Are you looking to rent long-term in NYC without the pain of annual rent increases? Sounds like you’re in the market for a rent-controlled apartment or rent-stabilized apartment!

There are subtle nuances between rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments, and understanding the differences will better inform your apartment search and ultimately help you find a lower monthly rent.

What is rent regulation?

Rent regulation is a governmental policy or legislation whose purpose is to guarantee affordable housing to citizens. These rent laws provide tenant protection so that folks are able to make apartment rentals financially feasible without fear of eviction, displacement, or expensive rent increases. This is especially important in cities like New York or Los Angeles where rent is known for being sky-high, and is increasing year-after-year.

What is a rent-controlled apartment?

Rent control puts a restriction on how much landlords can ask renters to pay.  Rent control puts a cap on annual rent increases, so that prices don’t suddenly jump too high for tenants to afford. New York State’s first rent stabilization laws began in 1943 with a federal rent freeze to battle escalating housing costs during World War II. 

In 2021, only 27,000 units or 1% of apartments in NYC are currently rent controlled, with many tenants having lived in these units since 1971 or earlier.  As elderly tenants pass away or move out, rent control will soon be eliminated as in most cases rent controlled apartments can only be passed to a family member. 

So basically if you don’t have an elderly relative who is ready to bequeath you the apartment they’ve lived in for 50 years, you’re better off looking for a rent-stabilized unit. 

What is a rent-stabilized apartment?

Rent-stabilized apartments also protect tenants from rabid rent increases and help keep neighborhoods affordable--without the stipulation that the unit must be inherited by a family member. Rent-stabilization means a landlord:

  • cannot raise your rent above the threshold of $2700 per month

  • must offer the option of renewal at the end of your lease term

  • can only hike up the cost of annual rent by a legally agreed upon amount set by the rent guidelines board of NYC

By law, landlords are forced to disclose to tenants if your unit is rent-stabilized. Tenants must live in rent-stabilized apartments for at least six months out of the year and be their primary residence in order to qualify for these rental protections. So if you’re a billionaire with multiple homes or an Airbnb entrepreneur, rent-stabilization might not work for you.

How many rent-stabilized apartments are there in New York City?

44% of NYC apartments are rent-stabilized, this equals almost one million units. While that figure gives the appearance that rent-stabilized apartments are plentiful, stabilized units are rare finds because once a tenant scoops one up, they are very likely to stay for a long time.

Image of statistic: "44% of New York City apartments are rent stabalized."

How do I find a rent-stabilized apartment?

Landlords may not always broadcast the availability of rent-stabilized units, in favor of illegally raising rent. While rent may seem like it's always on the rise, there are many factors landlords are in charge of that increase as well, such as taxes, maintenance, building upkeep, and more. In an expensive city like New York, everyone is trying to save.

Your best bet for finding a rent-stabilized apartment is to search buildings built before 1974 with around six units. Due to certain tax abatements employed by developers some new buildings can also be rent stabilized.

If listings don’t mention rent stabilization, you could take an educated guess given the age of the building or do a little investigative Googling in official city databases.

Search official databases

The Division of Housing and Community Renewal website contains an address search tool that can tell you the age of a building. The Rental Guidelines Board also maintains a massive PDF with properties listed in every zip code and borough.  However neither search engine will conclusively state which apartments are rent-stabilized.  

The largest contingent of rent-stabilized apartments can be found in the South Bronx as well as Flatbush and Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, but more can be found throughout Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and even in Manhattan.

Narrow your search criteria

Now that you’re educated on rent regulations, figure out what amenities, location, and specifications are important for your new rent:

  • Are you an artist who needs to be surrounded by other artists (Try Bushwick)? 

  • Are you looking for a place in walking distance to your demanding Wall Street gig (Try Lower Manhattan)? 

  • Do you absolutely need an in-unit washer dryer or a building that accepts pets? 

  • Do you need to be near an amazing school district for your child? 

Take some time and think through what you need to feel comfortable and successful in your new home and use resources like Zillow to find an apartment that meets your needs.

Image of two renters happy and moving boxes down stairs.
Cross compare your finds on Zillow with databases

Zillow is a great reference to research apartments. Zillow’s unique search engine allows users to find apartment listings on a map and see photos. Additionally it gives detailed lists of features, shows a rent history, and even has access to public tax history. Best of all Zillow has a section for local legal protections on the property and just might make mention of rent-stabilization status even if the property owner fails to mention it.

Tour then make sure you sign a rent-stabilized lease

Always tour NYC apartments before signing leases. Sure, the Zillow pictures might look perfect, but there might be issues you don’t notice until you’re in the room. Are there critters crawling around the unit? Does the shower shoot out discolored water?

Better to find out early than be locked into a two year lease only to find out the building needs major improvements in order to be habitable. Once you’ve seen the apartment and are ready to pay a security deposit and sign a lease, you’ll want to make sure you’re signing a rent-stabilized lease.

How do you recognize if you are signing a rent stabilized lease?

When signing your lease, be sure to read the fine print for a “rent stabilization rider” and check with the DHCR to find out what the historical rental costs of the unit have been. If something seems fishy, don’t sign.

Finding real estate below market rate in NYC is the ultimate goal of any savvy New Yorker. Knowing the subtleties of rent regulations could lead you to that elusive affordable housing unit of your dreams. Can't find a stabilized place? Learn more about no-fee apartments available in NYC at apartment buildings that offer Rhino.

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KT Heins-Nagamoto

KT Heins-Nagamoto is a senior brand writer at Rhino. They advocate for security deposit alternatives and renter rights in everything they write.