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Real estate in New York City is a blood sport: the market is extremely competitive and you have to move fast regardless of whether you plan to rent or buy. A property you see in the morning could be taken by the afternoon, so it’s important not to deliberate too long if you like the place.

As prices in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens skyrocket people are moving into neighborhoods farther from the center of the city. While this cycle drives up prices in those neighborhoods eventually as well, they are typically more affordable. It’s best to determine what’s important to you in a neighborhood and then explore those areas to find your favorites before you start the process of finding a home. (You can use our Neighborhood Explorer to help.)


There are a few important things to be aware of when looking for a place to rent:

  1. Much of the rental property in the city is controlled by real estate brokers. You’ll see advertisements for places claiming “no broker free” and some property websites only list properties that don’t have a broker fee. If you work with a broker or are viewing properties that have a broker fee attached, make sure you understand the cost. A typical broker’s fee is 15% of the first year’s rent, which can be quite a hit to your bank account. Brokers who don’t charge a fee to tenants are compensated by the landlord.
  2. Be skeptical of photos of a property, particularly on certain websites like Craigslist. There are plenty of unscrupulous brokers who list photos of attractive properties to get you to come meet them for an inspection. Then they’ll tell you the property you saw is no longer available but they would be happy to show you something else. It’s a classic bait and switch move.
  3. As previously mentioned, you need to move fast if you like a place. It’s a good idea to have your application ready to give to the broker or landlord as soon as possible since potential tenants are often evaluated in the order the application is received.


In order to rent a property you first have to submit an application. It’s best to have copies of the required paperwork with you when you visit a property. Below are the documents you’ll need:

  • Completed application form – This is something you can typically download from a broker site or request from a broker or landlord before visiting properties
  • Proof of employment from your company on official letterhead and stating your salary. If you’re self-employed you’ll need a document from a Certified Public Accountant stating your previous year’s income.
  • Copies of your last two pay stubs.
  • Personal identification such as a passport or driver’s license

And while not required, it’s also a good idea to have letters of reference from previous landlords and or your employer. 

Landlords will run a credit check on you and anyone else who will be living with you. Obviously, if you’re new to the country you won’t have a credit history here. Talk to the landlord or broker about alternative options, such as showing bank statements for the past few months, providing a bigger security deposit, or getting a guarantor for your lease.

If you get the property you’ll meet with the landlord to sign the lease for the property. Leases are typically for a one-year period. At the time of signing you’ll need to provide the first month’s rent and a security deposit equal to one month’s rent. The security deposit is returned when you move out provided you didn’t cause any damage to the property. You’ll also need to pay the broker commission at this time if you used a broker who charges a fee.


There are no restrictions in the United States on foreign citizens owning property. You’ll generally need to work with a real estate agent and a real estate lawyer to complete the transaction. Foreign buyers are often required to provide a larger down payment than domestic buyers (30-40% versus 20%). A commission of 6% of the value of the sale is typically paid to the real estate agent.


StreatEasy – This site gets properties from all the major brokerages in the city, so has a great inventory of sales and rentals. It lets you set alerts for properties that meet your criteria so you don’t have to spend your time scanning the website.

Naked Apartments – This site only lists rental properties that don’t have any broker fees.

RentHop – This site lets you search for rental properties and narrow your search down by criteria. Their proprietary HopScore rates a property to let you know how trustworthy the property manager/owner is.

Craigslist – This is not just a place to find a home: you can find pretty much anything you can think of on Craigslist. But it can be a great place to find a rental or a roommate. Just be more careful with the properties you see here since there is not a lot of quality control for brokers posting here.

The ultimate guide to housing in New York City

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