Manhattan has grown more vertical and more luxurious in recent years. Developers have leveraged tax abatements (before the New York State Legislature allowed those tax incentives to expire in 2016) and used the city’s cultural and economic lure to build a slew of new condominiums and rental high-rises. But the story of Manhattan’s place as the crown jewel of American real estate is recently getting a slightly different spin.

In a recent study of rental vacancy rate records for New York City, StreetEasy analysts examined U.S. Census records for all five New York City boroughs between 1993 and 2014. What our data analysts found is consistent with recent evidence that Manhattan is seeing a rise in the percentage of rental vacancies. That’s in contrast with what’s been happening in places like Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, where vacancy rates have tightened.

Rental Vacancy Rates
2014 2011 2008 2005 2002 1999 1996 1993
NYC 2.40%  3.10%  2.90%  3.10%  2.94%  3.19%  4.01%  3.44%
Bronx 3.00%  3.30%  3.30%  2.60%  3.29%  5.04%  5.43%  3.99%
Brooklyn 2.20%  2.60%  2.30%  2.80%  2.73%  3.26%  4.20%  3.25%
Manhattan 3.10%  2.80%  2.70%  3.80%  3.86%  2.57%  3.47%  3.52%
Queens 1.50%  3.80%  3.30%  2.80%  1.78%  2.11%  3.28%  3.07%
Staten Island 2.00%  6.70%  6.60%  4.70%  2.43%  5.82%  4.17%  4.14%

Between 2011 and 2014, Manhattan was the only borough to experience an increase in rental vacancies. According to the Housing Vacancy Survey, Manhattan vacancy rates rose from 2.8 percent to 3.1 percent. Meanwhile, 2014’s rental vacancy rates for all of New York City, Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn are at record lows. For the Bronx, a 3 percent vacancy rate in 2014 is the second lowest compared to 2005, when the Bronx’s vacancy rate was at 2.6 percent.

Vacancies Under 5 Percent Considered Crisis-Level

This could be construed as splitting hairs, especially when industry standards call any vacancy rate under 5 percent at crisis-level lows. However, even the incremental uptick in rental inventory for Manhattan gives some insight into the market dynamics at play. Manhattan has about 1.61 million residents and citywide, there are about 8.5 million people in the five boroughs. Almost 70 percent of New York City residents are renters, but the opposite is true for the rest of the country in which about 30 percent are renters and 70 percent are home owners.

And in Manhattan, vacancy rates ticking upwards could indicate that renters are rejecting Manhattan’s higher median rent ($3,400/month) vs. Brooklyn ($2,695/month) and opting for boom areas such as Williamsburg ($3,199), Brooklyn Heights ($3,100), Crown Heights ($2,500), Downtown Brooklyn ($3,190) and Prospect Heights ($2,850).

Consequently, landlords and rental agencies have been more willing to offer incentives to Manhattan renters, particularly in pricier buildings or developments.