Apartment Room Share NYC: The Ultimate Renting Guide

Ruth Shin

RENT

Roommates

If you’re like the thousands of people who each year either can’t afford to pay for an entire apartment, just moved to the city, or looking to save, then you’re probably looking for a room. 

While many people go in with friends or acquaintances, the vast majority of people are taking a chance on the dozens of programs and sites, matching roommates and apartments together.

It truly is a burgeoning market that the real estate market has begun to take notice of and cater to. Incredibly, it’s not just a phenomenon confined to people in their 20’s.

There are people of all different ages and walks of life looking for roommates.

Sharing an Apartment--A Great Option for Many

If you like extreme privacy and feel pretty inflexible when it comes to living situations, sharing an apartment with other people may not be for you. However, for people who can be somewhat flexible, you can end up saving a lot of money. 

Sharing an apartment with roommates can be helpful for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Not making enough to afford an entire apartment 
  • Having a lot of bills or student loans to pay off 
  • Not wanting to live alone
  • A change in relationship status 
  • Being new to the city
  • Not being home very often / traveling a lot
  • Looking to save to make a major purchase (such as a car or home)
  • Living in the city short term

Why Room-Shares are Gaining Popularity with Landlords

In New York City, some landlords may not be fond of the idea of having random people share an apartment.

This is because if one person suddenly decides his or her roommates are intolerable jerks and decides to jump ship, they’ll have a room vacancy on their hands.

However, this may be the case even if you are rooming with friends.

Living with someone can be a very different from just knowing someone for a long time. You may find out some unsavory things about an old friend.

Despite some pitfalls, many landlords have discovered that this is an attractive approach as many times filling an apartment by room can be faster than finding four or five people who all want to share.

It’s even more unlikely for a landlord to fill a 6-8 bedroom apartment as quickly as you can with a room-share strategy.

Have Your Credit and Income Info Handy Before You Begin

First thing’s first. Just like applying for an entire apartment, each applicant must fill out an application, have their credit run and submit income documentation.

Know Your Credit Score

Before you start this process, it’s critical to know what your credit score is and what appears on your credit report.

We recommend tracking your credit throughout the year by subscribing to sites like Credit Karma or Transunion. 

While Credit Karma is free, you’ll only get an estimated credit score.

It’s a great tool to gauge where you are, monitor your credit reporting, and get recommendations on how you can improve your credit score. There are loads of educational tools and articles as well.

Transunion offers a couple of different subscription plans that allow consumers to monitor their credit as well as receive full access to their actual credit score and report at all times of the subscription.

You can also pull up a free report once a year from annualcreditreport.com.

If your credit score is less than stellar or you’d like to learn a few ways of bumping up your score, read our article on everything you need to know about credit.

Preparing Your Income Documentation

While every agency and/or landlord will want to see different things, they are all small variations on the same thing.

They are looking for:

  • proof of identity
  • proof that you are currently employed
  • proof of income, and
  • proof of income from previous years.

Government-issued Photo ID

Drivers license, passport, state ID are all acceptable form of proof of identity.

Employment Verification

Usually, a letter on letterhead from your employer/HR dept. A signed employment contract (with recent pay stubs) might work. Some companies may provide a phone number with verification.

Freelancers can get a letter from their CPA. Business-owners should profile articles of documentation and a list of officers or owner(s).

Bank Statements

The last 2-3 bank statements will be required. Usually, just the balance page is sufficient. The bank statements can be instrumental if you have a lot of money in your account and need to show more income.

Pay stubs

The last 2-3 pay stubs will be required. If you receive direct deposit statements you can submit these. You can also instead highlight them on your bank statements.

If you’re working freelance you can submit 1099s, your invoices, and payments.

Tax returns

The last one or two tax returns are usually requested. Landlords like to see that you have a stable work history and income revenue. Huge differences from year to year may raise a red flag.

This also might be a tricky situation for freelancers or business-owners who on paper are operating at a loss for tax purposes. 

If you are a student (with no income) or a foreign national, you can try paying 6-12 months upfront or get a domestic guarantor. We’ve got more details on this topic in this article.

How the Room-Share Works

Unless one person has put themselves on the lease and is charging the roommates a portion of the rent, all the roommates/tenants should be submitting their income and credit information with their application.

Unfortunately, this also means that if one person stops paying rent, the entire group is responsible for covering the delinquent amount--otherwise, everyone is put at risk of eviction.

Some management companies may work differently and only hold the guilty party responsible, but this is entirely up to the management company as legally they are supposed to hold all parties responsible.

Make sure you know that everyone in the apartment has good credit. It’s usually a good indicator of whether they’ll conscientiously pay their bills. 

Do I Find Roommates or an Apartment First?

There is no exact rule of how to go about sharing an apartment. If you already have a group of friends that want to go it together, then you’re set.

However, if you’re like thousands of New Yorkers or would-be New Yorkers out there, you either have a limited network or maybe you just don’t have time to organize a group of people to find an apartment.

There are plenty of sites and apps now devoted to matching people as roommates and to rooms.

Some popular choices to find roommates are:

  • Craigslist- Free
  • Facebook- Free
  • Roomie Match- Paid subscription
  • Roommates.com- Paid subscription
  • Roomi- Paid subscription
  • Roomster- Free account w/ paid upgrade available
  • Symbi- Free
  • Reddit- Free

Many local real estate agencies now specialize in apartment shares, usually with a division of the firm devoted just to finding roommates and advertising rooms. 

Before you commit yourself to working with a particular agent or brokerage, find out about their methodology in matching roommates, if any.

You might also just want to start with finding a room and apartment that you love and figure out who’s going to be living with you later.

Finding Your Own Roommates

If you find yourself in a situation where you've put yourself on the lease and want to select who gets to be your roommates, you'll need a process of assessing candidates.

Your system should go beyond a "gut feeling", or personality match. You need to protect yourself just in case you end up in a situation where you have a roommate who doesn't want to pay the rent or utilities. 

Real estate agents and landlords run credit checks and ask for documentation for a reason. You should consider doing something similar. 

You don't have to go to the same extent, but you could ask for a recent official credit report from one of the credit bureaus, some kind of employment verification and salary confirmation, and photo ID. References might be helpful.

If you want to make it official, you can go to a site like On-site.com. The prospective tenant pays the fee to pull up their credit report, which gets sent to you.

How Much Does a Room Cost?

Just like apartments, rooms can vary dramatically in price--from a few hundred per month to well over $1,600 (yes, up to the price of a studio).

It depends on the location, condition of the apartment/rooms, and the number of rooms.

A $1,800 room may be worth it if you can live in a hot neighborhood with stunning amenities or even your own private bath.

Generally, the more bedrooms, the more cost-effective the apartment is. Think about the split for a 2-bedroom going for $2,800 versus a 3-bedroom going for $3,300. The savings is even greater with more rooms.

Different apartments, landlords, and real estate agencies will work each share differently. If you are moving with a group of roommates, you'll need to decide the same thing.

Some shares will work with a completely even split for each person. Other shares will allocate different prices for different rooms.

Rooms can fetch higher or lower prices depending on size, location, and features.

Couples and Pet-Owners

Being one of two or owning one or more pets (beyond a gerbil or fish) can put you in a difficult position in finding a room. Your best bet will be to find roommates in advance that approve of your situation. 

Couples Can Make it Hard

Couples are people too. You both need a place to live, but can't afford an entire apartment on your own or maybe living in a studio or with family doesn't appeal to you both. Sure, rooms can be an option.

However, a couple might prove an imposition to others in the household.

Firstly, you are increasing the number of roommates beyond the number of rooms. No one really wants more people in the house.

Moreover, if there is a disturbance in your domestic tranquility, your housemates may not be keen on becoming a part of your personal drama.

Make it better for everyone involved and look for larger rooms, and preferably with a private half bath or full bathroom. A duplex layout may also be ideal for your situation.

When Pets are not a Cute Matter

If your heart compels you to adopt a furry friend or two, it may be a great situation for the animal and your emotional health, but it can be a major hurdle if you have to move. 

Not only are there many landlords that don’t accept pets, but you might be turned away from opportunities when someone in the group is allergic to pet dander or doesn’t feel comfortable living with animals.

Moreover, some may not have allergies or have a problem with living with pets but may feel that they will get stuck caring for your pet. Make sure you have pictures of your pets, breed and temperament info to share.

Some pets that might create problems for people include but may not be limited to dogs, cats, rats, ferrets, any kind of insect colony, spiders, snakes, reptiles like lizards, loud birds, pigs, and elephants.

Do not fail to mention that you have a pet before you apply or move-in. Not only would that be completely inconsiderate towards your housemates, but you could also land in trouble with the landlord.

Matching yourself to roommates beforehand is the best option for animal-lovers.

Getting Your Room-Share to Work

You’re not always going to get along with everyone in life, but there are a few things that you can do to make sure the basics run somewhat smoothly.

Set up written agreements/contracts between yourself and your housemates. If you can get them legally binding, even better.

These contracts should include the agreement to pay all bills and utilities on time.

Other items to include are:

  • Addressing excessive utility consumption
  • Having guests overnight or long-term
  • Pet (if any) care, hygiene, and behavior and adoption of future pets
  • Subletting the room
  • Late payments, and any penalty/interest charges
  • How chores should be executed

Create a Transparent Environment

Rent invoices and utility bills should be displayed either in a shared space in the apartment or sent to each housemate so they can see the full amount due. Payment receipts should also be displayed clearly.

This will prevent situations where the main bill-payer is not paying the bills or one person is profiting from each person's portion.

Set a day(s) of the month when each person’s portion of the rent and/or utility is due. Decide on the execution of bill payment and who will be paying each bill. 

One of the trickiest aspect of life together to tackle will be allocating household chores.

Whether you lay down household policies, divvy up the duties, or chip in together to pay someone to clean, you should all be on the same page.

Consider consequences for those who don’t abide by the rules.

However, sometimes you have to learn to pick your battles. With some things, you’re going to just have to learn to let it go.

If someone is a nightmare to live with, you can either ask the person to find another place to live when the lease is up or decide to move.

If you’re dealing with a management company or landlord that has “sanctioned” your apartment share, you may even be able to report the troublesome flatmate to them.

Allow them to make the necessary steps to improve the situation like sending written warnings or not offering to renew them on the lease. 

This should only be reserved for the more serious situations or roommates who have made life in the apartment miserable.

Valid reasons can be that the person is making threats, inviting nefarious characters onto the premises, or contributing to the degradation of the apartment such as dirtiness or damage.

Using Technology to Make Your Room-Share a Success

While technology can’t guarantee a perfect outcome for your shared living experience, it can make sharing the financial responsibilities a lot easier. 

Many of the apps created specifically for housemates have fallen off the billing, so to speak, in the past few years, but the good news is there are more than enough bill splitting apps to help you out.

Apps That Help You Split the Bills

Unbill seems to be the only app that really has a slant towards roommates sharing bills. You can easily link your bills to the app and add roommates to split up the cost.

Splitwise, Billpin, Divvy all clearly display how much each person’s split is and who has paid and who hasn’t. Divvy even allows the user to upload images of their bills and divvy it between people.

Apps like IOU follow more of a personal debt approach, tracking what you owe to people.

Venmo is also an already a popular choice for bill splitting. It’s more difficult to keep track of bill splitting and who owes what, but if everyone is already using Venmo, it might be the obvious option for the household.

Rentshare is not an app per se, but it is a system that can be used by landlord and management companies to collect rent from their tenants. Tenants can use Rentshare to easily pay their portion of the rent.

Apps that Turn Sharing Chores into a Snap

Chorma and Wunderlist allow users to add chores/tasks and have different people claim the chores and keeps track if the tasks are done or not. 

Tody can track each duty and tell you when the last time it was done.

Chooserrr makes splitting chores fun with sort of a chores version of “you’re it”.

Cola and Upto help keep lines of communication between your roommates and can make your schedules accessible to each other.

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