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.”