How Do You Find an Apartment in N.Y.C. These Days?
It’s not an easy time to find an apartment to rent in New York City.
In a city where renters make up two-thirds of all households, rents have risen more than 30 percent between January 2021 and January 2022, according to the online listing site Apartment List. Early pandemic deals and promises of one month free have vanished, affordable housing is as difficult to find as ever and renters are facing intense competition to snap up apartments as soon as they are listed.
While this makes it difficult for people who need to find a new home, people are still moving, whether they’re trying to find housing in the city for the first time, moving in with a significant other or just switching neighborhoods. We asked readers to tell us how they managed to find a home in this difficult market.
The submissions have been lightly edited for clarity.
‘I really slipped back into my 20s.’
Paying $900 a month for one room in a five-bed, two-and-a-half-bath apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
I had been living with a good friend until she found a rent-stabilized one-bedroom and decided not to renew our lease, which was up in March 2022. This was a couple months before we even knew what the rent increase would be. Our rent would have gone up 33 percent, which is insane. I’m a travel nurse so I’m only in town six months or so out of the year. I couldn’t justify the cost of paying that increase!
I took to Craigslist and found this tiny tiny tiny little room in an established apartment with four other female roommates in their 20s and 30s. They are actually great and the apartment is pretty big. But I feel like I’m living in a youth hostel and I’ll be 33 this summer. I feel like I really slipped back into my 20s in a very unpleasant way!
My biggest challenge: I probably emailed 25 or 30 people in the last couple weeks of my housing search. Two responded. I saw both units, and chose the one that felt best, even though there were so many roommates.
It took a lot of compromising. I got rid of so much of my stuff to fit in this tiny bedroom. My commute is longer and I’m farther from Prospect Park. A lot of compromises were made. But my rent is under $1,000 a month in a cozy, tree-filled neighborhood, which was an important goal.
— Rebecca Sullivan, 32
‘I had been applying to affordable housing for years.’
Paying $975 for a studio apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
I’m a Marine Corps veteran and I had previously been homeless for over a year. Then in 2013, I lived in a Supportive Housing community run by the Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization. The supportive housing building offered vouchers under the Housing Preservation and Development Housing Choice Voucher program, which allowed me to participate in the affordable housing lottery. I applied for the voucher and received it during the pandemic. I had been applying to affordable housing for years before, applying to every place I thought looked good enough for me, which was literally hundreds of places.
I had to find a landlord willing to accept the voucher program, even as the state mandated that they couldn’t discriminate against those renting under it. But I eventually signed my lease with the lottery apartment in December 2020.
What I like about my apartment is that honestly, it’s completely my own, it’s rent-stabilized and it is certainly the best place I ever lived in. The amenities that come with the building sold me. My unit has a washer and dryer. And the neighborhood is very attractive, especially when it’s warm. The panoramic waterfront view is key. You can see from One World Trade up to Midtown. From where I came from, it’s gratifying.
— Kenny M. Alvarez, 37
‘These buildings should be aimed at people who make less money, not more.’
Paying $2,645 (with three months free on a 15-month lease) for a one-bed, one-bath apartment in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn
I found my current place on StreetEasy in August 2021. I started looking way far in advance, two months before my lease from my previous apartment ended, just to get a sense of how much the prices had increased and seeing what I could afford in my neighborhood. I realized I needed to get all my paperwork ready and that I wouldn’t have much time to decide.
I went from living with a roommate to moving into my own apartment because trying to find a compatible random person to live with seemed more difficult and riskier. I set my budget at $2,500 a month for either a large studio that I could divide easily into separate spaces, or a one-bedroom. I love living in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and I wanted to either stay in the same neighborhood or move slightly closer to the city.
I first applied for an apartment in a 100 percent affordable housing building in Prospect Heights, but I didn’t make enough money to live in a one-bedroom there! I feel like these buildings should be aimed at people who make less money, not more.
The apartment I found was in a new building, so I actually felt a little less pressure to decide the moment I saw it. They had several units available, and I was able to spend a few days mulling it over before applying.
The rent was a little over my $2,500 budget, but they offered three months free on a 15-month lease, so the net rent came down to under my budget. Since it’s a new building, it has several amenities like a gym, lounge and a co-working space. But the real seller was having a washer and dryer in-unit.
— Holly Wang, 34
‘I started to think I was crazy.’
Paying $1,400 for a rent-stabilized studio apartment in Astoria, Queens
I made the move to New York City in 2020, when I landed my first job out of college. I lived in a cramped, four-bed, one-bath apartment on the border of Ridgewood and Bushwick with random roommates. My move-in date was Feb. 15. But when the pandemic hit, I made the very hard decision to move back home to live with my parents in Allentown, Pa.
I had worked so hard to get into the city and it felt like it was ripped away in a second. The days ticked by and in May 2021, I made the decision to start looking for apartments again. I found a few that got snatched up quickly. And then, while scrolling through StreetEasy on a Thursday afternoon, I found a studio in Astoria with two big windows, a kitchen with a full-sized fridge and even an oven. I took the $80 bus ride into the city that Saturday, saw the apartment and decided it was the one.
“You should probably see a few others, right? Before you make a decision?” my parents said. They thought I was crazy. I started to think I was crazy. I took another $80 bus ride the next weekend to sign the lease. Now, every single time I look out my big windows and see the pink sky as the sun sets, I can’t help but think how lucky I was.
— Trevor, 25
‘I simply do not identify as a sucker.’
Paying $2,200 for a studio apartment in Gramercy, Manhattan
I am one of the folks who snagged a “Covid deal” for a January 2021 lease. It was a very, very tiny studio in Greenwich Village, but I was so thrilled to be living alone for the first time and didn’t mind the size for $1,395 a month, which is less than I paid to live in a four-bedroom in Chelsea in 2018. However, they let me know last October that they were upping the next year’s rent by nearly $1,000, and I didn’t think my bedroom-with-a-kitchenette was worth that.
I began trolling StreetEasy in December 2021, and searching in earnest early January 2022. It was a nightmare. At one point I even upped my budget to $3,200 just to see if the spaces felt worth it. They didn’t, and they often involved a 15 percent broker’s fee. I simply do not identify as a sucker, so I quit that.
I calmed down when I decided that I would not be wrangled into spending over $3,000 a month or having roommates again; I’m 31, I have had enough of that. My plan was to store my things and wait it out from my parents’, or friends’, or like, Mexico, if I couldn’t find something I was comfortable with.
I kept searching on StreetEasy, and when I went to view one studio, the broker let me know there was one more. The building had just opened up. They showed it to me, I liked it, and it felt right, so I took it.
— Rosalee Lewis, 31
‘The timing was perfect.’
Paying $2,700 for a two-bed in Astoria, Queens
In February 2021, the rent on my two-bedroom apartment in Rockland County increased from $2,600 to $2,900. In the meantime, the rent for a two-bedroom in Washington Heights, where I used to live, was in the range of $2,400-2,800. I decided to move back to the city at the end of my lease in 2022.
While checking out apartments in Washington Heights, I also applied to the housing lottery but thought my chances of getting selected were practically nil. Lo and behold, I was selected to apply for an apartment with a monthly rent of $3,200, a little over my budget, but I could manage if I cut back on certain things.
In my excitement, I submitted the paperwork under the wrong tab on the housing portal and by the time I realized it, my log number had been passed. I was heartbroken and devastated that I had missed my shot. But a month later, I was selected for another apartment with a monthly rent of $2,400. I submitted the paperwork in the right place this time and was invited to see the apartment. It was lovely but too small at 540 square feet, so I withdrew my application.
Another month went by and I was selected again. This time it was a $2,700 monthly rent for a 750-square-foot two-bedroom. It was love at first sight when I saw the apartment. The process took a month and finally I signed the lease and moved in December. The timing was perfect and the monthly rent is more in line with my budget.
— Stephanie Le, 57
‘We had to come up with $6,000 as security and first month’s rent within hours.’
Paying $1,500 for one room in a two-bed, one-bath apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Our landlord in Park Slope raised our rent from $2,700 to $3,800 (a 40 percent increase) for our two-bedroom after being in the building for one year. When we first moved in, they assured us that they wouldn’t make any exorbitant increase in rent, but in the end they did.
The housing market is so intense right now, and there is so much pressure to make a decision and come up with a small fortune when securing a new place. I work for the city and my roommate is in entertainment, so we are not rich people. Moving two times in one year is incredibly exhausting and expensive.
We found a place on StreetEasy and had to apply before seeing the apartment to even have a chance. Upon seeing the apartment, we had to come up with $6,000 as security and first month’s rent within hours.
Most people can’t come up with all of this money at once. I just feel so incredibly let down by it all in the end. I’ve done my part to help keeping this city going during the pandemic and didn’t escape like many others did.
— Kyle Gorman, 28
‘I don’t miss Brooklyn at all.’
Paying $2,600 for a two-bed, one-bath apartment in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan
There’s honestly a lot of New York City pandemic layers to this story. In December 2021, my boyfriend was living in Central Harlem, and I was in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. I had to move a year prior from Prospect Heights because my two roommates had left the city due to job loss from Covid. And I had only moved to New York City in summer 2019.
My boyfriend and I met in March 2020, and the nature of hunkering down in the pandemic meant our relationship was very accelerated. We wanted to move in together. The Harlem-to-Brooklyn commute to each other was awful. We tried for Brooklyn (my preference) but prices in November were skyrocketing way beyond our means. And we required a two-bedroom because of work from home. We got outbid — on multiple rentals! On principle I refuse to bid for a rental.
Moving to Manhattan was, shockingly, significantly cheaper, and several units in West Harlem were in our price range. We stumbled upon a scrappy real estate agent, very early in her career and eager to help far beyond what any other agent cared to, and she found us this no-fee gem before it ever went on StreetEasy.
She told us she didn’t even have a building key yet to show it to us; she waited outside until a resident let her in. We were the first and only people to view the place, and as a result, we secured it. No bidding wars, a fair rent (relatively speaking), wonderful amenities, and a fantastic and attentive live-in super. We feel so lucky. And we absolutely adore everything about our new neighborhood. I don’t miss Brooklyn at all.
— Tamara Vallejos, 35
‘We decided it was worth taking the risk.’
Paying $4,600 for a two-bed, two-bath apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
We were in a beautiful, but cramped, one-bedroom in the West Village. My wife, Marcella, and I were both working from home since the start of the pandemic and we really needed more space if our apartment was going to be both our home and office. Direct sunlight throughout the day would have been nice too!
We started looking for apartments at the end of June 2021. After a couple of weeks going to mobbed open houses, seeing overpriced apartments in bad shape, and fruitlessly reaching out to real estate agents, Marcella had the idea to walk around the neighborhoods we wanted to live in and write down the phone numbers of management companies off the placards on buildings that caught our eye.
The apartments from one management company all appeared to be really well renovated and in older buildings. When we reached out, they quickly provided pictures of some units that might be coming to market, and again we were impressed with what we saw. But they wouldn’t let us visit. So either we wait for it to hit the market and risk losing out on it or sign without a tour. We tracked down a floor plan and we decided it was worth taking the risk. We signed in early July with a mid-September move in.
We love the large living room in particular and as we are on the fourth floor our windows are just above the tree line, meaning we get sun in there all morning and into the afternoon.
— Martin Vogts, 34