Finding the perfect apartment in when you first move to New York is no trouble – a city with over 8 million people contains every type of dwelling imaginable. Finding an affordable apartment in New York on the other hand is no mean feat.

With less than 5% rental vacancy at the time of writing, New York is in an almost constant state of housing emergency. This is a situation which pushes up rental prices and which has forced into being things like rent control and stabilisation programmes.

Finding the right rental apartment in NYC then is a hunt and no hunt can proceed without first understanding the lay of the land.

The Five Boroughs

If there is one thing you should know before renting an apartment in New York City, it is that you should narrow down your search as soon as possible. Vibrant New York is divided into five boroughs, each with their own personality:


Home of the largest financial centre in the world, the UN, and glorious Broadway. It’s the most densely populated borough in the entire United States so rental prices are astronomical. A typical one bedroom apartment will cost at least $2,000 per month but the average is closer to $3,000 per month. Hedge fund managers and bankers abound in Midtown.

The Bronx

The birthplace of hip hop, where you’ll find Yankee stadium, and the Bronx Zoo. Though the Bronx has recovered from its status as a no-go zone in the 80s ,it’s still lagging behind in the gentrification stakes. A one bedroom place will set you back around $1,000 per month and there are even 3 beds available for $2,000.

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A largely residential borough, once a city in its own right and home to several large parks as well as Coney Island. In trendier areas like Brooklyn Heights you’ll be paying prices comparable with those in Manhattan. Moving out a bit further, say to Prospect Heights or Park Slope, you’ll find one beds available for $1,500 per month and three-beds for around $3,000.


The largest and most ethnically diverse borough where you’ll find the New York Mets, Flushing Meadows and two major airports (LaGuardia and JFK International). Parts of Queens vie with Brooklyn for trendiness, it’s similarly convenient for commuting to Manhattan and prices are roughly equivalent, dropping as you move further into suburbia.

Staten Island

The most suburban borough, serviced by the famous Staten Island Ferry. Here you can rent a one bedroom apartment for significantly less than $1,000 per month and a budget of $1,500 per month could even bag you a 3-bed. Get used to that 25 minute ferry ride though – there’s not a lot going on on the island itself.

So many boroughs, so little space to describe each of their neighbourhoods… for a more in depth guide to where to live in New York, check out our favourite neighbourhoods in each of the five boroughs.

Finding an NYC apartment

There are plenty of websites listing New York apartment rentals – not least the US favourite Craigslist. Finding the right place is therefore a matter of putting in the hours. Nevertheless there are a few important things you need to understand before you embark on that search.

Rent control and rent stabilisation

As a new tenant your apartment won’t qualify for rent control – you need to have been living in it since 1971. You might find a rent stabilised apartment though, where rent increases are capped and, as well as being able to extend your lease, you’re guaranteed certain services from your landlord. It applies to apartments built before 1974 with a rent of less than $2,500 per month.

Deposits and agent fees

Landlords normally request the first month’s rent up front and a security deposit of between one and two months’ rent (though they are required by law to keep this money separate and in an interest bearing account). What may come as a shock is that letting agents in New York charge the tenant colossal fees of up to 15% of the annual rent.

If you have a particularly strong constitution you might try going around the broker and closing the deal yourself. For recently arrived immigrants or temporary visa-holders though, even the threat of litigation is normally enough to dissuade this kind of cost-cutting.