How three tenants deal with a standard rent in New York City

Rent in New York City is notoriously unreasonable, and this year it has reached an all-time high. In June, citywide rent demand averaged $3,500, a 35% increase from a year ago, according to Report from StreetEasy.

Manhattan has the highest median rent now at $4,100, but that doesn’t mean other neighborhoods have matured with theft. Those who prefer to rent in the city but don’t want to pay fancy prices have their eyes set on Brooklyn and Queens, which drives rental prices there too.

In June, the median rent in Brooklyn was $3,200 and in Queens it was $2,600.

In both Brooklyn and Manhattan, renters put more than 50% of their salary toward rent, and in Queens they allocate more than 40%. This goes well beyond the basic rule that your rent should be no more than 30% of your income.

These rental prices are a shock to New Yorkers who moved here during the pandemic and those who lived here long before.

“For a whole week I just collapsed.”

In the midst of the pandemic, tenants had the power to bargain. Now that many of the leases signed during the pandemic have been renewed, the power once again lies with the landlords.

Kacie Cleary, 39, and her husband have been living in their one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side since 2015, receiving $450 in rent during the pandemic, bringing it down to $2,000. Recently, the homeowner told them that their rent would go up $700.

Casey Cleary.

Photo by CNBC Make It

“When we got a new lease increase, we really wanted to talk to the landlord and discuss the option of whether we could negotiate a bit or is there room to maneuver,” she says. “And they wrote within 15 minutes saying no, that they had already given us a favorable price for this $700 increase. So they weren’t willing to budge on the negotiations at all.”

The two considered signing a lease elsewhere, but Cleary lost her job, so they decided to move to Airbnb until she could find work.

Ernestine Seo*, 23, moved to East Village in January 2021 and got an apartment with a roommate when prices were low.

“So our rent has already been reduced,” she says. “Our apartment also has an in-unit washer dryer, which you don’t find much in NYC unless you pay a premium.”

This year, her rent nearly doubled from $2,250 to $4,395.

Ernestine Seo.

Photo by CNBC Make It

“So when we got our lease renewal in the mail, we knew right away we weren’t going to do it,” she says.

She and a roommate began searching and were shocked by what was available.

“For a whole week I was down, looking at the prices,” she says. “One day I literally called my mom and said, Mom, I feel like a failure. I can’t even afford to live in the city.”

After touring three or four places, the two landed on a spot in Brooklyn that ended up with $4,400.

“I basically decided I’d have to change my lifestyle a bit and save what I could do,” she says.

“I’ll put my things in storage”

But for some tenants, the rent increase was enough to get them to leave town.

Thelma Rosa Annan, 32, moved into her Manhattan apartment in 2020 when it was $1,882. In 2021, the rent is up to $2,400 and this year it has gone up to $3,500.

Thelma Rosa Annan.

Photo by CNBC Make It

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