Pros and Cons: Living with a Roommate in NYC
It goes without saying that the cost of renting an apartment in NY is very high. At one time or another, most of us long-time New Yorkers, including several of our employees, have had to make a choice between living with a roommate in an apartment or building we love, or in a neighborhood we love, or settling for something less than ideal by living alone.
1.) Why Get a Roommate in NYC?
Sharing a NYC rental apartment with a roommate is still more common with young people, both current students—either graduate or undergraduate--as well as the legions of twenty-somethings who move to New York City fresh out of college and just starting a career.
The high cost of living often forces you to choose between getting a roommate and living in a doorman building, or living alone in a walk-up. For some it's the difference between being able to afford to live in Manhattan, and having your own place in the outerboroughs or NJ.
More and more we're also seeing older New Yorkers, whether already professionally established or switching careers, choosing to live with a roommate in order to stay in a preferred neighborhood, or keep a large apartment they love despite a change in income. But no matter what your current circumstances or reasons for considering living with a roommate, the challenges and rewards are the same.
2.) How to Find a "Roomie" in NYC
Short of recruiting a good friend or a sibling to be your roommate (we've seen—and experienced--such arrangements working out well for everyone involved, and we've seen the opposite), finding the right roommate for you in NYC is the first and, often, the most difficult part of the process… tougher sometimes than finding the right apartment.
The good news is that there is no shortage of roommate finder type services available online, that cater to both a broad-based general market as well as more focused roommate finder sites, for gay and lesbians roommate seekers, for example, or Christians, or those who keep Kosher. These sites are helpful, too, for finding someone with whom to look for a new apartment together. And, after all these years, Craigslist remains a source for a steady stream of people seeking roommates to share their apartments in all of the most popular neighborhoods in town.
Launched in 2010, a new concept arrived... Roommates Wanted NYC. They sponsor mixers several times a month at bars and lounges throughout the city. It's sort of like speed dating for roommates. Everyone has a nametag (red if you have a room for rent, green if you're looking for one). No more sorting through online scams, no shows, etc. You can meet several people at one event, which saves time, and allows you to get to know your potential roommate in a casual setting.
3.) Choosing the Right Person to Live With
It may seem a bit daunting to find a roommate in a city of eight million, especially for those moving to New York City for the first time, but you can take comfort in knowing that hundreds of thousand of people just like you have done it before, and, if not exactly found heaven on earth, at the very least survived. Choosing a person to live with you definitely takes some patience, an open mind, a bit of luck, and, maybe most important, a good deal of self-knowledge. Before you go out there answering ads, take some time to think about what sort of roommate would really work best with your own lifestyle.
Sometimes the best roommates are people outside of you're usual range of friends, either in age, or sensibility, or habits. Are you looking for a roommate with whom you can hang out? Or would you do better with a more "professional" relationship with your roommate? Can you live with a kitchen that's messy sometimes? Do you need complete quiet at night? Do you like to come home after work and relax, or do you go out a lot? The more you know about, and are honest to yourself about, your own desires, needs, and limitations, the more likely it'll be that you'll find a roommate who suits you. You can learn more about finding the perfect roommate, here.
4.) Apartments Best Suited for Sharing
The ideal housing situation for roommates is, of course, a two-bedroom apartment, preferably one in which both bedrooms are of comparable size and desirability. And there are plenty of such homes on the market, in all neighborhoods, at any given time, but you should expect to pay a premium price. There are, however, lots of other NY apartment options which can work for roommates, at less cost to one or both of you.
Many NYC roommates, for example, share a one-bedroom apartment, with either both parties bunking in the bedroom, or with one person using the living room as his or her sleeping area, with a pull-out couch, a futon, or a Murphy bed. Junior 4 apartments also frequently house roommates, with the dining room or office space turned into a (often window-less and closet-less) bedroom, screened or curtained off from the apartment's main living area.
Often you will see apartments in New York advertised as flex (flexible) or convertible, e.g. a Flex 2 Bedroom. Basically, this means that the apartment has been converted (from a one bedroom to a two bedroom, in the case of a Flex, or Convertible, 2). This is done by having a pressurized wall installed, most commonly dividing the living room into a small living room, and a small second bedroom. A Flex, or Convertible, 3 changes a 2 bedroom to a Flex 3 Bedroom.
There are several companies in NYC that are licensed to install pressurized walls, and over the years it has become a fairly common practice. Often it is the only way that roommates are able to afford to live in a doorman building, or to rent an apartment in a better neighborhood--and not have to share a bedroom.
In 2010 NYC began cracking down on some of these walls that were installed and were not up to code (primarily dealing with issues of fire safety). Be sure to check with the property manager or owner to see if they allow pressurized walls, and if a wall can be installed in the specific apartment you are interested in and be up to code.
Obviously, the person who gets the true bedroom in any of the above situations tends to pay a larger share of the monthly rent.
5.) Co-Signing the Lease With a Roommate
In New York State it perfectly legal to take on one roommate (defined here as a person who is not in your immediate family) without having him or her become a co-signer on the lease. Legally, only the person whose name is on the lease is responsible for paying the rent; if your roommate is not a co-signer, and can't pay his or her share on any given month, you are still liable for the whole thing. For this reason, if you're moving into a new apartment with a roommate, it's probably a good idea to share legal responsibility for the rent by co-signing the lease.