Newcomers hunting for accommodation in New York City should prepare themselves for an adrenaline-driven experience marked by fierce competition.
In general, buying, renting or finding any type of housing can be difficult and expensive. New arrivals should start the search as soon as possible to give themselves the best chance of securing a suitable place.
Types of accommodation in New York City
There are numerous housing options in New York City. Anyone moving to the Big Apple is sure to find something that suits them – provided their budget allows it. Below is a breakdown of the types of property available in New York City.
Constructed before World War II, pre-war buildings are known for their quality craftsmanship, attention to detail and architectural splendour. Some still employ an elevator operator and may provide a doorman and laundry facilities.
Anything built from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s is referred to as a post-war property. Almost all have elevators and laundry facilities and many have doormen. Post-war buildings typically have larger windows.
These properties are usually less than 10 years old. New buildings tend to be quite luxurious and often feature marble bathrooms and state-of-the-art granite kitchens. Many of these buildings are newly constructed high-rises featuring a variety of amenities, including laundry facilities, valet and maid services, health clubs, swimming pools, lounges and parking facilities.
Mostly constructed in the early 20th century, walk-ups are three- to six-storey buildings. As the name implies, they do not have an elevator. Most also don't have laundry facilities. There is no doorman, and security is generally a locked double door with an intercom to let guests in.
The term 'brownstone' was derived from the brown sandstone materials used in the construction of single-family homes in the early 20th century. The main entrance to the ground floor is typically half a storey below street level. The ground level itself may have a garden behind the house.
Built as upscale private homes, townhouses usually offer amenities that are typically associated with a house rather than an apartment such as private backyards, terraces, fireplaces and other charming details. Townhouses are mostly found in the suburbs, away from downtown New York.
These are frequently commercial buildings that have been converted into residential dwellings, characterised by tall windows and an open living space. Many have self-service elevators, and they were originally created for artists.
Areas and suburbs in New York City
New York City is separated into five distinct neighbourhoods or boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. Manhattan is the central borough accessible by bridge or tunnel, while the others are the outer boroughs. Although many newcomers would prefer to live close to their workplace, the main business district of Manhattan claims the most expensive real estate and has few options for family-sized accommodation.
Even neighbouring boroughs outside Manhattan – like Brooklyn – have started advertising rentals with sky-high prices, although properties here usually offer more space than one would find in the centre of New York. Striking a balance between location, type of accommodation and affordability can be tricky.
The neighbourhoods in New York City are as diverse and distinct as the city's cultural makeup. Young professionals and students typically lean towards trendy Downtown and Midtown New York City where there are unique cultural and dining experiences on offer.
Uptown New York, Brooklyn and Westchester County are all popular with families of all sizes thanks to the abundance of green spaces and family-friendly housing in these areas. These areas also have suburbs with some of the best public and international schools in New York City.
See Areas and Suburbs in New York City for more details on the best neighbourhoods in the city.
Finding accommodation in New York City
We recommend that new arrivals looking to find a home in New York hire an agency for help. They charge anywhere from a month's worth of rent to the equivalent of 15 percent of a year’s rent. Though it's possible to find accommodation in New York without the help of an agent, it's rare.
In some cases, landlords are willing to take on agency fees, but this is unusual and may be due to the landlord wanting to fill the dwelling quickly. In this case, house hunters should question this. Possibly the building is new and needs tenants, or the apartment has been hard to rent because of undesirable features. On the other hand, high-end luxury apartment owners sometimes hire and pay for a broker themselves so that the tenant doesn't have to. House hunters will need to weigh up the benefits and drawbacks, should they come across such a case.
Young single newcomers might consider sharing an apartment in New York. This is not only a great way to save money, but also allows new arrivals to meet people and create a larger social circle. Online property portals such as Zillow, Trulia and StreetEasy are a fantastic way to find rental listings and house- or flat-share options. Finding a flatmate online can also eliminate agency costs.
Renting accommodation in New York City
When moving to New York, commute time is another essential consideration in choosing a location. The city has extensive public transportation, but there are still a few noteworthy limiting factors. Subways can be crowded and re-routing is a common occurrence, especially on weekends. On the other hand, commuting into the city by car will result in up to an hour's wait to get through the main tunnels during rush hour, and parking is either impossible to find or exorbitantly priced.
Making an application
Prospective tenants should be ready to prove their financial capacity with pay stubs, bank statements, income tax returns, a letter of employment and a refundable security deposit, among others. Some landlords will also require a reference from a previous landlord. A credit check will also be conducted – new arrivals who have relocated to the US won't yet have a credit history in the country and may instead need to provide a personal or institutional guarantor.
Leases and deposits
By law, the deposit is limited to one month's worth of rent and must be returned within 14 days of the end of the lease. Prospective tenants will also need to pay the first month of rent upfront. If the tenant used an agency, they should also have some funds set aside to cover the cost of fees.
A typical lease is for 12 months and New York City's tenant protection laws mandate that landlords give long-term tenants between 60 and 90 days' notice before terminating the lease. It's possible but difficult to find shorter-term leases in the city. They also tend to be more expensive as they are generally fully serviced and include utilities in the rental amount.
See Accommodation in the USA for more information on rental processes in the country.
The inclusion of utilities such as heat, electricity and water in the rental price will vary according to different lease agreements. Gas and water are typically included in the rental price, so in most cases, new arrivals will only need to pay for electricity and internet.
Expats in New York City who are working with an agency may have their utilities set up by their real estate agent. Otherwise, setting up utility accounts in New York City is fairly straightforward and will involve tenants giving their service provider their full name, contact information, address and social security number to open a new account.
As a new customer, it's possible that expats may have to pay a security deposit to the utility company. The deposit is usually returned after a year of consistent and on-time payments. Payments can be set up via direct monthly debit from a tenant's bank account. The main electricity provider across all five boroughs of New York City is Con Edison and newcomers will likely set up an account with them.
Tap water in New York City is safe to drink by state and federal standards. The city boasts three controlled lakes and 19 reservoirs. If tenants do not have water included in their rental, they can choose from one of the 277 private water companies across New York state.
The City of New York runs various residential and commercial waste management programmes aimed at reducing waste going to landfills in the city. The Department of Sanitation oversees waste management in New York City and operates a dual-stream recycling system, where waste is separated into containers or bins. Blue bins are for metal, glass, cartons and plastic while green bins are reserved for paper and cardboard waste.
Have a look at Accommodation in the USA for more information on utilities in America.
►For more on the city's neighbourhoods, see Areas and Suburbs in New York City
"Housing is, like everything else, expensive. But there is a huge number of options. We love our apartment on the Upper East Side because it’s very light and comfortable, and has great communal areas. It’s also furnished, and beautifully so, which is a real bonus. That’s quite unusual. We looked at 35 apartments before moving, and the one we loved the most was the only one that was furnished." Read more about British expat Jayne's expat life in NYC.
"Housing is abundant but incredibly expensive. You will need to adjust what you have in your mind after watching Friends or Sex and the City. Apartments are generally small, lack storage, and are surrounded by other people." Australian expat Josh shares his experiences in his expat interview about NYC.
Are you an expat living in New York City?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New York City. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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