How to Search and Find a NYC Sublet

photo of street in brooklyn
Source: Mark Powell via Flickr Creative Commons

Signing a 12-month lease and shelling out three months of rent upfront is par for the course when it comes to New York City rentals. But let’s face it, that’s an inordinately binding and absurdly expensive proposition. Even if you’re cool with long-term commitments and flush with cash, there are many reasons to find a NYC sublet.

Subletting can be a great way to:

  • Explore a new neighborhood before committing to moving there
  • Bridge the gap between the last days at one apartment and the move-in date at your next
  • Give some flexibility to your lifestyle.

If you’re considering forgoing the traditional apartment search, get on ya! It’s not as daunting as it seems since finding a great sublet requires many of the same skills as finding a great apartment. Here are some tips on how to find a sublet in New York City.

Starting the Search for Your Sublet

The recipe for a good sublet situation includes the following:

  • Proper scheduling – The subletter and the sublessee’s schedules should align so the tenure of the sublease works for both parties.
  • Trust – As a sublessee, you will be occupying someone else’s home and for better or worse caring after their possessions. You will want to earn your subletter’s trust and give him peace of mind that his property is in good hands.
  • Fair price – Although subletting is a good way to save money or rent (typically no broker’s fee and often under-market rate), negotiating a price that is acceptable to both subletter and sublessee is important in maintaining a good relationship. Unlike a traditional landlord, a subletter is giving you intimate access to his home and you’ll want to make sure the relationship isn’t strained by financial conflict on either side.

Sometimes the quickest way to find that necessary rapport is to start your search in your own social circles, online and by asking around. A Facebook post or a note in the office can garner opportunities that have a built-in network of trust.

If your friends and family don’t come through, then websites like Craigslist or Airbnb can offer a good alternative. Before posting, it’s good to know the specific parameters of your search including dates, price and areas you’re in interested in staying. A site like Airbnb is better at narrowing down your search and vetting potential subletters but Craigslist often has more interesting opportunities and better prices.

Looking to sublet your apartment? Get negotiation tips

Scoring an Under-the-Market Deal With a Sublet

Sublets in NYC can be more expensive than renting or quite a bit cheaper. It is against the law in NYC for a renter to charge more than 10 percent above their rent when subletting a rent-stabilized apartment but people who own their home can set their own prices. Some people save on sublets by arranging to cat-sit, water the plants or accept packages. Being seen as a trustworthy house sitter is worth a lot to many people who must leave their homes in another person’s hands.

Subletting: A Way to Skip the Broker’s Fee?

Even though sublets are short-term and the commission fee brokers charge for their services only pay off over the long term, it can be helpful to work with a brokerage when you are looking for a sublet, especially if you are new to the city or pinched for time. Some major brokerages like CityRealty and Douglas Elliman also cater to clients looking for short-term rentals and sublets.

What is the broker’s fee all about?

How to Assess a Sublet

Whenever you’re considering a sublet, you should make sure the listing covers the following bases and clearly outlines the following:

  • The dates of the sublet
  • The price, which is broken down by day, week, month or entire duration
  • Apartment type – Is the sublet a rental, a co-op, condo or a single-family home? This information has legal implications that include whether you need a lease (always a good idea but only necessary if you are subletting from a renter.) Ideally, your sub-landlord will be forthcoming with all information regarding your stay. But, it isn’t unheard of to get hassled by landlords or co-op boards once you arrive at your sublet, so be sure to ask in advance what is required to move in.
  • Roommate situation – Will you be subletting an entire, private apartment or subletting a room and sharing the apartment with roommates?

Renting with roommates? Read our survival guide

Do Your Homework

Ideally, you should view the sublet space before you move into it. Many of the same websites that can be useful for finding sublets also have very low barriers to entry. If you can’t view a place before you commit, at the very least you should feel comfortable corresponding with your subletter and feel confident in their trustworthiness. It’s a red flag if the photos or descriptions are sketchy and the subletter’s communication style is evasive or non-responsive.

Moving to the City? See the best neighborhoods for newcomers

Summer is Subletting Season

Even more so than the regular rental market, subletting follows a seasonal pattern with summer marking the peak. During the summer, many college students and families with young kids vacate the city at the same time that tons of newcomers and recent college grads arrive for summer internships and permanent work. This influx and outflux of people bring a whirlwind of activity and a frenzy of transaction volume to the rental market. As a result, searching for a sublet in the summer is an often fast-paced, high-stakes game of finding space and making an offer. If you’re bad at making decisions at a break-neck pace, start searching for summer housing as early as possible. There will be less supply on the market but significantly less demand also which translates to more time to negotiate and more opportunity for bargains.

When is the best time to rent an apartment in NYC?

High-End Sublets, Corporate Housing

If you have the money to live lavishly many of the difficulties of subletting evaporate. High-end services, once known as corporate housing, exist to place people in luxury, full-service buildings in the centrally located areas. This is how models, actors, professional athletes and other high-earning corporate types who have been relocated to the city settle in. If you don’t fall into that employment category, (and not many of us do!), you should still consider using whatever corporate relocation stipend your company offers towards finding a sublet. You can often find under-market-rate apartments via subletting or other forms of short-term rental services like Premier Furnished Solutions, AKA, or Churchill Corporate Housing.