How to Find Apartments for Rent by Owner in New York City

Ruth Shin

RENT

Brooklyn Skyline

Looking for apartments for rent directly by the owner is an interesting prospect in a city like New York. The five boroughs each have their own unique character that it may be difficult to know where and how to start looking. Here are some techniques to use in your search.

Know What to Expect

The first and most important step is to know what's expected of you as the prospective applicant before you even go to look at apartments, otherwise, you may be caught in a tough spot when the time comes to apply. Make sure you have plenty of funds saved up for your move. Moreover, don't expect to receive any previous security deposits right away as that can take months to get to you.

Move-in Costs

Standard practices in the New York for landlords are to charge at least one month of rent for the security deposit. However, don't be surprised if you're asked for two securities, as that occasionally happens and you need to be prepared. You'll also need to expect to pay the first month of rent, if not the first and last months.  In the worst case scenario, you'd have to pay four months up front but most likely you'll be asked for two to three months tops. 

Make Sure Your Credit is in Check

Don't get blindsided by not knowing what's on your credit report or how much the landlord would like to see as far as income. Most landlords are going to be looking for candidates with a credit score in the "Fair" (650-699) range to "Excellent" (750-850).  If you have no idea what your credit is like and have never checked it before, you should do so a few months in advance of apartment-hunting so that if there are minor issues, you can give yourself time to remedy them. An isolated late payment 30-60 days past due shouldn't affect your score too much. Just make sure you don't foul up again. People with normally good credit should still check their reports to confirm there are no errors in reporting.

Those with a history of bad credit shouldn't give up on their credit. While it won't help you in the immediate time for an apartment, you can rebuild your credit from the ashes. It may take a couple years, but it is possible to turn your bad credit into excellent credit. It starts with creating good money management habits, which is essentially paying all your bills on time and keeping balances that equal less than 30% of your overall credit limit. These are the two most important factors that get calculated into your credit rating. 

Income Requirements

It's not enough that you just earn enough to cover the rent, after all, you do need to eat, launder, and pay bills. Most landlords are looking for an income that is around 40 times the monthly rent. For example, if the rent for an apartment is $2,000, they'd like to see an annual household income of about $80,000 or more.

Gather your paperwork ahead of time, by putting together your most recent pay statement/stubs, most recent bank statements, at least the last two tax returns or tax documents such as W-2's or 1099's that equal your annual income, an employment letter, and a government-issued photo ID. You can include landlord reference letters as well if you feel it will help you. These are best kept as a digital file so you can email them or print them out on demand.

Beginning Your Search

Although there are some savvy landlords, smaller landlords either won’t have a lot of time or know-how on marketing techniques, so their listings may be harder to find on the sites you may frequent. If your whole purpose is to find a no-fee apartment, and you don't mind going through a rental agent, then check out the "no-fee" apartments. There are sites that have listings "for rent by owner", but we aware that there are tons of rental scams out there and this is occasionally the guise. Sometimes also, this is just a rental agent trying to reach a wider audience.

There are other sites that claim they have an inventory of listings by owner. While this may be true, you will be charged a fee for subscription. It may be cheaper in the long run than paying a broker’s fee, but just keep in mind that it isn’t free and many of those listings may actually already exist on other sites for free.

Going by Foot

This is not a method that is recommended for Manhattan as signs in windows are rare and you will likely encounter large buildings and high-rises. Unless there is a particular building you have been eyeing, skip the walking. This approach, however, might be ideal for certain neighborhoods in the other four boroughs. Just be sure to plan your day accordingly, as places like Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island are massive. Hop on a bike and you’ll be good to go. Visit local coffee shops, community centers, and businesses where people tend to gather. You’ll find physical postings. If you find a building you really like, try to contact the super or speak with a tenant on how to contact the landlord.

Management Companies

You’re best bet in finding apartments directly for rent by owner would be through management companies. Unfortunately, it may be hard to find a comprehensive list of all the property managers in a given area, and that leaves a lot of work, contacting each company (there are hundreds if not thousands) and asking about their availabilities. However, this will result in a no-fee apartment and you can negotiate directly with the property management company. Many of the larger companies have staff that can advertise on major listing sites and put out the word to most brokerages, so you’re more likely to see their listings.

Manhattan

You’re basically not going to find very many options in the City if you’re thinking more in the way of a smaller landlord. Almost all of your offerings for an apartment by owner is going to be a luxury development, more often than not, in the form of a high-rise. Luckily, if you are ready to pay top dollar for rent, the options are plentiful in almost any neighborhood you choose. If you are seeking something different, it’s best to research cooperative buildings in Manhattan. Quite a few shareholders rent out their apartments, meaning most co-op buildings have rentals available. Doorman buildings are also great to target. The doorman may be able to tell you if there are vacancies and give you contact information to the management companies. Other areas to look into are Stuyvesant Town, East Harlem, and Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhoods.

The Outer Boroughs

The other four boroughs of New York City have so much to offer especially in its differentiation from Manhattan. Each neighborhood and borough has a distinctive character. Much of Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island are also dominated by larger management companies and landlords, but unlike most of Manhattan, you still can find a fairly decent number of smaller landlords who just own a handful of properties or are letting an apartment or two in their multi-family house. If you’d like to reach these property owners, then it’s best to talk to locals at neighborhood establishments or go through the classifieds of a local paper. You can access some of these online as well. Mass transit is spottier in the outer boroughs so it’s recommended that you take a bike, drive or plan your foot journey well.

Let a Broker Work for You

Many listing sites these days will offer units labeled as “rent by owner”, but the reality is that the majority of listings are still dominated by realtors and brokers. You’ll find no-fee listings more often than not with brokerages that are working with larger property holders and landlords. The smaller mom-and-pop type owners may be more reluctant to dish out the cash for an agent and may prefer that they collect their commission from the tenant, even if the agent is creating what is essentially “free” advertising for them.

If a unit you are interested in has been sitting on the market for some time, that may give an incentive to the landlord to pay the broker’s fee in order to get it rented out. So, always ask your agent or broker if the landlord would be open to paying the fee or even a part of it. Not every landlord will be open, but some will, and you may end up with a no-fee apartment or paying a low fee. Remember, you can always use their agent or broker to do the research for you as well as negotiate on your behalf; not only the broker’s fee but also negotiating rent, lease terms, and other incentives.

Negotiating on Your Own Behalf

If you're going the process alone, you can still always negotiate with the landlord. However, be sure to do that before any deposit is given or any lease is signed. You can try and negotiate for free weeks or months of rent, to the landlord paying for utilities, a parking spot, different lease terms, or even the price. If you don't qualify credit wise, you can offer to pay extra securities or months of rent upfront. Few landlords may be swayed by an extra month (depending on how bad your credit is), but more would likely to be convinced with an extra five-six months at least signing. For truly poor credit or no credit, you'll likely be able to get the apartment paying all twelve months upfront.

You can also always get a guarantor to help you out if you have credentials that are less than par. Be sure your guarantor makes at least 80 times the rent and has excellent credit. New York City landlords will not take foreign guarantors. If you are a foreign national with no domestic guarantor, you can use a third-party guaranteeing service like Insurent or The Guarantors. Just make sure the landlord is willing to take them.

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