America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in New York


Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee

Contributing Writer

Jeanne Lee is a freelance journalist with 16 years of experience writing about personal finance and small business. Her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Fortune Small Business, and Financial Planning, among others.

Published May 17, 2018|4 min read

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Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

Updated June 26, 2018: Magical New York City was singled out by film director Milos Forman as the one city that looks even better in reality than it does on postcards. Less romantic, though, is the process of searching this expensive metro for an apartment — one that’s bigger than a postage stamp, close enough to the subway and with a price that won’t break the bank.

Most landlords in the Big Apple won’t give you a lease unless you can prove income that’s at least 40 times the rent. With median rents up to $2,401 as of March, according to Zillow, that correlates to a salary requirement of $96,040 — pretty steep considering the U.S. median of $57,617.

What’s a renter to do?

“It’s a hustle. It’s really hard,” said Liam McCarthy, a licensed broker at JMKBK LLC who has worked in Brooklyn and Manhattan since 2001. “Between $60,000 and $80,000 is more of a typical salary for the post-college years, and for a lot of creative types — media jobs, teachers, programmers, advertising jobs or office jobs for Fortune 500 companies.”

That salary range correlates to a rental budget of around $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Renters insurance in New York City costs between $6 and $22 a month. If you’re hoping to land an apartment in that price range, you may want to check out some of these moderately priced neighborhoods below.

Affordable Brooklyn neighborhoods: Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, Bushwick & Gowanus

Within reasonable commuting distance of Midtown, Union Square and the Financial District, Brooklyn has long been the favored alternative for renters priced out of Manhattan. But the hottest neighborhoods have become very costly in recent years. One-bedrooms in the waterfront community of DUMBO go for $3,950, and in artsy Fort Greene, $3,075, according to RentHop.

Luckily, there are still reasonable deals to be found in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, Bushwick and Gowanus. These areas offered some of the best values among neighborhoods identified by StreetEasy as well-suited for young grads (based on commuting distance, presence of young people and affordability).

“Almost all apartments in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, and three in four apartments in Clinton Hill and Gowanus, will rent for less than $1,500 per roommate. The commute from these neighborhoods to Dumbo or FiDi will take 15 to 20 minutes, while the trip to Union Square will take just under 30,” the report said.

Studios and one-bedrooms among the iconic brownstones of Bed-Stuy go for a median rent of $2,275. But less-expensive options can be found between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, like a 900-square-foot one-bedroom with easy subway access and an updated kitchen, recently listed at $1,900 a month.

Farther west, tree-lined Clinton Hill had some studios and one-bedrooms listed at $1,800 to $2,000, below the neighborhood’s median rent of $2,600.

Morningside Heights in Upper Manhattan

Certain pockets of Manhattan are within reach for those seeking moderately priced apartments. Near Columbia University, Morningside Heights is a historic neighborhood with a high population of young people. It has many offerings for young professionals who don’t mind sharing an apartment with roommates.

“Some 75% of its apartments are two-bedrooms under $3,000 and three-bedrooms under $4,500, meaning they’ll cost each roommate less than $1,500 each,” according to StreetEasy.

For those who don’t want to share, an online search turned up studios and one-bedrooms for $1,800 to $1,875 a month, with amenities like hardwood floors, exposed brick and dishwashers. That’s well below the $2,650 median in that neighborhood, according to RentHop.

Strategies for scoring affordable apartments

Like in many industries, the internet has changed the game with apartment rentals. But not completely.

“The old-school thing of knocking on doors and talking to supers doesn’t work as well as it used to,” said McCarthy. However, calling multiple brokers or dropping by their offices in person is still a valuable way to find out about prime apartments you’d miss if you only looked online.

“Probably 75% of my best listings never make it online,” said McCarthy. “The dirty secret of being a broker is that if you can get away with not advertising something, you’re better off. Because it costs money, plus, you’ll be saved from getting flooded with unqualified applicants.”

When a charming apartment that’s rent-stabilized or priced below market falls in his lap, McCarthy will often call apartment hunters who have reached out to him in person. Renters can increase their chances of finding an unadvertised steal by putting the word out with multiple brokers in their desired neighborhood.

“A lot of mom-and-pop brokers don’t advertise on the internet the way the Ellimans and Corcorans do,” he said.

Another strategy: Find a small, independent landlord. When working with landlords who have owned their buildings for a long time, and are no longer burdened by a mortgage, sometimes, “they don’t need to get top dollar. They are happy to have a good tenant who will pay their rent and be quiet,” he said. If you have less-than-perfect credit or don’t quite meet income requirements, small landlords also may be more flexible or willing to work with your situation.

We can't curb burgeoning rents in big cities, but we can help you save on coverage for your stuff. You can quickly compare renters insurance quotes here.

Image: deberarr