The Search

The best websites for finding a no-fee rental apartment in NYC in 2021

By Austin Havens-Bowen | May 19, 2021 - 9:30AM 

If you have the time and grit to conduct your own search, a no-fee apartment is a cost-saving option.

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When you rent an apartment in New York City, you may be dismayed to learn that you often have to pay a hefty broker fee, which typically ranges from 12 to 15 percent of the annual rent for an apartment. It can be a bitter pill to swallow—after all, you’re also putting down the first month’s rent and a security deposit. 

Broker fees are paid to agents who you have sought out to help you find an apartment, and you can also be asked to pay the broker fee when the agent represents the landlord of an apartment. In slower markets, landlords will often cover their broker’s fee, but when competition heats up for apartments, as is the case now, these owner-paid “concessions” start to go away.

In some cases, enlisting the help of an agent and paying the broker fee is beneficial. Having an expert do the heavy lifting for you may be worth the hefty price tag if you don’t have a lot of time, can’t find what you want on your own, or your employer is paying for your broker fee as part of your relocation expenses.

However, if you have the time and grit to conduct your own search, and want to save some money upfront, consider looking for a no-fee apartment on websites that let you filter out fee-based apartments.

Pro Tip:

If you exhaust the DIY method—or just feel exhausted—sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered by Brick Underground partner Triplemint. A tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment searches of classmates and colleagues, Triplemint will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent versus the usual 12 to 15 percent if the apartment is an "open" listing (versus an "exclusive" listing where the fee is split with the broker holding the listing.) Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.

These “no fee” come in two varieties: Apartments you can rent directly from a landlord or management company and apartments where the landlord pays the broker’s fee for you as a concession. You may also want to consider a co-living situation—these are furnished apartments that some liken to upscale adult dorms. (Want more intel? Check out Brick Underground's 2021 guide to co-living spaces in NYC.)


[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in May 2020. We are presenting it again with updated information for May 2021.]


Ready to begin your search for a new apartment? Keep reading for Brick Underground’s updated list of the best websites for finding no-fee rentals in New York City, listed in alphabetical order. 

Craigslist

Good for: Finding an apartment from smaller mom-and-pop-type landlords.

If you’ve ever hunted for an apartment, second-hand bicycle, or maybe even a missed connection, you’re probably familiar with Craigslist. Its enduring popularity proves that you don’t need a fancy (or even modern) interface to make an effective real estate tool for both renters and landlords—as long as you use it with discretion.

Under the site’s housing tab, you can choose "by-owner apartments," as well as further refine your search by selecting “no broker fee” apartments on the left hand side of the screen, then narrow your search according to your housing preferences. You can further tweak those preferences by using filters for apartments with a washer and dryer, buildings that allow pets, or even furnished spaces. The map function is also useful if you’re looking in a specific neighborhood, and also helps give you a sense of an apartment’s actual location, versus where its poster claims it is. (This is a very common switcheroo in NYC real estate.)

Pro Tip:

Ever thought about applying to an affordable housing lottery? You probably already qualify. Affordable housing programs have expanded to include a wide range of low through middle household incomes. 5203 Center Blvd in Long Island City is the newest luxury rental building with an affordable housing program. Find out if you qualify here and apply before the lottery closes on August 16th.

Craigslist is literally a free-for-all, so take care to avoid scams, and only search apartments with photos, which is another filter option. Some listings on CraigsList don’t include the address so you should focus on listings that do so you can investigate the building and the neighborhood more closely, including information like bedbug history and neighborhood crime rate (more tips on that here), as well as plugging the address into the city's Building Information System to check on things like outstanding violations. Also look up the name of the management company and broker to see if any red flags appear.

Facebook/word of mouth/social media/Nextdoor

Good for: Getting an apartment through a personal recommendation.

High-tech search options abound, but hearing from a friend of a friend or someone in an online community about an apartment is still a powerful tool in the world of New York City real estate. The best deals and nicest places are often found via well-connected friends, family members, and coworkers, so don’t be shy—reach out to your network.

Post on Facebook, hit up your college's alumni network, send a mass email to everyone you’ve ever met in the city, and use any of your other social feeds of choice (You can also try Twitter or Instagram to get the word out through networks that are more geared toward sharing photos, videos, and opinions than looking for services). By reaching out, you're letting your network know that you're on the hunt. You’ll be surprised by how serendipitously the timing can work out to be. Maybe a friend is moving out of an apartment you’ve always admired, and you can scoop it up before it even hits the market.

Nextdoor is a hyperlocal site organized by neighborhood where members are verified. You need to join in order to access the site and you can only post for the neighborhood you live in. So if you wanted to ask if there are available apartments in a particular building or area in order to move near a friend or family member, you could ask them to post on your behalf.

Frele

Good for: Browsing apartment listings by video instead of photos. 

Frele, from the founder of Leasebreak (more about that site later), launched in 2018. It does not charge to post listings so you will likely find rentals here that you won’t find on other sites. In response to the pandemic, the site focuses on showing listings with videos rather than photos—which may give you a better sense of the space, however the site does have thousands of listings with photos. 

There is a no-fee filter that you can use on the top right of their page. Out of their roughly 10,000 listings, 73 percent are no fee. Out of those, 68 percent are in Manhattan, 24 percent are in Brooklyn, and 6 percent are in Queens. 

The site uses the same algorithms as Leasebreak to detect scams and prevent scams from being posted on the site. In addition, it has an extra layer of security: The site is manually checked for listings that appear suspicious. Both brokers and landlords are allowed to post listings and some come from feeds, including the Real Estate Board of New York’s RLS feed. 

Gobii

Good for: Searching for apartments with very specific features.

Real estate start-up Gobii, formally Igluu, allows users to filter their searches for no-fee listings. Currently, there are 2,526 no-fee apartments, which makes up about 24 percent of the site’s listings. Twenty percent of Manhattan listings are no fee, 3 percent of their Brooklyn listings are no fee, and less than 2 percent of their Queens listings have no fee.

Gobii also has a partnership with Insurent, which serves as a guarantor for renters who need one, and users can browse listings for which Insurent can guarantee the lease. Other filters include proximity to specific subway lines, days on market, amenities like bike storage and roof decks. Another useful feature is the ability to search not only by neighborhood but by specific boundaries: Users can specify that they are looking for apartments to the south of a particular street, for instance. 

The search results page leads to an interactive map, and individual listings include the exact address of the apartment, its amenities, and information about the exposures. Each listing also rates the condition of the building, though there aren't further details on how those ratings are determined. Gobii aggregates its listings from MLS data feeds and verified landlords can also post listings. 

Leasebreak

Good for: Short-term rentals and sublets.

Taking over someone's apartment is a surefire way to get around having to pay a broker fee and get a deal if you don't need a long-term lease. Renters who need to get out of their lease list their apartments on Leasebreak, so leases here are for less than a year, which can be helpful if you're in between jobs, cities or just looking to try a place out for less time. And if you like the apartment, there's usually a chance you can renew the lease—meaning you'll  score a new lease with no broker's fee.

The site has both fee and no-fee listings, and it's simple to search all five boroughs using the “no fee” filter. According to Leasebreak, 75 percent of its listings are no-fee. There are about 3,000 short-term listings at any given time, and around 8,000 listings with 12-month leases. It is free for someone to post their listing on the site, so you might find lower-end rentals here that aren’t on other sites. Short-term furnished rental companies like Furnished Quarters also post listings on their site.

Listings are searchable by how long you want a place as well as move-in and move-out dates. They have also added a new filter to search exclusively for apartments with virtual or 3D tours.

Listings Project

Good for: Vetted listings for artists and creative types. 

Listings Project is a weekly email list that's carefully curated by Stephanie Diamond and her team, catering to artists and other creative types searching for everything from studio space to sublets to long-term rentals. There are 300 to 400 listings posted on the site each week, all of which are no-fee and personally vetted by staff through direct correspondence with posters. The site only accepts listings posted by NYC tenants and owners, who are charged about $30 for each week their listing is up.

The site started small, but has expanded to much of the U.S., plus 70 countries around the world, however the majority of listings are in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The weekly email has also evolved over the years, and become increasingly easy to use. The benefit for prospective renters is huge: They can trust that each listing has been vetted by the team. Brokers, apartment managers, and third-party services are not permitted to submit apartment listings.

Diamond says the service is vital to supporting the arts community. "It draws on the belief that we are our best selves when we feel both grounded as individuals and deeply connected to a vibrant, energizing public," she says

calculator

Brick Underground's

Gross Rent Calculator

What's this?

Some New York City landlords offer a free month (or more) at the beginning or end of a lease. The advertised rent is the net effective rent.  The net effective rent is less than the amount you will actually have to pay --- known as your gross rent --- during your non-free months.

Brick Underground's Gross Rent Calculator enables you to easily calculate your gross rent, make quick apples-to-apples comparisons between apartments and avoid expensive surprises. All you'll need to figure out your gross rent is 1) the net effective rent, 2) the length of your lease, and 3) how many free months your landlord is offering.  [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]

To learn more about net effective versus gross rents, read What does 'net effective rent' mean?.

Per Month
Months
Months

If the landlord is offering partial months free, enter it with a decimal point. For example, 6 weeks free rent should be entered as 1.5 months.

Per Month

Localize

Good for: A snapshot of what it’s like to live at an address.

Localize uses artificial intelligence-assisted technology to sift through the data available on buildings and neighborhoods and set highly specific search parameters. They have over 100 property “insights” exclusive to their site such as listings near top schools, parks, quiet streets, low crime, and even proximity to Trader Joe’s. 

About 35 percent of the site’s listings are no fee, which you can filter by clicking a button right next to the search bar. The site draws its listings from brokers via their firms’ feeds, and then analyzes each listing based on a number of factors, creating recommendations for the most promising units in their feed. Localize says its use of fraud detection and manual checks keeps scams and bait-and-switch schemes off the site. 

Of the 3,000 to 4,000 no-fee listings on the site, typically about 25 percent are in Manhattan, 20 percent in Brooklyn, and 15 percent in Queens. Some of the building and neighborhood information is very negative and presented to help you make an informed decision, like whether new construction will soon block a building’s views, or its elevators are prone to breaking down; the noisiness of the streets and whether you can hear or feel the subway passing near the building; how much sunlight the apartment gets, and whether the building has any violations. 

It also includes an interactive map that pinpoints exactly where each listing you’re looking at is located. 

NYBits

Good for: No frills with quality control.

NYBits is one of the oldest rental listings sites in New York, and its straightforward interface makes finding no-fee listings easy. Out of their current listings, 73 percent are no fee. Each listing includes the address for the apartment, which is unique, as well as the role of the poster (owner, manager, or broker), and specifies if it is no-fee. The team also researches each post before putting them up. This helps cut down on duplicates as well as bait-and-switch scams, and allows you to research a building on your own more easily. Postings are also limited in how long they can be active. 

You can navigate the site by building type (condo, co-op, rental), neighborhood, and companies (brokerage, property managers, individual brokers) and see apartments available in specific buildings. 

Other features include a map at the bottom of every search results page, which makes it easier to see exactly where all the apartments are located. NYBits also has rental alerts, which notify users when a listing from a preferred building or search criteria appears on the site, because rentals usually move quickly. 

RentHop

Good for: Handy filters plus the HopScore feature. 

RentHop currently has over 22,220 listings across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens;  83 percent of its listings in Manhattan are no fee, while in Brooklyn the percentage is 77 percent and in Queens, 63 percent. 

Apartments are listed by owners or by current renters looking to hand over their lease to a new tenant. Users can also filter for listings with no fee and no deposit, with the option for a map-based search. Brokers can also post their listings on the site. RentHop also receives listings from feeds like Real Estate Board of New York, Brokers NYC, and other providers. Everyone who lists apartments on the platform goes through a verification process through a new third-party company. You can also anonymously report issues if a listing seems off. 

RentHop recently launched a mobile app for renters and subletters and have integrated virtual tours from sites like YouTube and Matterport. They also analyze data to discover trends which they publish reports on. One of their recent reports highlights how the median rent of one bedrooms near subway stations has dropped since the pandemic.

The site also analyzes apartment photos and determines whether they’re relevant to renters—are they of the space itself, or common areas like the gym, or the building’s exterior? The relevance of the photos is included in what's called the "HopScore," which was developed to identify and encourage accurate listings and ethical behavior among real estate professionals. RentHop says the HopScore allows it to take open listings, because the company's quality control algorithm ranks apartment listings based on "manager responsiveness, listing quality, and freshness." 

Other search filters include: No flexes (meaning no convertible units), floor plan inclusion, and, particularly relevant now, live video tours. RentHop has also implemented catch-all keyword searches: type in "thick walls" and all listings will be parsed.

Scammers are also actively shut down: RentHop employees personally verify email addresses and usually have an actual phone conversation with new listers to make sure they're legit. And if you're on the hunt for someone to share that apartment with, they've got a roommate finder tool, in which renters are matched up with roommates based on the answers given on a questionnaire.

StreetEasy

Good for: Getting the 411 on buildings and neighborhoods.

StreetEasy is one of the best-known sites in New York City for both sales and rentals. It's now part of the Zillow Group, which also includes Trulia and Hot Pads.) 

StreetEasy features a prominently placed "no-fee only" search filter on the site, as well as the option to save your preferred searches and receive notifications if something new hits that market that fits your criteria. This year, 81 percent of StreetEasy’s listings are no fee, which is an increase from 72 percent in 2020, and 55 percent in 2019.

The site only accepts exclusive listings—so that means there are no duplicate listings from multiple agents for you to wade through—and they are verified with the listing provider. Listings can be provided by agents, brokerages, owners, management companies, or developers and are provided directly or via a syndication vendor. 

On both the mobile app and the website, you can connect with an apartment's agent or landlord instantly. (And the app has a useful "map view" feature that lets you see what listings are nearby—ideal for when you're out and about scoping neighborhoods.) The site is also good for research thanks to their building pages, which let you find more info about the specific building an apartment is listed in—things like amenities and zoned public schools—as well as price history so you can see rent trends on comparable apartments. They also have added a new feature that displays net rent vs. gross rent for any listings that are offering free months as a concession. 

Transparentcity

Good for: Finding listings from the city’s no-fee management companies in one place. 

Transparentcity aggregates the listings of NYC’s no-fee apartment management sites into one place and vets them for accuracy. Users can browse listings by neighborhood, filtering by number of bedrooms, price range, and amenities including elevator, laundry, live-in super, gym, pool, and more; there is also the option to search for stabilized apartments and those offering free months of rent as a concession. 

Search results reveal listing addresses and the name and url of the management company so you can confirm it is an actual listing and not a scam; they also include an interactive map to help you look for apartments in specific areas. There are around 5,000 to 6,000 listings on the site, all of which are no fee. Out of those 70 percent are in Manhattan, with 25 percent in Brooklyn, and 5 percent in Queens. 

The site added 3D and video tours of apartments last year in response to the pandemic and recently added a new filter for walk-up apartments. You can also now schedule tours and apply for apartments for over 1,000 management companies directly on their site

—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Georgia Kral and Alanna Schubach

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Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.
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