental. It’s in a luxury doorman building with a concierge and lots of amenities. It is asking $2,400 a month with no broker fee.

Try renting a condo as an office

Marisol Bañuelos, an agent at Keller Williams NYC, is also fielding queries from renters looking for studios to use as home offices. She says some renters may have luck in condo buildings where the owners are out of town for an extended period.

Bañuelos has a seller who is waiting to go to contract who is renting out her furnished pied-à-terre on a month-to-month basis to a neighbor for use as a home office.

There wasn’t much that needed to be done. “He moved the bed to the closet and set up a desk,” she says.



Jennifer White Karp

Managing Editor

Jennifer steers Brick Underground’s editorial coverage of New York City residential real estate and writes articles on market trends and strategies for buyers, sellers, and renters. Jennifer’s 15-year career in New York City real estate journalism includes stints as a writer and editor at The Real Deal and its spinoff publication, Luxury Listings NYC.

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