New to renting in New York City? While no-fee apartments can be found in most major cities across the country, they’re relatively common in NYC, with many apartment listings including the magic words “no-fee,” especially in a post-vaccine world. Still finding a no-fee apartment listed in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens can feel like hitting the jackpot, even if you’re not quite sure what “no-fee” means before you contact the broker. 

When you arrange a walk-through or virtual apartment tour, show up with an understanding of how much money you’ll save and you could be ready to pull the trigger on the perfect apartment faster than the competition.

What are the normal fees associated with renting an apartment? 

Whether you want a studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen or a three-bedroom in Bushwick, renting an apartment in New York is expensive. To just secure a new place, you’re likely to fork over thousands just to get the keys. Here is a list of fees you’re likely to pay prior to moving in: 

Phew! Don’t you wish you could skip one, two, or all of these fees? Lucky for you, no-fee rental listings are out there, at a slightly lower upfront cost than renting an apartment. 

What is a no-fee apartment? 

In New York, a no-fee apartment is considered “no-fee” when the renter doesn’t have to pay a broker’s fee. Meaning you may not work with a broker, a common practice when renting an NYC apartment, or that the property managers or landlord pay the fee on your behalf. Sometimes a no-fee apartment is also deposit-free, with no associated fees except first month’s rent to move in. 

An image of brown brick apartment covered in ivy with beautiful square windows

Either way, you’re saving big time by not having to pay a broker. Brokers dominate the NYC apartment rental market as most landlords work with brokerages or real estate agents to show multiple rental apartments and properties on their behalf. A broker’s fee is basically a pricey finder’s fee, and can amount to 12-15% of the annual rent. Meaning before you even get to move in, you have to pay thousands to the broker for finding the apartment for you. 

You can see now why you should keep a look out for no-fee listings on Streeteasy and Zillow.  

Fee vs. no-fee apartments 

No-fee apartments are popular in New York, and as a result, landlords often want to pay the broker’s fee on the behalf of the renter just to advertise their unit as “no-fee.” As a result, some of them need to make up the cost of paying that fee. 

You may notice the differences between no-fee apartments and other apartments: 

  1. No-fee apartments are sometimes located in luxury rental buildings where the additional amenities may cost you more monthly than a normal apartment

  2. A no-fee rental may have higher rent than a normal apartment, as landlords or the management company increase the rent to make up the broker’s fee that they paid on the renter’s behalf. Nothing like living in Long Island City, but paying Upper East Side prices. 

  3. Sometimes property managers list the apartment as ‘no-fee’ to fill the rental unit quickly… which begs the question: Is something wrong with the rental property?

  4. Or perhaps someone is subletting an apartment, which means you can skip the fee. However, you would have to be comfortable with renting a place short-term. 

  5. A no-fee rental is not the same as a deposit-free rental, meaning you’re probably going to pay a hefty security deposit even though you skip the broker’s fee. 

Even if you pay a little more rent long-term, skipping a broker’s fee can save you thousands upfront, so it’s best to make the right choice for your budget. Accurately calculate how much rent you can afford before signing a lease. 

An image of two renters moving into a brand new apartment with their boxes. They are smiling at one another

How to find a no-fee apartment in NYC

Picked the perfect neighborhood like Park Slope, Upper West Side or Crown Heights? Now all you need to do is find the right no-fee place to get access to your neighborhood quickly and more affordably. 

Work directly with building management

The nice part of opting for a luxury building in New York is that you can usually work with the building’s property management team directly, no broker involved, to tour and sign a lease. While you might still pay rental application fees or other costs, you can skip the broker fee by securing an apartment from your landlord or property manager directly. You can also find rental property that partners with Rhino, which means you can use security deposit insurance instead of paying a big cash security deposit. This could potentially save you thousands on moving costs. 

Follow up on building listing signs

Want to find a no-fee apartment in your preferred neighborhood? Take to the streets, keeping an eye for signs posted directly on buildings. Many of these signs will include the words “no-fee” or have a phone number listed that you can call. While on the phone, be sure to ask if you’re speaking to the landlord or to a broker, and if the apartment is a no-fee rental. If they dodge your questions, or don’t have a direct answer, steer clear. 

Use the no-fee filter on apartment finding apps or sites 

Streeteasy, Renthop, Zumper are all apartment finding apps that have a specific ‘no-fee’ filter for New York and other cities. This can help you locate the right no-fee apartment online, with the correct monthly rent you can afford. This is to your advantage, as sometimes hunting in person and speaking directly to property management can make it more difficult to negotiate. If a property manager is paying a broker on your behalf, you’re likely to still work with a broker when you find a no-fee apartment online, which means you’ll still get the advantages of having a broker. You can work with the broker to negotiate on rent and also get a better understanding of the property outside of the influence of the landlord, without having to pay the fee!

An image of a New York City renter sitting on the stairs of her apartment building outside by beautiful potted plants

What they say about NYC’s rental market is true; it’s pretty complex and pretty pricey to secure a good place to live in the right neighborhood. However, by staying sharp and looking for no-fee apartments both in-person and online, you can save more upfront. While no-fee apartments could have higher rent, you can also find a place with comparable rent to other apartments in the neighborhood, and there are advantages to saving more on move-in costs, which can help you afford more rent long-term. If you’re really savvy, you’ll find a no-fee apartment that offers Rhino to skip both the broker’s fee and the security deposit. Just remember to ask your landlord or property manager if they offer Rhino when you take a tour. Or you can check our city guides to find no-fee apartments in New York and other cities like Dallas or Philadelphia. Good luck on your search!

a headshot image featuring kt heins-nagamoto
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.