New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, if not the world, in which to live. It’s not unusual for even studio apartments to go for $2,000 a month. Given that most landlords want your annual income to be at least 40 times your monthly rent (and that’s with stellar credit), you’ll need to earn $80,000 a year just to rent what in Omaha would be considered a shoebox. But there are tricks to getting a deal on your rent, even in New York City. We consulted the experts and came up with nine tips that could help you shave some decimal points off your rent.
Barter with your landlord. Alice (she doesn’t want to compromise her sweet deal by revealing her last name) was able to reduce her rent by $200 a month—permanently— by rewiring her apartment. Not only is her rent lowered to $1,200 a month for the entire fourth floor of a Ft. Greene brownstone, she gets to take advantage of the top-notch electrical, cable, and Internet wiring she knows was done the right away, because she did it herself. And when her lease came up for renewal, her increase was a paltry $50 a month, because her landlord likes that she keeps the apartment upgraded and nicely maintained. Jenny Mata, a New York City real estate agent, has also had clients “offer to pay for a new stove and/or fridge to get that new updated kitchen look to negotiate the rent down, and it worked!,” she says.
Score a job as a super or on-site manager. If you have any experience doing maintenance or working in the real-estate field, you can leverage your work history into free or deeply discounted housing. Jay Davis has been living rent-free by working as an on-site super at various buildings since 1987 (most recently in Bushwick, Brooklyn). “I’m skilled in all sorts of apartment repairs,” he says, “so I live rent-free in exchange for making sure the building is maintained.” In addition to the free rent, Jay gets a salary and has the freedom to take on side jobs for extra cash. If you don’t have experience doing maintenance work, buildings sometimes need managers, which take on more administrative tasks (though these positions are less available than maintenance jobs). These jobs can generally be found on Craigslist or on management companies’ websites, where detailed information about the jobs and benefits is often available.
Offer to do extra work around the building. This works best if you live in a privately owned apartment rather than a building owned by a management company. Offer to shovel snow, change hallway light bulbs, clean the entryways and staircases, or clean apartments before new tenants move in. This sort of arrangement is usually off the books and unspoken (no one wanted to go on record saying that these kind of deals are made, but under condition of anonymity, they confirmed these situations are more frequent than people know).
Ask a real-estate agent for help. An agent can find out how long an apartment has been on the market. “If it has been vacant for more than two weeks, that is a great negotiating tactic,” Mata says. “We know the landlord would rather have someone in the apartment because as the days go by they lose money, so you can calculate that into the price and negotiate the rent to be lowered.” An agent can also help you look for “comps” (comparable apartments) in the area. Jeff Skinner, a New York City-based real-estate agent, says agents can find “similar apartments in the area that are cheaper, closer to transit, et cetera. Print out the listings and show them to the landlord to negotiate a cheaper price. It’ll be hard for the landlord to argue with facts!” Of course, you can also do research on your own using Zillow.com to see if you can figure out how long a place has been available and print out comps.
Offer to pay several months of rent up-front. If you have the money on hand, offer to pay an entire year’s rent (plus a security deposit) in cash before you even move in. Real-estate agent Robert Cleary says, “You have to keep in mind, most international renters have to pay up to 8-12 months of rent ahead plus security so asking a tenant to pay more to have a lower rent does entice the landlord.” This can also be a way that you can score a great deal on an apartment if you have less-than-stellar credit: Mata says that “paying several months in advance [can help] at-risk applicants who may have bad credit or who do not meet the income requirements but have money in the bank.”
Look to hostels. If you’re not yet a New York state resident, contact hostels in the area to see whether they offer work-exchanges for nonresidents. For example, the Jazz chain of hostels, which has five New York City locations, offers a program for non-New York residents to work 32 hours per week in exchange for free lodging (duties range from attending the front desk to handling housekeeping). A three-month commitment is required. You can also find other opportunities online at hostelmanagement.com.
Hook up with a reputable nanny or housekeeping agency. As a quick search on Craigslist proves, you can find gigs out there for live-in housekeepers or nannies on a part-time basis, earning a salary in addition to scoring a free place to live. This is especially convenient for freelancers or other people with flexible schedules that allow them to fulfill household or nanny responsibilities. Most nanny agencies will want you to make a one-year commitment. Full-time and weekend opportunities are also often available, and sometimes the families will want you to spend summers with them in the Hamptons or abroad. But make sure to arrange all of this with a reputable company; scams abound on Craigslist (including creepy ads seeking housekeepers but sounding more like casting calls for adult films). Care.com and sittercity.com are two independent resources for job listings usually placed by agencies, but NYC-based agencies can also ensure there’s a good fit. Some of the more reputable places include the Pavilion Agency, the Lindquist Group, and Greenhouse Staffing.
Negotiate with subletters or roommates. People sublet a lot in New York City, and if they get desperate they may be eager to make a deal. You can usually find these sorts of deals on Craigslist, though use caution and common sense when meeting up with someone or handing over any money. Another avenue is to contact people you know who live in New York City (Facebook works well for this) and ask if they or any of their friends will be going out of town for weeks or months at a time. And if you’re looking for a roommate situation, see if there’s wiggle room there. Laura Bryan, a recent transplant from the Midwest, was able to reduce her share of the rent in her Astoria, Queens apartment by offering to do all of the cleaning in the apartment. “While my other two roommates paid $700 a month, I paid only $500,” she says.
Look outside the traditional routes of finding a place to live. In certain parts of every borough, you’ll find “room rental” brokers who facilitate finding a room to rent; it’s like having a roommate, in the sense that you’re sharing an apartment with one or more people, but without any commitment and very low rent. For instance, in Washington Heights (upper Manhattan), you’ll find room-rental brokers lining Broadway along 157th to 160th streets. Louise Hernandez, a room-rental broker, says “rooms in Washington Heights and Inwood range from $100 a week to $200 a week, with a one-week security deposit required to move in.” Rent is usually paid weekly, and it often includes a furnished room, Internet, cable, and all utilities. And if you think Washington Heights is too far away or too dangerous: the A train runs express from 125th to 59th streets (getting you from 168th St. to 14th St. in about 30 minutes), and DNAinfo.com recently deemed the Heights as the fourth-safest neighborhood in Manhattan (safer, even, than Greenwich Village).