Apartment hunting in New York City can be complicated thanks to NYC real estate-specific jargon. One such term you’ve likely come across is “no-fee apartment.” What does that mean? Well, using a broker to help you find a rental is standard ― but it’s not free. Typically, someone has to pay for the broker’s services, and in NYC, who pays that fee can vary from apartment to apartment. Here’s everything you need to know about no-fee apartments in NYC.

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    What Is a No-Fee Apartment Listing?

    When searching for a place, you’ll likely come across apartment listings that loudly declare “no fee!” You’ll also encounter many listings that don’t. So what’s the difference? 

    In very basic terms, a no-fee apartment is an apartment where the tenant doesn’t pay a commission or broker fee. But, like so many things in NYC real estate, there’s more to know.

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    What’s the Difference Between Broker Fees and Commissions?

    “The terms ‘broker fee’ and ‘commission’ are interchangeable,” says Becki Danchik, a StreetEasy Expert and broker with Coldwell Banker Warburg. “It’s the fee a broker earns on completing a transaction in which they match the right person with the right property. A no-fee apartment is typically when the landlord has agreed to pay that fee to the exclusive listing agent on behalf of the tenant.” A landlord will usually do this in the hope of securing a tenant quickly, she explains.

    Landlords Have Brokers

    Keep in mind, though, that “no fee” applies only to the landlord’s broker, also known as the listing agent, and landlords are not required to cover that cost (more on this shortly). Here’s how it works: if you approach an apartment’s listing agent directly and secure the no-fee apartment on your own, then great — you don’t pay a fee! But if you enlisted the services of a broker (who is not the listing agent), and you found that apartment through that broker, you owe them their commission, whether the apartment says “no fee” or not.

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    What Is a Broker Fee?

    Now that you understand the definition of no-fee apartment, you’d probably like to know how apartments with fees work. In short, renters who use a broker to find an apartment have to pay a broker fee. If you hire a broker who successfully finds you an apartment, they’ll earn an agreed-upon commission on the deal.

    How Much Are Broker Fees for Renters?

    The cost varies by broker and area. For instance, fees charged for Manhattan rentals may be more expensive than units in Queens, which has a lower median asking rent. Broker fees are somewhat negotiable, but generally, it’s either one month’s rent or up to 15% of the unit’s annual rent. That’s on top of paying your first month’s rent and security deposit. FYI: your security deposit can’t be more than one month’s rent.

    Wait, Weren’t Broker Fee Abolished?

    New York State changed the broker fee regulations with the Statewide Housing Security & Tenant Protection Act of 2019. The guidance issued stated that a prospective tenant can’t compensate a landlord’s agent (aka listing agent). It would have been a substantial cost-saving measure for future renters ― but a judge struck it down in April 2021, ruling that the state misinterpreted the act. 

    Sample Move-In Costs with a Broker’s Fee

    Property owners or management companies will often ask for first month’s rent and a security deposit, in addition to the broker’s fee, before you can move in to a new apartment. Here is the estimated cost breakdown for a $3,799/month (NYC’s median asking rent as of July 2023 — to see the latest median asking rent for a particular neighborhood, visit our StreetEasy Data Dashboard) apartment with a 12 percent broker’s fee (percentage of total annual cost) — before even moving in!

    Move-in costs for $3,799/month apartment
    First month$3,799
    Security deposit$3,799
    Broker’s fee (12%)$5,470.56

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    How to Find a No-Fee Apartment in NYC 

    You’ve decided you want to avoid paying a broker fee. Now, you’re probably wondering how to find a no-fee apartment. Here are a few options:

    • Use the no-fee apartment filter on StreetEasy: You can easily check the “no-fee only” box during your StreetEasy search to yield only apartment options without a broker fee. It will narrow your search to only those units.
    • Look for apartments listed by owners or management companies: A management rep is essentially an in-house broker — their goal is to find ideal tenants for their apartments. So, if you contact them directly, there shouldn’t be a fee. Just remember, property management companies rent apartments only in their specific buildings. Brokers, on the other hand, can have access to rentals in a variety of places.
    • Walk around the neighborhood: If you know the neighborhood you’re interested in, walk around it to see if buildings have posted listing signs. They should have the landlord or management company’s contact information. Call them and see if there are apartments available or if any are coming up.

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    Do No-Fee Apartments Save You Money?

    Surface level, it seems that no-fee apartments would be less expensive to rent than fee apartments. But there is some debate as to whether no-fee rentals save renters money, particularly when it comes to luxury rentals. Many buildings like these are no-fee, but cost much more per month because they have desirable amenities such as doormen, fitness centers, and outdoor space. It’s also possible that for a no-fee apartment, the broker fee is baked into your rent and you end up paying more per month — but it still saves you on upfront move-in costs.

    Whatever you decide, be sure to search for your dream rental on StreetEasy!

    Find a no-fee apartment on StreetEasy