How Three Renters Are Coping With Record Breaking Rents in NYC

New York City fare is extremely unfair, and it hit an all-time high this year. According to a report by StreetEasy, in June, the average rent across the city reached $3,500, up 35% from the previous year.

Manhattan has the highest median rent right now at $4,100, but that doesn’t mean other boroughs are ripe with theft. Those who prefer to rent in the city but don’t want to pay astronomical prices, have their eye on Brooklyn and Queens, which are driving up rent prices there as well.

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

In both Brooklyn and Manhattan, renters are paying more than 50% of their paychecks as rent, and in Queens they are allocating more than 40%. This is much more than a rule that says your rent should not exceed 30% of your income.

These rent prices are a blow to New Yorkers who came here during the pandemic and who lived here long ago.

‘I was just breaking down for a whole week’

In the thick of the pandemic, tenants had bargaining power. Now that many leases signed during the pandemic are up for renewal, power is again with landlords.

Casey Cleary, 39, and her husband have been living in their Upper East Side one-bedroom apartment since 2015, and received a $450 rent deduction during the pandemic, reducing it to $2,000. Recently, however, his landlord informed him that his rent would increase to $700.

Casey Cleary.

Photo by CNBC Make It

“When we got a new lease enhancement, we really wanted to talk to the landlord and discuss an option to see if we could have a little negotiating room or there’s a wiggle room,” she says. “And they just wrote back within 15 minutes, no, that they’ve already given us that $700 preferred rate of increase. So they weren’t willing to budge on negotiations at all.”

The two thought about signing a lease elsewhere, but Klee lost his job, so he decided to move to Airbnb until he could find employment.

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

“So our rent was really missed,” she says. “And our apartment also has an in-unit washer dryer, which you don’t get in New York City unless you’re paying a premium.”

This year, his rent increased from about $2,250 to $4,395.

Ernestine Siu.

Photo by CNBC Make It

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

He and his roommate began their search and were surprised by what was available.

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

After visiting three or four locations, the two landed in a location in Brooklyn that cost $4,400.

“I basically decided that I just have to change my lifestyle a little bit and save where I can,” she says.

‘I’m going to put my stuff in storage’

For some renters, however, the rent increase was enough to make them leave the city.

Thelma Rosa Annan, 32, moved into her Manhattan apartment in 2020 when it cost $1,882. The rent increased to $2,400 in 2021, and rose to $3,500 this year.

Thelma Rosa Annan.

Photo by CNBC Make It

“I actually refreshed my page because I thought it was an error and I looked at the number and I just started laughing because it was so ridiculous,” she says. “I started laughing because I was like, ‘$3,500, $3,500, $3,500.’ Like, I had to keep saying it out loud to myself because it was such a ridiculous number that I was like, ‘This can’t be possible.'”

While he is grateful that he spent two years in the city, he is no longer willing to pay the premium.

“I’m going to put my stuff in storage and go to Europe and work remotely there,” she says. “And hope that housing cools down in New York.”

*Ernestine Siu is an Associate Producer at CNBC Make It

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