How to Survive Summer Subletting in NYC

Finding a sublet in New York is difficult. Finding a sublet in New York while 2,500 miles away, pulling all-nighters for finals, and operating on a limited student budget? Seemingly impossible. I was on cloud nine after landing my dream summer internship at Updater, but I soon came face-to-face with the challenge of securing a summer sublet in NYC on short notice. Having never lived in New York before, it’s no exaggeration to say I was unprepared. I had no idea what a reasonable rent was, let alone the safety of each borough’s neighborhoods. But, with my internship start date quickly approaching, I jumped headfirst into the online housing market.

From that point forth, I called, emailed, and even texted over 90 subletters (yes, 90!) through Craigslist and other sites like Airbnb and EasyRoommate. I updated my “NYC Summer Housing” spreadsheet obsessively between group project meetings and studying for my upcoming exams. Over time, I picked up on rental lingo and edited my introduction email to near perfection. I sounded approachable but not overbearing, responsible but not boring. My first few emails titled “Summer Sublet Inquiry” eventually evolved into a much more clickable “May 15 (negotiable date) Move-In Sublet! Social media links/resume included.” It’s no exaggeration to say that my exhaustive housing search became my third part-time job.

Despite my persistence, my mission was largely unsuccessful. The New York City summer rental market was at its peak, and postings often disappeared in mere hours. Since I was still in Los Angeles, any fairly priced and trustworthy sublet was quickly snatched up by someone who could attend an open house. I felt the final straw was near when I was almost scammed for the third time! After hanging up on a “subletter,” who turned out to be a scammer working in an overseas call center, I was ready to throw in the towel. 

Unfortunately, the bumpy road continued even after I finally managed to land an affordable apartment in Brooklyn. From faulty keys to lack of storage space, my living situation is far from perfect (see picture below). While I’m able to see the humor in the experience, I definitely wouldn’t recommend my approach to others.

So listen up, fellow subletters! Save yourself the trauma of finding out that your dream SoHo loft doesn’t even exist on Google Maps, and take these lessons to heart:   

  • Start your search early. Hey, I’m all for being young and living adventurously, but don’t procrastinate on housing. Start your search for a sublet in February or March, even if you’re waiting on a final decision from a job. Most summer sublets start on May 1st or June 1st.

  • Have a back-up plan. Whether it’s a hostel near your workplace or a family friend, make sure you have a place to stay if your sublet falls through.

  • Consider staying in a dorm. Although university housing can be slightly pricier, you won’t have to worry about landlords, last minute changes in move-out dates, building safety, or the upkeep of shared spaces. Some dorms even offer a meal plan!

  • Talk to a local. Chances are, you’ll at least have a friend of a friend who can give you the lowdown on the reputations of different areas. A local’s advice on which neighborhoods to target for safety, affordability, and overall livability is golden. 

  • Keep an eye out for sublet scams. Stock photos, awkward wording, or Google Talk phone numbers are all huge red flags. You have every right to ask for posters’ social media links (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and other documents to verify their residency. Make sure to meet your roommates and see the place via video chat. Or, ask an acquaintance in the city if she can attend an open house in your place.  

  • Stay safe. If you do visit in person, don’t go alone. Never give out private information or wire money before meeting the renter or your roommates in person.

  • Know your priorities. For me, air conditioning and a 30-minute or shorter commute to work ranked high on my list of non-negotiables. Define your top priorities ahead of time so you can quickly filter out the sublets that don’t meet your bottom line.

  • Put yourself in the subletter’s shoes. Just like us sublet-seekers, subletters themselves are looking for someone who’s transparent and credible. Throughout my search, I maintained 100% honesty about my expectations regarding cleanliness, household supplies, and how much time I expect to stay at home. Trust me, it’s better to be as clear as possible before you move in. After all, it’s those little miscommunications that can lead to much larger problems down the road.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I had the experience of moving to New York. On the other hand, my dad is grateful that I came out of my Craigslist journey alive (I do take full responsibility for his recent crop of grey hairs). So remember – as you embark on your own journey to find a summer sublet, keep in mind that thorough research, communication, and planning are the keys to a smooth transition.