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Lessor Evils

New statistics say the rental market’s about as bad as it gets.


In April, one of Abby Walthausen’s two roommates announced that he was leaving their Crown Heights three-bedroom, so she teamed up with her remaining pal to find a smaller rental. They scoured the usual swaths of Brooklyn—Fort Greene, Carroll Gardens, Bushwick—and saw dozens of places, but despite a “pretty reasonable budget” of $1,700 (they were willing to settle for a one-bedroom if the layout allowed for each person’s privacy), they found little that was decent. “It was horrible,” says the high-school English teacher. By late June, they “just ended up looking at each other and saying, ‘Why don’t we just stay?’ ” she says. That they did.

It’s a wise choice, as today’s rental market is certainly on par with the toughest ever. “The last time [it] was this tight was in 2000, and it wasn’t as unforgiving as it is now,” says Gary Malin, chief operating officer of Citi Habitats, which recently released a five-year study of Manhattan residential rentals. Save for a moment over the winter when the numbers inched up ever so slightly, vacancy rates have stayed well below one percent for a year, with Soho and Tribeca the tightest spots. (In 2002, the average monthly rent for a Manhattan one-bedroom was $2,227; now it’s $2,737.) In Brooklyn, it’s no better. “We’re getting overflow from Manhattan, and people aren’t moving as often, so there are very few vacancies,” explains Peggy Aguayo, principal of the Brooklyn firm Aguayo & Huebener.

Newcomers continue to stream into the city, keeping competition high. Developers have exacerbated matters, too, by converting existing rental buildings into condos, like the 400-plus-unit building at 88 Greenwich Street, or, as at 1 Wall Street Court, changing their minds about leasing. (It was planned as a hybrid project with twenty condos and 100 rentals, but went all sales.) Tenants like Walthausen can take heart, though: Big-budget types aren’t immune, either. “I had a wealthy client from Chile who didn’t have a credit history in the U.S. [and] was turned down,” says Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Jacky Teplitzky. “He was offering six months’ cash up front! He couldn’t understand how that happened to him.”


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