How to Find a Really Cheap Apartment in NYC

the rent is too damn high
In the immortal words of Jimmy McMillan (source: Grace C via Flickr Creative Commons)

Looking to land a really cheap apartment? Aren’t we all. If your budget is low – so low that you’re having trouble finding options on Naked Apartments – read this guide for tips. Some of them are tried, true and familiar while others are more rogue and off-the-beaten path. Take these suggestions with a grain of salt and do what works for you, but remember – when it comes to finding a really cheap apartment you’ve got to be cagey.

The Power of WOM

There is nothing like word of mouth even in as big a city as New York. Ask around to see if anyone in your extended network knows of a room opening up in an already rented apartment. You can either sublet it from the original occupant who is on the lease or you can just join the lease if it is held by the remaining tenant. Subletting usually translates to much cheaper rental costs because you don’t have to worry about broker fees. Also, lower rents are often grandfathered in by the previous tenant (meaning that the landlord doesn’t have opportunity to jack up the rent when apartments change hands).
You can also search for single rooms on Naked Apartments. This is far and away your best shot at landing an apartment for under $1,000 that is halfway decent. Keep in mind that though the monthly rent often is much less on these apartments, you’ll still have to pay a broker’s fee.

Embrace Cohabitation

Got a SO? Good for you. You are on your way to stable adult life. You also have an opportunity to save on living costs. Sharing the cost of rent ideally is not the prime motive in your relationship but if it’s a collateral benefit, why not embrace it? If you’re ready for cohabitation, you can save substantially by splitting the cost of a studio or one-bedroom. No surprise there.
If you are really looking to save, consider renting a two- or three-bedroom with a couple of roommates. It takes the right couple and the right roommate to make this scenario work, but it is a surefire way for you and your partner to lock in monthly rents under $1,000.

Convert a One-Bedroom

Some apartments have large enough common areas that they can be converted into another bedroom either by erecting a temporary wall or by setting up screens. Finding a convertible apartment is not super easy and you usually have to get approval from the landlord – especially if you’re going the temporary wall route. You’ll have the best luck by searching for higher-priced one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms (e.g $2,000/month for one beds and $2,800/month for two beds) . To make it work, the living room will likely need a window so that the “bedroom” you create also has an exposure. Some large rental buildings and complexes are familiar with this practice so be sure to check out places like Stuy-Town, the McKibbin Lofts in Bushwick, or 84 North 9th Street in Williamsburg.

Make the .5 Worth It

A one-and-a-half bedroom apartment seems sort of ridiculous. Who needs a study or a laundry room in an apartment that probably doesn’t even have a in-unit washer/dryer? That .5 undoubtedly will be small, but beggars can’t be choosers. With space-efficient furniture (e.g., a single bed with under-the-bed storage), it can work. Will it be luxurious? No. Livable? Probably. Affordable? Definitely.

Can You Handle a Railroad?

Railroads are often considered the ugly stepchild of the two-bedroom apartment. And let’s face it, living in a railroad isn’t pretty. If you’re open to a railroad (i.e., a walk-through apartment), however, it definitely will save you money. The key to living in a railroad is you and your roommate’s compatibility. Can you and your roommate handle it? It will require openness and good communication on both of your parts as well as somewhat similar schedules and lifestyles.

What Can You Live Without?

Decide where you’re willing to make concessions. If you are trying to find a really cheap apartment, you’re going to have to forgo some amenities and conveniences. In-unit washer-dryer? Fat chance, my friend! Dishwasher? If you are lucky, you may be able to find a sublet or apartment with a dishwasher with a couple of roommates and still lock in a low rent. A one-bedroom with a dishwasher for under $1,800 will be hard to find, but you may have luck in more far-flung neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Inwood or Washington Heights. On a tight budget, you’ll likely also have to say good by to central air-conditioning.

These are the major amenities you will sacrifice, but also have to be open other budget-friendly factors (i.e., inconveniences) such as walk-ups. Usually 4th, 5th and 6th floor walk-ups go for much less than lower floor units. Distance from the subway will also work in your favor if you’re on the hunt for a super cheap apartment. Apartments in areas like Clinton Hill and Yorkville where the walk to the subway is invariably long usually are lowered priced than comparable units in more central neighborhoods.

What’s a Picture Really Worth?

This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but one way to find a super cheap apartment is to go where no one else will go. Not literally – but if you’re willing to live in New Dorp or other super remote areas – you’ll definitely find a deal. What we mean is you should consider apartments that may be overlooked by the average renter. These could be apartments that don’t have photos posted on the listing page. These types of apartments may be listed by the landlord or property owner who doesn’t have the time or savvy to update the listing with images. Many of them usually have lower asking rents as well and if they are listed by the property owner themselves you may not have to pay a broker’s fee.  If the location of the apartment looks alright to you, reach out to the listing contact or broker expressing your interest and request photos directly. That’s a good way to get the conversation started. If they are unwilling to provide images, move on.