Feb 6, 2020 - Economy & Business

New York aims to break brokers' stranglehold on rentals

An illustration of a house being measured by a large hand.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Renting an apartment in New York is ridiculously difficult and expensive, in no small part because of the dominance of a curious tribe of people known as "rental brokers." As the NYT explains, these creatures "have near absolute control over apartment listings, viewing appointments and leases."

Driving the news: In a widely applauded yet unexpected move, New York state regulators have decreed that renters can no longer be charged broker's fees.

How it works: Rental brokers charge astonishing sums for simply bringing together landlords and renters. The standard fee is 15% of the first year's rent, payable up front — that's $6,300 on an apartment costing $3,500 per month.

  • Brokers can charge that much because while they're hired by landlords, the landlords don't pay them, and are therefore price-insensitive. Meanwhile the renters, who have to make the payment, have no real choice but to pay whatever the broker charges.

What's next: If landlords want to continue to use brokers, they will have to pay them themselves. Brokers are warning that the broker's fee will then end up showing up in higher rent. But now landlords will have a clear financial incentive to use cheaper brokers. That should help drive prices down across the industry.

Go deeper: The new housing crisis

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