Best Websites to Find a No Fee NYC Apartment in 2022
August 12, 2022 | 14 min read | the RENT BETTA team
In New York City, you expect the best of everything.
But when it comes to apartment hunting, this isn't exactly the case. You've probably endured bait-and-switch listings, broker fees demanding 1-2 months of rent, and aggressive sales tactics.
RENTBETTA.com is a new website offering no fee NYC apartments available directly from building owners and leasing offices throughout NYC. You can book a tour and apply for any apartment and will be connected directly with the leasing office, not a broker. Craigslist occasionally has great deals directly from landlords, but also a lot of scams. Joining a flatshare is another good way to avoid a broker fee, and we like Spareroom, Facebook Marketplace and the housing groups NYC Rooms and Gypsy Housing the best. Streeteasy has a no fee option but most of their listings are from brokers, meaning many are fake, outdated, or have some type of hidden broker fee.
Why pay a broker fee? These websites offer truly no fee apartments, though some are better than others.
The Truth About No Fee Apartments in New York City
No fee apartments in New York City come in two varieties: "truly no fee" apartments you rent directly from the building owner without a broker, and "kind of no fee" apartments you rent through a broker who may not be charging you a fee, but is still getting paid in the transaction (and this added expense is coming out of your pocket).
The "truly no fee" apartments are the best deals and what you'll find on RENTBETTA.com.
RENT BETTA connects you with building owners in NYC that let you rent directly from the leasing office. You can see all the no fee apartments on the site, and click book a tour or apply now to be connected directly with the leasing office, not a broker.
Because there's no broker involved, there's no additional layer of costs in the transaction, so you get the same or better deal than if you found the same apartment with a broker.
"Kind of no fee" apartments don't explicitly charge you a fee, but likely include a hidden broker fee or have higher rent to cover the added cost of a broker.
These are what you find on Streeteasy or Craigslist when you click "no fee", but the apartments are posted by a broker. You're either going to see a fake listing (known as a "bait-and-switch"), or an apartment with a hidden broker fee.
Brokers take listings from building owners, and get a fee from them one of two ways in the "kind of no fee" apartment hustle.
Hidden fee #1: the lost concession
When the rental market is weak and it's hard to find tenants, landlords offer concessions like a month or more of free rent.
You pay the gross monthly rent every month, except for one or two months you "get" free and don't have to pay any rent.
Brokers take these listings from building owners and post them on Streeteasy and Craigslist as "no fee" apartments.
But what they don't tell you is they're taking that free month rent concession from the landlord as their fee.
At closing, the landlord will actually cut a check to the broker worth one month of the gross rent, and your lease will have one less month of free rent.
Yes, this really happens. In fact, it's common practice.
So while you are not paying the broker fee directly, it's still costing you one month of rent to work through a broker.
If you find the same apartment on RENTBETTA.com, you keep any free months of rent the landlord is offering to direct tenants and get the best deal possible.
After all, you're renting directly from them.
Hidden fee #2: OP's make landlords less willing to negotiate
Other times, landlords may list an apartment with an "OP", which stands for "Owner Pays" (the broker fee).
These are also more common when the rental market is weak. When you rent an apartment with an "OP", you don't have to pay the broker fee. At closing, the landlord cuts a check to the broker, typically worth one month of rent (we've witnessed this happening).
Now imagine you’re the landlord, and two prospective renters come to see your apartment.
One came through a broker, so you’ll have to pay them a 1 month OP if they rent the apartment.
The other came through RENTBETTA.com, and you won’t have to pay a 1 month OP.
Both renters ask for a slight discount on the rent.
Which one are you more like to negotiate with?
Obviously, the renter who find the apartment on RENTBETTA.com is more likely to get a discount, as you won't need to pay a 1 month OP if they rent your apartment.
So even if the landlord is the one cutting the check, you're still leaving money on the table if you work with a broker.
Find an apartment on RENTBETTA.com to truly cut out the broker fee.
Good for: finding a no fee NYC apartment, avoiding fake broker listings
RENTBETTA.com provides no fee apartments you can rent directly from building owners, saving you thousands of dollars in broker fees.
The site only works with people who actually own the apartments - landlords and property managers - not broker middlemen.
Reasons to find an apartment on RENTBETTA.com:
No broker fees
No fake, bait-and-switch listings from brokers
No aggressive sales tactics - since you'll be connected directly with leasing offices, you won't have to put up with pushy brokers
In addition to saving thousands of dollars in broker fees, you'll also save hours in your search by not wasting time with fake listings.
Brokers post fake listings online to generate leads (your name and number) but the apartments you see may not actually exist. They're only used as a lure.
Ever comb though scores of attractive, no fee apartments on Streeteasy, then reach out only to hear back the apartment isn't available (...but they've got something similar they'd like to show you).
That's the bait-and-switch.
The broker is putting up a fake listing: attractive photos, priced a little below market, and often tagged as "no fee."
It's not actually available for rent. In fact, that apartment may not exist at all.
But the listing looks great, and with the nice photos and low price, they get a ton of people saying they'd like to see it, all sending the broker their names and emails.
The broker uses this list as "leads", active apartment seekers looking to rent a place soon, and tries to take them on a tour of other, less attractive apartments.
If this feels like a scam, it's because well, it kind of is.
And it's ubiquitous in the NYC rental market.
In fact, most of the attractive apartment listings you find online are probably fake, put up by brokers as a lure to get your name and email. And if you've reached out on scores of nice-looking, cheap apartments and heard "it's no longer available...but let me show you these other places", you're probably wise to some sort of scam is going on.
Sreeteasy and Craigslist get paid for each listing, so they're kind of in on the scam, too. The more listings they have up on their site, the more they get paid. They more listings they have, fake or not, the higher their revenue.
Basically, Streeteasy and all of NYC's brokers are ganging up on renters.
And it all means countless wasted hours in your apartment search, sifting through and responding to fake apartment listings.
On RENTBETTA.com, you won't see any fake broker listings.
The site only has listings from building owners. These are real companies, with real reputations, who typically own a lot of buildings.
If they put a fake listing on their site, a lot of people will flood their office asking to see an apartment which they don't have to show, wasting their time.
To a broker, this sounds like a business opportunity, but to a real building owner, this just ties up their leasing office from doing their normal job, like giving apartment tours and processing applications.
Sometimes, building owners may not update a listing or an apartment may have rented within the last 24 hours (listings are updated daily), so once in a while you can find an apartment which is no longer available, but it's not common.
So you'll save time, and a lot of money on broker fees, by finding a no fee apartment on RENT BETTA.
Good for: finding a no fee apartment in-between scams and fake listings
Since it charges only $5 to post and doesn’t verify anything, Craigslist is a free-for-all.
But its low cost means landlords sometimes post direct listings there, and good deals can be found if you're willing to spend some time.
Remember, you're looking for a "truly no fee" apartment, directly from the building owner and not a broker, to get the best deal possible.
Go to newyork.craigslist.org and check the "no broker fee" box on the left. This will give you both types of "no fee" listings, the "truly no fee" and "kind of" no fee.
Skip over anything that looks like it's posted by a broker, who often add watermarks to their photos or include broker contact details in the description.
You’re looking for a direct apartment posted by the building owner, either the landlord or property manager, not a broker.
Be prepared to do a lot of sifting, but you can find a good deal this way.
We’ve found legitimate rent stabilized apartments on Craigslist (though out of the thousands of listings we’ve gone through, there have only been a few, so the ratio is pretty low).
Craigslist is a good hunting ground for savvy, street smart New Yorkers willing to put a lot of time into their apartment search to find a good deal.
Good for: finding a (no fee) sublet
If you’re up for roommates, another great way to avoid a broker fee is by joining a sublet, also known as a flat share.
Since you’re moving into an existing group of tenants and not working with a broker, there’s no broker fee to pay, so it’s a great way around the common 1-2 months requirement.
Spareroom is the best sublet option we’ve found in New York City, and we’ve had decent luck with it in the past.
#4 Facebook (Marketplace and Housing Groups)
Good for: Spareroom alternative to finding a sublet without a broker fee
Facebook has apartment listings on its Marketplace and individual housing groups.
It’s free to post on Facebook, which means you’re going to see a lot of nonsense.
What you’re looking for is a sublet posted by the current tenants who already live there.
Avoid listings that look like they're posted by brokers (or any middlemen) to avoid a potential broker fee, or fake listing.
Landlords rarely post on Facebook, so don’t expect to find direct listings of empty apartments there, only shares.
In addition to Marketplace, you can also try individual housing groups.
Drop a line to the current roommates and set up a time to see the apartment.
When you're there, be friendly! And see if the other roommates interact as friends, too, not just co-tenants.
After all, a good dynamic is the most important part of any flat share.
Good for: learning about the rental market with a broker, then finding a no fee apartment elsewhere
While Streeteasy has a “no fee” option, most of their listings are from brokers.
Of all the apartment search websites in the New York City area we've researched, Streeteasy is the most expensive for landlords to post listings.
So expect to see a lot of ads which are fake or inaccurate.
That's just the nature of New York City apartment brokers. They like to post fake listings online to generate leads, and taking down these fake listings is a game of "wack-a-mole"... brokers will just keep putting new ones up.
Since Streeteasy get's most of their revenue from brokers, they're kind of in on it, anyways.
Have some time to kill?
Then indulge a broker or two, and go on one of their tours to see what’s available.
Once you’ve gotten a feel for the market and how the process works, start looking for a no fee apartment elsewhere (we recommend RENTBETTA.com or Craigslist).
Other Apartment Search Websites (We’re not Crazy About)
New York City has a lot of apartment search websites, but most are useless.
Many get large data feeds from brokers and are just regurgitating fake or outdated listings to you.
As the brokers are the ones paying to post listings, these sites tend to do as brokers demand.
They don't actually provide you with a product you want - an easy to use website that shows you real, live apartments without a broker fee.
Instead, you're going to see a lot of fake listings and broker contact forms.
With that background into how these sites often go wrong, here are other apartment search websites in New York City you may come across:
What we're not crazy about:
We spot checked 10-12 listings, and most were posted by brokers. Only a small portion appear to be from current tenants.
What we're not crazy about:
Many listings appear to be either from brokers or out of date
We checked out a handful of apartment listings in the East Village, and all were posted by brokers. We dug a little deeper and found out who actually owned those buildings and when they put those apartments up for rent on other sites. All the apartments had actually rented weeks earlier. The listings were stale.
What we're not crazy about:
All the listings we found were posted by brokers, so we expect many to be outdated, fake, or include the extra cost and difficulty of working with an apartment broker.
What we're not crazy about:
Probably the best on this list, though many listings appear to be dated or otherwise not actionable. We spot-checked 7-8 listings, found out who actually owned the buildings and if they listed those apartments on other web sites. Most of the listings had already rented.
What we're not crazy about:
Most listings we found were posted by brokers, so we expect the broker bait-and-switch to be common.
Look for listings tagged “By Owner” for a direct deal that’s more likely to be available and not include a broker fee.
What we're not crazy about:
It’s hard to see which apartments in a building are available, and if the photos they show correspond to those apartments or are just generic building photos.
Brokerage Websites (You Should Avoid)
Be careful: this is where you feed yourself straight to the sharks.
Each of the major apartment brokerages in New York City have their own websites with listings.
But apartment listings posted on brokerage sites are...from brokers.
While this may not come as a surprise, it means their apartment listings will come with the difficulties you commonly get with brokers: fake, outdated, or inaccurate listings, aggressive sales tactics, and, of course, broker fees.
We include this list of major brokerage companies for completeness, but remember, we advise you to look for live apartment listings available directly from landlords or property managers, and avoid listings from brokers.
After all, brokers just add another layer of expense to your apartment search, so you are less likely to get a good deal if you work through them.
But if you have the money to spare and want the high-touch approach, here are the major New York City apartment brokerage websites to check out:
National Websites (Less Relevant)
The national websites are all big brands you’ve probably heard of before.
The only problem is, the New York City rental market is unique, and few landlords here put their listings on websites like Apartments.com or Zumper.
So if you go on these sites, you're not likely to see many real listings. You're more likely to run into scams.
These sites can work great in other parts of the country, it's just in NYC, they don't really apply.
If you're looking for a New York City apartment, try to find a no fee listing available directly from the landlord or property manager. These are the types of listings available on RENTBETTA.com, and occasionally, Craigslist. Joining a flat share is also a good way to avoid a broker fee, and Spareroom and Facebook (either Marketplace or housing groups) are good ways to find them. There are a lot of apartment search websites in New York City, but many are filled with feeds from apartment brokers that aren't useful. Also, large national websites typically have limited inventory of the NYC rental market, so don't expect much from them.