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NYC renters can't catch a break despite more move-in incentives than ever

And the median rent is down in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens

The November market reports are out, and once again, it was a good month for renters shopping the luxury market, where concessions are at an all-time high. And in fact, rental prices were down in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens across the board—but don't get too excited yet.

The Douglas Elliman report shows that landlord concessions hit record highs in Brooklyn and Manhattan with 25.1 percent of new leases in Manhattan coming with those perks, as opposed to 13.5 percent at this time last year. In Brooklyn, 15.4 percent of leases had concessions, as opposed to 6.6 percent last year. That’s the main takeaway of the month, says Jonathan Miller, the numbers whiz behind the report. "The key point is higher use of concessions," he says, "but the amount of concessions paid isn’t really changing." In Manhattan, concessions are averaging about 1.2 months of free rent; in Brooklyn, it’s 1.6 months.

As we’ve seen all year, this softening market is happening primarily with luxury rentals. Miller points out that in Manhattan, rents at doorman buildings slipped while non-doorman rents showed strong gains. But in total, the median rent in Manhattan has fallen, from $3,361 last year to $3,350 in November. And when you take concessions into account, the median rent for last month was $3,264.

In Brooklyn, too, luxury rents fell, and across the board the median rental price has slipped 1.3 percent to $2,780. With concessions that median price becomes $2,738. In both Manhattan and Brooklyn these declines have been showing up several months this year: "The net effective median rent has declined in the past two of three months for Manhattan, and four of five months in Brooklyn," Miller says.

Both Brooklyn and Manhattan also saw a big boost in new leases—leases jumped 29.4 percent to 3,987 in Manhattan and 29 percent to 2,606 in Brooklyn. (That’s a lot to do with new developments entering the market, Miller says.) But it’s given tenants some space to push back on asking rents. In Manhattan the listing discount was 3.8 percent, up from 3.2 percent last year, while in Brooklyn the listing discount was 2.7 percent, up from 2.2 percent last year.

Over in Queens, "a little over one-third of the market was new development rentals, same as last year," Miller notes. This borough is going through its own price cuts, as rents slipped for the sixth time in 11 months. But this year, Miller says, he’s considered the Queens market "very choppy, depending on what comes to market."

Choppy rents in Queens, and softening luxury markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan have been a running theme throughout 2016. As Miller puts it as he looks back on the year, "Rents remain high but some erosion is evident—we remain on some sort of high plateau."

Citi Habitats also released its November rental report and found similar troubles. This November, rents decreased 1 percent across all unit categories—from studios to three-bedrooms—since October. But their year-over-year numbers show a small increase, as the average apartment rented for $3,464 during November 2015, $26 less than it did last month. Meanwhile, 27 percent of rental transactions brokered by Citi Habitats offered a free month’s rent and/or payment of the broker fee to entice new tenants in November, up slightly from 26 percent in October. But it’s a big increase from November 2015, when 13 percent of leases offered a move-in incentive.

Citi Habitats also tracked a high vacancy rate in Manhattan, with 2.11 percent of apartments vacant in November as opposed to 2.02 percent last year. November’s vacancy rate is the highest they tracked for Manhattan since April 2009, when 2.28 percent of apartments were vacant.

Finally, Citi Habitats tracked the average monthly rental price for a Manhattan studio at $2,383; one-bedrooms averaged at $3,055; two-bedrooms came in at $4,137; and the average three-bedroom apartment rented for $5,224. Brooklyn studios (in the 14 neighborhoods studied) rented for $2,362 per month on average; one-bedrooms averaged at $2,783; finally two- and three-bedrooms clocked in at $3,656 and $5,041.

So what does it all mean? "There remains a disconnect between what tenants can afford to pay, and what landlords believe tenants can afford to pay," says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats. "Many people are simply at their breaking point. Building owners continue to lean on concessions to drive traffic, but these incentives have yet to lower the vacancy rate as anticipated," he says. Same as it ever was.