How to Find an Apartment for Rent in New York

A guide on everything you need to know about apartment hunting in New York City. Find out how you can maximize your chances of landing a great apartment!
Park Slope, Brooklyn NY

Finding an apartment in New York can be daunting, especially if you are relocating from a different city or an other part of the country.

Anyone can go online to a number of property listing sites and start looking right away.

However, this approach can be entirely wrong if you are completely new to New York City or even if you have been living in the city for a few years.

There are a few creative ways you can begin your search.

How to Start Your Search for an Apartment in New York

  • Give yourself ample time to find an apartment. In NYC, this usually means about 4-5 weeks before you have to move.
  • If you search during the low season, there won't be as many listings, but prices might be better, and you'll have less competition.
  • Searching during the peak season will mean many more options, but prices tend to be higher, and there's much more competition.
  • Knowing how to qualify for an apartment is essential to making your search for an apartment seamless.
  • A landlord or property management company will check your credit and income.

When Should I Start My Apartment Search?

Typically for a New York resident, you’ll need roughly 4-5 weeks to search for an apartment.

It’s even possible to find an apartment one to two weeks before your move-in date if need be, although most people generally don’t like to wait until the last minute.

However, if you plan on looking two to three months before your move date, you may find that agents and landlords won’t want to bother any time with you showing you apartments.

This is because they’d instead fill the apartment with someone whose lease start date will coincide with their desired date.

If you think about it, would you instead let the apartment sit empty for two months rather than renting it out to someone who needs to move in two weeks?

You may want to start browsing through listings two months in advance just to see what’s out there and get a sense of the market prices.

If you’re a soon-to-be NYC transplant, it will do you well to start your research a few months ahead of relocation.

What If I Don't Have 4 Weeks to Search for an Apartment?

In reality, you can find an apartment in one week if need be.

Some people even find their next apartment in one day. However, it severely limits your options, and you might be forced to choose the least lousy apartment.

Even if you know you're not ready to move but know your lease will be up in a few months, it doesn't hurt to browse casually to see what the market is like in terms of how much is available, what the going rates, what types of apartments you can afford.

Sometimes the fastest way to find an apartment is to contact a renter's agent who will is more familiar with inventory and can pull up a few listings that could work for you.

How the Real Estate Seasons Can Affect Your Search

Whether you rent during the peak or low season can impact the deals you find and the inventory available.

The low season, roughly October to March, generally tends to have lower inventory and less competition from renters.

If a unit has been sitting on the market for over a month, the owner may also be willing to negotiate on the price.

From June to September, the peak season will see an explosion of listings coming to market each month.

However, definitely, be prepared to put down a deposit on the apartment you like; otherwise, it may be swept from underneath you by a more eager applicant.

How Do You Qualify for an Apartment?

Before you get carried away with the idea of an apartment you've seen online, make sure you can actually qualify for one and get taken by surprise during the application process.

Plenty of people have been guilty of thinking that by just putting down a deposit, they will get it the unit they desire.

Unfortunately, this is only one step in a multi-step process.

The ball is definitely in the landlord's or management company's court when deciding who is the best applicant and potential tenant.

Prepare yourself by gathering all the income documentation, including a copy of your photo ID, a letter of employment, the last few pay stubs, last two tax returns or tax documentation, and most recent bank statements.

You should be able to prove that you make about 40 times the monthly rent in one year.

The more prepared you are at the time of application, the better you look and the faster the process.

If you don't think you'll qualify alone, you might need to find a guarantor to apply with you.

A Landlord is a Creditor

The number one thing the landlord is going to do is pull up your credit report.

The credit score and report will tell them a lot about who this person is as far as a financial investment goes.

You are, in essence, a borrower.

In a signed lease, you actually agree to pay the entire year's worth of rent, but the landlord agrees to let you pay in monthly installments.

For that, there will need to be financial trust.

Your credit score and report will show the landlord what kind of bill-payer you are.

The higher your score, the better you are as a timely and conscientious payer.

It shows you are good at managing your bills.

The lower the score, the more untrustworthy you seem.

However, the landlord will usually look beyond just the score and pull up a full report and the risks involved in leasing the apartment to you.

Work to Improve on Bad or No Credit

Pull up your report and see that you are in good standing. It's a fine start if your score is 650 and higher. It's even better if you're over 700.

Fix any errors you find on the report by contacting the credit bureau that has the listed error.

If you've given yourself a good headstart and your score is less than stellar, start immediately by making sure you pay on time or open up a credit card account if you don't have a credit rating.

Read more: How to Improve Your Credit Score.

Use Your Social Network

If you need to familiarize yourself with the city before actually traveling there, use your social contacts who live in New York (preferably friends or family who have lived there for a few years).

Don’t rely too heavily on one person; you won’t get a varied perspective on boroughs and neighborhoods.

For example, a Manhattanite might say to stay away from Queens when it may be the ideal borough to call home.

If you don’t think you know anyone personally who resides in the city, you might want to check out sites and apps like Instagram and Pinterest, where users are posting shots from their daily life, neighborhood activities, and restaurants they frequent.

Follow and contact those people if you want to ask a few questions.

These sites allow you to find someone with similar interests or lifestyle needs.

They might be able to give you better insight than others.

Contact Real Estate Agents

Believe it or not, using an experienced real estate agent can make all the difference in finding a suitable apartment and neighborhood.

A good agent will not only have access to a variety of great listings but know how to get around the city, specializing in a few different neighborhoods, have a vast network of contacts and resources, be able to guide you through the rental process and help you understand what you should be looking for in an apartment.

We recommend that you work with one to three such agents, perhaps one for each borough you’d like to search in.

Using a real estate agent could also be an excellent option for those already living in the city, especially if you plan on moving to an area you are more unfamiliar with.

Factor in the Broker's Fee

In New York City, it was the norm for the tenant to pay the broker’s fee for the apartment.

However, in 2019 New York City and New York State made sweeping reforms that prohibited tenants from being charged a broker's fee from the listing broker or agent.

This means if landlords want agents to help them find tenants, they will have to pay them and can't pass on the fee to renters.

Technically, all apartments should now be no-fee apartments. However, that shouldn't discourage you from asking an agent to help you find an apartment.

You will need to pay them out of pocket, but an excellent experienced rental agent can help you find the perfect apartment quickly and help you get your paperwork together and qualified.

We strongly encourage out-of-towners to hire a rental agent. Ensure you negotiate and determine the rate or commission you will pay them before you begin.

How Much Money Should You Save For Your Move?

Remember that this may be money well worth spending if you work with an agent who is able to make great suggestions and ends up finding you an amazing place.

We strongly recommend saving up to at least six months’ rent before your lease signing and move-in date to give yourself options and a safe financial cushion.

This cushion will pay your first month's rent, the security deposit, broker's fee (if any), renter's insurance, moving expenses, and furniture.

The benefit of finding a great agent or broker is immeasurable, as it will save you hours of research, worry, and stress.

You can find an agent by searching through ads on listings sites, reading Yelp reviews, or getting a recommendation from a friend.

You can also contact a brokerage with a great reputation. They will be able to direct your query to an experienced agent who can help you out.

Should You Visit NYC Before You Move There?

As an out-of-towner if you can, it is ideal to visit New York City before you actually move.

Plan on staying with friends or, better yet, stay at an Airbnb (Note: In New York City, Airbnb renters must be aware that local laws prohibit rentals of 30 days or less, unless the permanent resident is living within the same space.) or hotel in the neighborhoods you are most interested so you can familiarize yourself with the area, stores, transportation, and the general vibe.

You can explore a few different neighborhoods during your stay.

For New York residents, if possible, visit a friend who lives in the area you’d like to move to or plan an activity in that neighborhood so you can check it out.

Once you start looking at apartments in the area, you may be too pressed for time with appointments or just be too exhausted to check out the local culture and ambiance.

Ideally, you should visit your desired neighborhoods during the day and evenings, as they vary dramatically.

Other Search Tactics to Find an Apartment in NYC

The first place anyone goes these days to look for rental apartments will inevitably be one of the many listing sites people are familiar with.

Finding out which one is best for your needs may be tricky with so much overlapping information and ads.

PropertyNest not only has one of the best and easy-to-use interfaces, but we offer the unique feature of searching by your own credentials--meaning you can immediately see the apartments that fit your criteria and also most likely qualify for.

Alternative Online Sources

Aside from the usual listing sites, you might want to try social media and networking sites.

Besides real estate agents who may be on social media, available apartments not usually listed on real estate sites can be found on Facebook, shared by the landlord or a friend of the landlord.

Most of them tend to be smaller property owners who don’t usually want to deal with listing sites and brokerages or those who prefer word-of-mouth referrals or to meet a potential tenant through a friend.

That being said, if you are to find any listings, you’ll need a robust network in that particular area for those hits to come up.

You might also check local Google groups or neighborhood forums.

Beware of Online Scams on Sites like Craigslist

While this is still a go-to in most cities and you can find real apartments through the site, it is increasingly difficult to do so.

There are many real estate scams, and Craigslist is an ideal marketplace to phish for victims.

Make sure the person posting is a licensed real estate professional. Better yet, use a more reputable site that specializes in real estate listings.

Walking Through the Neighborhood to Find an Apartment

Although time-consuming, you can also try going on foot or bicycle in your chosen neighborhood.

Many landlords and brokerages still put up signs on the property or the window, and you might be able to get a really good lead.

Select a day when you can spend a few hours in the area of your choice.

Take pictures of the signs and the actual building, taking note of the address.

Assess Best Neighborhoods to Match Your Needs

Average Sq. Ft. of Rentals in New York City

Studio1 Bedroom2 Bedrooms3 Bedrooms
Manhattan370 SF565 SF820 SF1160 SF
Bronx460 SF640 SF840 SF1035 SF
Staten Island580 SF760 SF970 SF1280 SF
Brooklyn380 SF550 SF760 SF965 SF
Queens410 SF570 SF795 SF975 SF
Best for Families:Best for Millennials:Best for Nightlife:
Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, BrooklynWashington Heights, ManhattanWilliamsburg, Brooklyn
Park Slope, BrooklynChinatown, ManhattanDowntown Brooklyn
Bay Ridge, BrooklynAstoria, QueensBrighton Beach, Manhattan
Woodlawn, Riverdale and Norwood, BronxThe South BronxAstoria, Queens
Greenwood, BrooklynEast Village, ManhattanLong Island City, Queens
Upper West Side, ManhattanWilliamsburg, BrooklynEast Village, Manhattan
Battery Park City, ManhattanTurtle Bay, ManhattanMeatpacking District, Manhattan
Lower East Side, ManhattanSouth BronxBushwick, Brooklyn
Williamsburg, BrooklynGreenwich Village, ManhattanHell’s Kitchen, Manhattan
Ridgewood, QueensClinton Hill, BrooklynGreenwich Village, Manhattan

Average Monthly Rental Prices in New York City

Average Rental Prices in Manhattan

1 Bed$3,695
2 Beds$3,150
3 Beds$3,599
4 Beds$3,250
PropertyNest Real Estate Data As of October 2023

Average Rental Prices in Brooklyn

1 Bed$2,700
2 Beds$2,750
3 Beds$3,400
4 Beds$3,995
PropertyNest Real Estate Data As of October 2023

Average Rental Prices in Bronx

1 Bed$2,025
2 Beds$2,600
3 Beds$3,150
4 Beds$2,750
PropertyNest Real Estate Data As of October 2023

Average Rental Prices in Queens

1 Bed$2,050
2 Beds$2,700
3 Beds$3,250
4 Beds$4,000
PropertyNest Real Estate Data As of October 2023

Average Rental Prices in Staten Island

1 Bed$2,650
2 Beds$2,775
3 Beds$2,500
PropertyNest Real Estate Data As of October 2023

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Ruth Shin
About the author

Ruth Shin is the Founder and CEO of PropertyNest. She shares in-depth insights on real estate, personal finance, and home improvement drawing from her experience as a licensed real estate agent, editing personal finance publications, and managing many home renovation projects. Ruth graduated with a BA from Hunter College in Writing, History, and Special Honors.