Looking for a reliable roommate to help bear the brunt of an exorbitant rental in NYC? Financially, that makes sense to a lot of people, but despite being a well-traveled path there’s still the potential for many pitfalls—I should know.
Fresh out of law school and new to NYC, I was determined to find a reasonable apartment without compromising safety and living standards (in other words, no bathtub in the middle of the kitchen). So when I landed a lease for a flex one bedroom, one bath on the Upper West Side with Central Park views—from the bathroom, and only when standing on tiptoe—I set out to do what countless other recent grads and thrifty thirty-somethings on up had done: Search for a stranger to share my habitat, an unfamiliar proposition in a pre-Airbnb era.
Back then, there just weren’t as many roommate-finding options as there are today. My first “matchmaker roomie” quickly became my BFF (and still is to this day), not so my second or third; turns out I had the same success rates when bunking with friends of friends or alumni connections. Which just goes to show that modern-day algorithms can indeed trump old-fashioned analog methods (aka word of mouth), though each method has its pros and cons.
Regardless of which route you take—be it combing through ads on Craigslist (my own go-to) or leveraging a roommate-finder service to do the screening for you (one out of three fails on my own scorecard)—the takeaways are the same. Always do your due diligence. Ask your friends and colleagues for their favorite roommate-finding sites and check for reviews on Yelp and other sites. Pose these 21 questions to prospective roommate candidates, be on the lookout for tell tale signs of potentially problematic roommates, and keep your radar tuned to common roommate scams. And remember: For every scam story you hear there are hundreds of roomie-turned-bestie (or even romantic partner) tales.
Two more lessons to live by when perusing any site or profile: Go with your gut. Have an open mind.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article was published in June 2019. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer 2019 Best of Brick week.]
Start your search with Brick Underground’s top 12 sources, any one of which will help you make your own auspicious roommate match (or two or three)—and add to your own only-in-NYC narrative.
Need help finding a rental that allows temporary walls—or a landlord who will accept multiple guarantors? The rental experts at Triplemint, a Brick Underground partner, know exactly where to look. If you sign up here, you can also take advantage of Triplemint's corporate relocation rate—where you'll pay a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent on open listings. Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
Since it was founded in 2014, NYC-based Diggz has expanded into 14 other markets across the U.S. Registering your profile involves completing a lengthy Q and A that probes into your usual sleep pattern, cleaning habits, and other lifestyle matters. Once you are all signed up, Diggz’s proprietary algorithm ranks your potential roommates so the most promising ones are at the top of the list, which you can further refine with search filters (no poring over dead-end profiles). Then it’s up to you to “like” any of those people and, if they “like” you back (a la Tinder or other dating sites), to chat with your “matches” through the application before sharing any personal contact information. If you would prefer to pair up with someone in searching for a new home, Diggz can do that too.
UK-based SpareRoom (the owner now resides in NYC) skips the formalities, letting you search by zip code or area right from the home page or to go to its advanced search function with the usual (no smoking, pets considered) and not-so-usual (LGBT household, vegetarians preferred, utilities included) filters. You can even screen out any for-fee apartments and agent listings. The staff also vets all postings to make sure they are legit. What’s more, SpareRoom hosts regular “SpeedRoommating” mixers where roommate-seekers can network over drinks and ideally find a good match—or at least walk away with a few new friends. (Check out this podcast episode to listen in on an actual event.) If all the above isn’t incentive enough to sign up, get this: Every month SpareRoom awards a different “Live Rent Free” contest winner a free month’s rent and matches that amount in a charitable donation to Breaking Ground, an organization which fights homelessness in NYC.
As its name proudly proclaims, Rainbow Roommates intentionally caters to the LGBTQ and “gay-friendly” community in and around NYC, for a truly localized and specialized experience. Apartment listers can do so for free, while apartment hunters must sign up for a subscription that’s designed to protect the privacy of the participants. There are three types of memberships ranging in price from $30 for a 15-day account to $140 for 90 days. If those fees seem steep, it might be worth it if you need to find a new home on the quick, something the site claims to do (in as little as two weeks on average). Furthermore, if you discover within the first two months that a roommate found through the site is not working out, Rainbow Roommates will give you a one-month free membership so you can find a more suitable situation.
To rent an apartment in New York City, most landlords require you to earn an annual salary of at least 40 to 45 times the monthly rent. If you don't—or if you’re an international employed person, self-employed, non-employed with assets, retired, or an international student or US student—you’ll need to find a guarantor for your lease who earns at least 80 times the monthly rent and lives in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. Or you can turn to Insurent Lease Guaranty. Accepted at more than 4,700 buildings across the city representing over 475,000 apartments, Insurent Lease Guaranty is a quick and easy way to get the apartment you want. (And a perfect solution when a landlord will only accept a single guarantor for you and your roommates.) Click here to learn more.
If you count yourself among the many creative professionals in NYC and want an ultra-personal service and no bait-and-switch postings, Listings Project is a bit of a local legend.
Initially launched as the personal project of Stephanie Diamond to help artists like herself find living spaces (and work studios) in NYC, the site has grown into a full-fledged operation that offer rooms (and entire apartments) to rent or sublet, with some 150-plus shared rentals ranging in price from $650 to $2,600 per month at the time of this writing.
Those looking to list an apartment must submit their post by Tuesday at 10 a.m. and pay a $30 fee (or up to $180 for “extended deadline” fees, a definite barrier to fake posters). Someone from Diamond’s team then goes through each listing to weed out brokers and agents, personally notifying posters if they’ve been approved.
People who are looking for a room to rent then sign up (for free) to receive a weekly email that’s sent out each Wednesday morning, and word of mouth has it that you had better act fast or lose out on the choicest options...or try your luck again the next week (hint: set a recurring reminder on your phone).
Padmapper isn’t specifically a roommate-search site, nor does it operate as such. That said, you can easily trawl around the interactive map (hence the site’s name) for places that fit your customizable criteria.
A few pointers are in order for room hunters: You’ll need to select the “room” option under “more filters” on the basic search page to find a share, and you won’t receive much in the way of information about who you will be sharing living space with. The results also include listings from Airbnb as well as brokers, which may be a turn-off, though you can filter out Airbnb and for-fee listings. When I did just that, of the thousand-plus listings I ended up with a mere 26, the majority in Brooklyn and about half from Bedly, a short-term housing site. If that works for you, this free service gives you a big-picture look of what’s out there.
Questionable name aside, BangItOut serves a primarily Jewish population, including some who are interested in keeping a kosher kitchen. The site is not real estate-specific, but it does offer an “Apartments that Bang” tab featuring a modest number of listings (about 50 when I searched the site) concentrated largely on the Upper West Side but with a smattering of apartments elsewhere in Manhattan and in Brooklyn and Queens.
With “find a roommate without scams” and “slimeball rip-off artists screened out” as their taglines, RoomieMatch injects a bit of cheeky fun into what can be an onerous process. Its multiple-choice personality quiz delves deep into such quirks as your household clothing preferences, typical television viewing, comfort level with “potential promiscuity,” and what happens to takeout (“I’d rather just use the fridge to chill beer” being one possible response),
RoomieMatch is also a good choice if you tend to shy away from having all your personal information published on the web for anyone to see, since matches are emailed directly to users. If you want to be more proactive and contact anyone yourself, you’ll need to upgrade to the $20 “Cheap Roommate Search” yearly subscription, which might be worth it if you are a frequent subletter or tend to move a lot. And should you need to find another roommate within the 12-month period, the subscription will be gratis.
Brooklyn-based RoomZoom started the same way most good ideas start: Its founder, ElienBlue Becque, was sick of sifting through the dumping ground of Craigslist every time she needed to fill a room in her affordable Williamsburg apartment, which yielded hundreds of emails from people. RoomZoom asks you first to create an account, then fill out a questionnaire that addresses roommate expectations, like level of cleanliness and capacity for social gatherings.
The company then creates matches based on the data, and sends them back in the form of a ranked list. Of course, AI hasn’t yet taken the place of good old-fashioned personal connection, so once you receive your matches, you can view in-depth profiles of your potential roommates, and message them if they seem like a good fit.
And if you chafe at the thought of writing your bio, check out their blog for helpful tips from one insider.
Global and expansive, Roomi is the big (friendly) kid on the block. Like other sites, you can either look for a room to rent or for someone to move into your own apartment. Unlike most other sites (listed here and otherwise explored), Roomi requires $5 to complete an ID verification and $25 for a background check, something you may balk at having to pay for and submit to, though just think about much safer that might make you feel knowing your roommate has been screened.
When you click on an individual’s page, for example, you can immediately see if they are been verified along with the person’s name (and photo), age, work history, personal summary, and self-ascribed tags such as “foodie, night owl, healthy, bookworm, early riser,” allowing you to glean a lot from an initial glance before deciding whether to chat with that person through the site. Caveat: You will inevitably land on listings from ”official partners” (euphemism for Roomi-approved brokers), which may or may not bother you, as it means you are accessing a greater number of opportunities but in a less immediate way. When I was searching for a room in NYC I also ended up with a listing for North Miami Beach (tempting!) though there were ample accurate listings to choose among.
This tried-and-true roommate resource is still the go-to for many New Yorkers, who (like my younger me) offer “skipping the middleman” and “I use Craigslist for everything” as reasons for sticking with it despite tales of scams and other infamy. As with any of the sites listed here, you need to go with your gut and remain vigilant. Always be sure to meet prospective roommates in a public space and preferably with some friends to help size up any candidates (and to make sure they will get along); and connect via social media to get a sense of a person’s profile. (For more tips, read How to find a room (and roommate) on Craigslist—and avoid the freaks.)
As with Craigslist, Reddit requires a healthy degree of skepticism and stellar judgment skills to navigate successfully. But if you’re willing to do some wading, reddit.com/r/NYCapartments is generally packed with listings. Another pro (or con, depending on your perspective) of this freewheeling forum is that you may find yourself poring over lengthy threads about only-in-NYC queries and complaints (such as the exorbitant cost of application fees) to find actual listings, though if you are new to the rental market you might pick up a few helpful hints along with a new apartment-mate.
What’s great about GhostlightHousing, a private Facebook group, is its “members only” intimacy and exclusivity. You’ll need to request to join—and in doing so to demonstrate that you are an active part of the NYC performing community. Once you’re in, though, you’re privy to a wide range of listings; on the date of this writing there were 114 new posts and just shy of 200,000 members, meaning you’ll be forging connections in more ways than just in your housing hunt. Note that many of the listings are cross-posted from Craigslist, though when it comes to responses, even a tangential connection with someone forged through a private Facebook group is preferable to no connection at all, putting you at the top of the heap.