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Why It Is So Hard to Find an Apartment in NYC?

“I’ma make it by any means, I got a pocket full of dreams…”

Alicia Keys

“ I wanna be a part of it…”

Frank Sinatra


Whether we’re from Trenton, or Timbuktu, we all know the lyrics. Alicia, Frank and a host of other singers have been belting out the siren songs that have lured people from all over the world to NYC to fulfil their dreams of living you and having it all. And every year people arrive, they arrive with suitcase, U-Haul or Mom’s Isuzu in tow, ready to become the next seed in the Big Apple’s core. They couch surf, or maybe they rent a short-term sublet while they look.


People in NYC looking for rental apartments run the gamut from home grown native New Yorkers ready to strike out on their own, to college grads new to town, to aspiring artists ready to take on the world. Even though most people moving to New York today are savvy enough to understand that they’re not going to get apartments that look like TV characters’ apartments like Monica’s from Friends or Carrie’s apartment from Sex and the City, they still think they’re going to find something that’s sort of nice at worst. Once they discover that even setting the bar that low yields rotten fruit, they start to despair. Looking for a nice apartment to rent in NYC is hard.

But it’s not impossible.

NYC is a city of renters. The latest stats by Rentcafe show that nearly 65% of New York residents rent their homes; that’s two-thirds of the city’s residents. That means only one-third of the city’s residents own their homes. This means that people obviously find homes. The trick is to find one without going crazy or losing hope. This article will help explain some of the challenges that renters and buyers in New York City face when it comes to finding the homes of their dreams. It will also help give them a better chance of finding their “sort of nice at worst” place!


Why is it so hard to find an apartment?


You just returned home from your first day of looking at apartments. You don’t know whether to cry, laugh, or grab a bourbon. It’s hard. What was described as a cozy apartment ended up being a half-studio so small there was no room to change your mind in it. And that other listing that promised gorgeous rooftop views left out the fact that you needed to climb six long flights of stairs in order to get the apartment, which couldn’t have looked less like the pictures promised. And what about the apartment with the bathroom that was so tiny you couldn’t close the door all the way when you were sitting on the toilet? There are many reasons that it’s so hard to find an apartment in New York City.


In spite of the recent cooldown, the rent is still too $#$%#ed high.

There’s been a construction boom in New York City over the past few years it seems that there’s a new apartment building going up on every corner everywhere you look. Many of these come with amazing amenities, complete with doormen, swimming pools and gyms, on-site laundry (or the unicorn in-unit laundry), items that busy professionals in New York City have come to expect. The thing is, those apartments come with a price tag that is simply out of the reach of many New Yorkers. Recent studies have shown that if we’re going by the 40x yearly rent income requirement required by many NYC landlords, most New Yorkers don’t make the income necessary to live in the neighborhoods they’re applying in. The good news for renters coming to the city is that there’s been a cooling down of NYC apartment rental prices this year. The bad news is that this cooldown doesn’t mean that $5000 per month apartments are suddenly going for $2400 per month. It simply means that the blisteringly, insanely high rental prices are still high, just not as…blistering.


Landlord, Management company, and banks have draconian pre approval processes and requirements

If you are a renter looking for an apartment in New York City. The list of documents you have to bring to the table can be extremely overwhelming, especially for people coming from other cities where you simply have to pay a tiny deposit and the first month prior to moving into an apartment. In New York City, prospective renters usually have to prove that they make a minimum of 40x the rent in a year. This is especially true for people moving into apartments run by . They need to have a credit score of at least 680, preferably higher.


Broker can stand between you and your dream apartment.

Batman would agree: broker fees are the Bane of the Gotham City rental market. In NYC, fees can be as high as 15% of the years rent. Paying someone to find you an apartment in the city seems like a cosmic joke for someone coming from any other part of the country. And don’t go wishing for a time when NYC apartments didn’t have renters’ fees because you’d be heading waaaay back before your comfort level. If you can access it, this 1967 NY Times article laments the idea of renters having to pay brokers fees. 1967. Brokers’ fees are an honor we share only with Boston. The thing is that as frustrating as it can be to pay a broker’s fee when coming up with the deposit and first and last month’s rent is hard enough, good brokers are often the gateway to amazing apartments. Working with a good one can make all the difference in what $2400 per month gets you. Landlords like to work with brokers because they do all of the pre-qualifying work upfront, so that by the time the landlord gets to see you, you’ve already been vetted.


(whine) Everyone wants to live where you want to live!

It’s true; the best draws the most people, driving up the competition for the best spots. This applies to up-and-coming neighborhoods as well as established ones. Yesterday’s no-go is today’s darling, and prices quickly reflect that shift, rising to new heights. This means that it’s more likely that more people will be interested in that amazing apartment that you just know has your name written all over it.


No-fee apartment? No amenities!

Ok, this is not entirely true. There are plenty of no-fee apartments out there that come with the amenities that every adult comes to expect. This is especially true of buildings where you’re dealing directly with the management companies that own them. What’s truer, however, is that the average renter in NYC goes without the amenities that people in other cities come to expect. Tell a friend in Houston that your $3500 per month apartment comes without a washer and dryer or a dishwasher, and they’ll think you’re lying or crazy. Many buildings in NYC don’t have these amenities because they were built years ago before in-unit washer/dryers and dishwashers were standard. These buildings have ancient plumbing systems that couldn’t withstand 100 people doing laundry at the same time. To upgrade the plumbing would be impossible at worst and prohibitively expensive at best. So…save those quarters.

Fake listings litter apartment hunting sites.

Did you hear about the $2400 one-bedroom apartment in Tribeca with the balcony, high ceilings and in-unit washer and dryer? The first clue that this would be a fake listing is that “$2400” and “Tribeca” and “apartment” are in the same sentence. Tribeca is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in NYC where one-bedrooms like this would start at $4500, and that’s without the high ceilings. Unless you personally know the owner, and that owner is doing you a huge favor slashing the rent by two-thirds, there’s no way that this apartment would end up on an apartment listing site. It’s the definition of ‘too good to be true.’ For the eager apartment hunter, it’s easy to get suckered in by these listings. At best, the apartment looks nothing like it was described. At worst, it’s an elaborate scam to relieve you of your hard-earned money.

What can you do to make the apartment-hunting process less awful?

You knew the search would be hard but come on. Here are a few things that you can do to help prevent your wasting your time on your search.


  • First, do your research on the building via! You’ll be able to get first-hand info on the building from people who’ve actually lived there.
  • The early bird gets the worm, so make sure that you have your list of documents together when you’re ready to jump at an apartment. This list includes your most recent paystubs, your W-2 forms and a copy of your latest credit report. Some landlords go deep, wanting information about your bank accounts, investments, etc, so if you really want the apartment, be prepared to hand the information over. If you have your docs ready to go, you could snag the space.
  • Do your due diligence and make sure that you’re seeing an actual apartment for rent and not falling head first into a scam. Google is your friend in this case. If you’re renting from a private landlord, make sure that the landlord is who he says he is. Google the address to find out the owner. Use free services like the NYC Department of Finance’s ACRIS site to find out who really owns the apartment or building that you’re interested in. Arm and protect yourself with knowledge.
  • If you’re working with a broker and you’re worried that the fees are too high but you can’t get the money from your parents or elsewhere, consider asking your broker if they’d work out a payment plan with you. This could be a really great option for an apartment you’ve fallen in love with and that you plan on staying in for a while.
  • Don’t hand over cash. Just don’t do it. Hand over a check and only hand it over when you’ve got a signed lease.
  • Consider getting a roommate if you must live in the neighborhood of your dreams but it’s too expensive for you to do it alone. Finding a great roommate is another article entirely, but finding a great roommate could mean living the NYC life of your dreams.
  • See if you can take advantage of the current market slowdown by negotiating with your potential landlord. Many of them are offering concessions that include perks like lower rent and free months.
  • If you’re moving into an amenity-free private apartment, see if you can negotiate on that a little. If you must have a dishwasher and the apartment you’ve fallen in love with doesn’t have one, see if the landlord would be willing to work out an arrangement with you. You could by the dishwasher, and the landlord could install it. You get the amenity you dream of, and your landlord gets a better apartment. Win-win!



Finding an apartment in New York City doesn’t have to be a nightmare you never wake up from until it’s time for you to start the process all over again. Being smart about your search can have you belting out your own NYC ballads in no time.

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