Renters Scramble for Sublets as Coronavirus Crisis Continues


It’s the only way many people in the city can afford to live here — by sharing an apartment, and the rent, with roommates. But with the coronavirus crisis triggering an exodus from the city, many roommate arrangements are in shambles, and that’s causing a lot of financial hardship and anxiety.

“Initially, I felt like one of the fortunate ones,” Christine Martinez told NY1 News.

What You Need To Know

  • Lease holders are stuck as roommates leave NYC.
  • Roommate and sublet platform DIGGZ says postings advertising empty rooms & sublets in NYC went from 1,400 in June 2019 to nearly 2,500 in June 2020.
  • Sublet Offers Abound: DIGGZ didn’t even track those numbers pre-pandemic, but will moving forward.
  • People seeking short-term room rentals are extremely rare now, even though it’s technically internship season.

The NYU Graduate Student and Spanish Instructor kept her job when the coronavirus crisis erupted as classes moved on-line instead of in classrooms.

But then her roommates lost their jobs.

“I received news from both of my roommates that they would be moving out, so in a month’s time my rent basically tripled,” she said.

Finding replacements normally takes two weeks, but for two months: nothing.

“Just constantly reposting on Craigslist and Facebook my ad and there are some weeks I don’t even get one inquiry and I’ve never experienced this before,” Martinez said. 

“It’s definitely harder to find a roommate right now,” explained Rany Burstein, the Co-founder and CEO of Diggz, a roommate and apartment search platform.

The company’s posts advertising empty rooms and sublets in the city have surged to nearly 2,500, from 1,400 a year ago.

“There are a lot more people subletting either an extra room or their own room trying to get out of the city,” Burstein said.

“I love New York City. Trust me,” said Rafaela Sa, “I’m obsessed about this city,” the social media and marketing manager said.

She lived on the Lower East Side for four years and and said life was going great.

“I woke up, go to Equinox, go to work, go to dinner with friends, go to after hours, go to clubs, go to art shows, always something was happening,” she said.

Then the coronavirus crisis hit.

“Everything I love about the city’s gone. My job is gone,” Sa said.  “I will be, what? Here in my apartment?”

It took her six weeks to find someone to take her room. She had to pay a month extra in rent and she’s still the leaseholder, living in Houston.

“A lot of people are leaving New York and there’s been a real shakedown in the roommate demographic,” said Burstein.  “We see that a lot of people lost their roommates and are looking for replacements, as far as people trying to get out of their leases.”

Martinez says her landlord is letting her cancel her lease, but her $32,000 salary makes finding a nice place to live without roommates next to impossible. She could follow others out of town and move in with family out of state, but that’s not an option because NYU classes will resume in person eventually.

“I feel kind of helpless,” she said.

Each room rents for $900 dollars a month. Burstein suggests lowering that.

Making roommate finding even more bleak, this is intern season and he says there is almost no one now looking for those short-term room rentals.

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