Anyone new to renting in New York City should prepare for sticker shock when it comes to finding an apartment; this is one of the few cities where renters are expected to pay a hefty fee to the broker that helps them find an apartment. That fee typically comes to the price of one month’s rent, but can go as high as 15 percent of the year’s total rent.
That’s enough to send many renters on the hunt for no-fee apartments—ones rented directly from the landlord or management company, as well as rentals for which the landlord is paying the broker's fee. There are a number of websites and apps to search for no-fee apartments, but renters should take note: it will require extra work on your behalf if you decide to ditch the broker. Make sure all your paperwork—W2s, tax returns, and the like—is in order and on hand; investigate a potential landlord and their building thoroughly; and never hand over cash before you’ve met the landlord, visited the apartment in person, and done enough research to feel comfortable in the situation. Also, always keep in mind your rights as a NYC tenant.
If that doesn’t sound too intimidating, great! Here are several websites with plenty of no-fee listings to get your apartment hunt started.
Yes, Craigslist is known for being littered with all-caps listings, sad and weird apartments, and more than a few scams. But don’t rule it out entirely; it does allow you the options to search "all no-fee apartments" and "by-owner apartments" only, eliminating any listings requiring a broker’s fee. But prepare to spend your days searching for a diamond in the rough—meaning listings with real photos, full descriptions, and prices that seem fair for the market.
Joinery was founded by two New Yorkers sick of “paying a broker thousands of dollars to do little more than open a door,” as the website puts it. How it works: Outgoing tenants, with their landlord’s permission, are able to post information about their apartment—at no charge—on Joinery, and schedule viewings and field questions directly through its messaging service. Listings include photos, credit or income requirements, rent and security deposit amounts, and any apartment amenities.
Potential renters can also join for free, and are vetted by background and credit checks through the site. There is, however, a fee involved if you find an apartment—albeit one that’s not as high as a broker’s fee. The outgoing tenant sets a commission, which cannot be any higher than half a month’s rent, to be paid by the incoming tenant once a lease is signed.
The Listings Project
This popular Listserv began as Stephanie Diamond’s personal email list for artists to exchange information on cheap spaces to live and work. Today, the project covers all five boroughs of New York (and it has even expanded to more than 70 countries and across the U.S.) rounding up offerings every week that include apartments for rent, sublets, and shares. It’s pretty straightforward: anyone can sign up to receive email, which arrives on Wednesdays. You can then contact individuals through the Listings Project email to inquire about spaces and opportunities.
A substantial share of listings offered through Naked Apartments are either no fee or low fee. (Low-fee listings include rentals with broker's fees of nine percent or less.) The site also makes it easy to find them through filtered searches. Naked Apartments includes open listings, which can be advertised by more than one broker. The website groups these duplicate listings in one place, which allows you to compare brokers and choose which one you’d like to contact.
Like other rental aggregators, NYBits offers the option to search no-fee apartments across New York. At NYBits, however, there’s a much higher inventory of no-fee options. And what makes this site really unique is its directory of buildings and property managers. Oftentimes, the best way to bypass the broker is to go straight to the source—that is, the landlord. Through NYBits, renters can search through a long list of them, and the site will show you what no-fee apartments they’re offering and who to specifically contact about living there.
Flip bills itself as “subletting, taken care of”—through the app, renters can “sell” the remaining months of their lease to pre-qualified tenants. The service is free for leaseholders, property managers, and owners; but renters are charged a service fee of 5 percent the first month of rent, according to the website. It also offers credit/background checks through TransUnion for a $30 fee.
When it launched in 2013, Lease Break was dedicated solely to helping tenants finding a person to take over their lease; but now, the free site also offers short-term rentals (up to 12 months), shares, and sublets. The site has the option to search only for no-fee listings: According to its website, more than 60 percent of the apartments listed are no-fee.
StreetEasy, Zumper, RentHop, Igluu
Though there are a ton of apartments with broker’s fee in these popular sites—StreetEasy, Zumper, Igluu, and RentHop—they all offer the option to search specifically for no-fee listings. (But keep in mind that some of the no-fee listings may also be posted by brokers.)