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A renter’s guide to Central Harlem

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Everything you need to know about renting in one of NYC’s most storied neighborhoods

Looking down 125th Street in Central Harlem.
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Bordered by St. Nicholas Avenue to the west and Fifth Avenue to the east, Central Harlem has long been one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

Thanks to its role as the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance (in tandem with neighboring West Harlem), the historically black neighborhood has a spectacular culinary, music, and arts scene that continues to thrive today, serving as home to popular venues like the Apollo Theater; soul food standouts like Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s; and historic locales like Strivers’ Row, a famous line of rowhouses built from 1891 to 1893.

“Central Harlem even today continues to be the core and soul of Harlem,” says Yuien Chin, executive director of community-based organization Harlem One Stop. “There is a lively and diverse culinary scene along the avenues and boulevards, retail and family-friendly outlet stores and other amenities on the main corridor—125th Street, schools, libraries, health facilities and hospitals, gardens, parks, and more, all within short walking distance.”

Over the last decade or so, an influx of renters have been drawn to Central Harlem’s beautiful brownstones, tree-lined streets, and accessible transit, not to mention the more affordable and spacious apartments than what one might find elsewhere in Manhattan. “There’s a lot of good value in Harlem,” says Reggie Juan Douglas, an agent with Douglas Elliman. “You can get something a lot bigger and nicer for your money than what you’d find downtown.”

Here’s a taste of what’s available.

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Rental units

“There’s a big variety here,” says Douglas. Rental properties run the gamut from older brownstones and apartment buildings—which tend to be cheaper—to more expensive luxury developments replete with amenities like 24/hour doormen.

Still, Douglas says, even fancier units should appeal to thrifty renters. “There’s a lot of affordability as compared with other areas,” he says. There are also a number of new developments popping up in the neighborhood—like 308 West 133rd Street, which replaces the longstanding Morning Star Pentecostal Church—though Douglas says it’s too soon to tell whether or not these developments will change the real estate landscape.

Rent range

As Douglas notes, there’s a pretty big range in Central Harlem. The average range for studios runs between $1,500/month and $2,000/month, while one-bedrooms can run from $1,600/month all the way up to about $3,100. The range for two-bedrooms is just as vast, with more affordable units typically starting at around $2,100, and luxury units asking as much as $4,600.

Not that you really need to break the bank, even if you’re looking for some amenities: “You can get a two-bed in a full service building with a 24/hour doorman for $3,100/month,” says Douglas. Three-beds also run the gamut, with cheaper apartments starting at around $2,500/month, running all the way up to $6,000/month in luxury buildings.

Neighborhood highlights

In addition to the aforementioned soul food spots (Sylvia’s, Amy Ruth’s, and popular brunch joint Red Rooster) and the Apollo Theater, Central Harlem is home to cultural touchstones like the National Jazz Museum, Marcus Garvey Park, and St. Nicholas Park; it’s also a short walk/subway ride from Central Park. The Studio Museum in Harlem, a neighborhood stalwart, is currently undergoing a revamp that will see its old building replaced by one designed by British starchitect David Adjaye.

St. Nicholas Park in Harlem.
Francisco Daum/Flickr

For folks looking for convenient shopping, a Whole Foods Market opened on 125th Street over the summer—though there are still mom & pop shops in the neighborhood that might be threatened by by the grocery giant.

“All that, and for now, big skies and a sense of openness (no longer found in most neighborhoods south of 96th Street) sprinkled with a bit of grit and history of the old Harlem all contribute to the energy and allure of the neighborhood,” Chin says.

Most expensive area

Douglas says that though rents tend to be a little higher closer to Central Park, for the most part, apartment prices change by building, not by location. “If, for instance, you’re looking at 23 West 116th Street, you’ll see prices there are not cheap at all. But right across the street, the Kalahari [at 40 West 116th Street], the prices are a little cheaper,” says Douglas. (The former was built in 2015 and the latter in 2008, hence the discrepancy in prices.)

What to look out for before signing a lease

First and foremost, Douglas says, renters should bargain down the rent. “I definitely would try to negotiate with the owner a little bit,” he notes. “With this market right now, I find that owners are willing to negotiate.”

And while Central Harlem may have lower prices compared to other parts of Manhattan, those rents might not stay low as the neighborhood further gentrifies. To combat this, Douglas suggests trying to lock in a two-year lease, if the landlord is amenable. “We don’t know how the rental market is going to be next year,” he explains. “If the owner is willing to give you a two-year lease, you should do that.”

Sample rentals

55 West 126th Street: A one-bedroom in this brownstone, located near Marcus Garvey Park and the 2/3 trains, runs only $1,600/month. Though the building offers only the bare-minimum when it comes to amenities, the apartment has lovely exposed brick, an updated kitchen, and a decorative fireplace.

26 West 131st Street: This $2,100/month rent-stabilized two-bedroom doesn’t have much in the way of amenities, but the building is located just a mere half-block from the popular hotspots on Malcolm X Boulevard and a six-minute walk from the 2/3 train at 135th Street. Bonus: Pets are allowed.

Inside a two-bedroom rental at Harlem’s Dwyer Condominiums.
Via Douglas Elliman

300 West 145th Street: This building comes with a 24-hour doorman, a private gym, an outdoor shared courtyard, and a parking garage. An east-facing two-bedroom apartment here is available for $2,950/month on a two-year lease, and comes with through-wall A/C units in each room, in addition to a kitchen with a breakfast bar, massive bedrooms, and generous closet space.

258 St. Nicholas Avenue: A 1,286-square-foot two-bedroom in this condo building is available for $4,395/month. For the price, you get high ceilings, a Juliet balcony with French doors, a washer/dryer, and a shared roof deck with a panoramic view of the city. The building also includes a live-in super, a 24-hour concierge, and a bike room.