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New York rental guide - Manhattan

The basics

The best known of these is Manhattan. When most people picture New York (most non-New Yorkers anyway) it's Manhattan they're thinking of. Yellow cabs, skyscrapers, Times Square - if you've watched a movie or switched on the TV you know what Manhattan looks like, so much so when you arrive for the first time it can feel like you've been here before.

Most of the city's major tourist attractions and iconic landmarks are in Manhattan and many visitors to New York never leave the island, unless they get the Staten Island ferry to take a look at The Statue of Liberty.

Manhattan is a narrow island between two rivers; the Hudson River to the west and the aptly-named East River to the east. Around 1.5 million of New York's 8 million residents are packed into the borough's 23 square miles and, typically, they pay the highest rents. It's remarkably easy to find your way around due, in part, to the city's famous grid system. The island runs, more or less, north to south and the grid starts at 1st St. in the south, with numbers increasing as you go north. In other words, when you head 'uptown' you're going north and the street numbers are getting higher; when you go 'downtown' the reverse is true. South of the numbered streets (in some of New York's oldest neighborhoods) the grid becomes a jumbled mess so a map comes in handy, even for seasoned New Yorkers.

If you're looking for cheap rents then Manhattan may not be the best place to start but, for many (if not most) arriving in New York for the first time, it's top of the list.

A closer look

There are three main points to remember about Manhattan rents:

  1. They're really expensive
  2. They're really expensive
  3. They're really expensive

There was a fourth point but I forget what it was.

Taking that into consideration...

Whatever you want from a city you'll find it in New York, if you can afford it (see points 1 thru 3 above). At one end of the spectrum The West Village, SoHo, TriBeCa, Union Square, Chelsea, and the Financial District are amongst the most desirable (and therefore most expensive) neighborhoods in NYC. As a rule, if it has a funky acronym - NoLita, SoHo, NoHo, TriBeCa etc - it's unlikely to be cheap.

The area west of Times Square known as Hell's Kitchen (or more recently Clinton) was, until recently, one of the few semi-affordable areas in Manhattan. Rents are now on the up but there's hope among locals that major new developments on the western edge of the neighborhood will help ease demand and bring prices back down.

Farther uptown you'll find a mix of affordability and high-end housing in the Upper West and the Upper East Side. The closer you are to Central Park in these areas the more expensive the rents are. The Upper East Side has a particularly broad range of options. It's home to both the most extravagantly-priced housing in the city, near Central Park and Park Avenue, but also more affordable and (comparatively) more spacious housing farther east. However, it's also harder to get to if you work in the Times Square area or lower Manhattan. The Upper East Side is only served by one subway line. The long-awaited Second Avenue subway is under what seems to locals like its third century of construction and will be finished... someday. A thirty-three-block stretch is slated to open at the end of 2016. Until then, if you live east of Third Avenue plan on a long walk or a bus trip, but also enjoy the lower rents.

If you're really looking for something cheaper, Harlem has become a safe and well-priced option. It has the benefit of larger apartments so it's easier to live with multiple roommates (which helps to bring down costs). Washington Heights and Inwood, at the northern end of the island, are cheaper still. Commutes are long and there are fewer amenities, but you'll get much more space for your money than most of Manhattan.

Oh, I remembered the fourth point - They're really expensive (OK, I'll shut up now).

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