By DAWN WOTAPKA
At least three major Manhattan landlords have decided to stop paying broker's fees on some rental properties, signaling that many tenants need to brace themselves for extra expenses when apartment shopping.
This is a shift from last year, when landlords—desperate to fill empty units—would cover the broker's fee, typically a month's rent.
But with demand for rentals rising and vacancy rates falling, some of the city's biggest landlords have notified brokers that they will no longer pick up the fee. That, of course, means renters must pay up.
"The pendulum is swinging back to a landlord's market," said Gary Malin, president of brokerage Citi Habitats. "Owners are going to do what's in their power to stop overpaying, in their eyes, to attract clientele."
In a recent email, Ogden CAP Properties LLC said it won't pay fees at several properties, including Normandie Court on East 95th Street and One Lincoln Plaza on West 64th Street. It declined to comment.
Pan Am Equities Inc., another large apartment owner, intends to stop paying the fee on June 1, according to brokers. Pan Am declined to comment.
The rental unit of Related Cos., which has about 5,000 units across Manhattan, will stop paying the fee May 31. "There has been a serious uptick in the market. We have seen across-the-board a strengthening in the marketplace," said Daria Salusbury, a Related senior vice president. Related's vacancy of less than 1%—down from about 3.5% a year ago—"is better than projected," she said.
Vacancies are low across Manhattan, which is in its peak leasing season.
April's rate came in at 1.23%, the lowest since June 2008, according to Citi Habitats. That was down from 1.38% in March and 2.28% a year ago. The average rent for studios and one-bedrooms – which make up most local rental stock – rose 2% from March to $1,799 and $2,390, respectively. Studio rents haven't been this high since December, 2008. Two bedrooms saw a slight rise to $3,299, from $3,289. Related is modestly increasing monthly rent in Chelsea and downtown, Ms. Salusbury said.
AvalonBay Communities Inc. in most cases is no longer paying the fee for leases in its seven New York City communities—including four in Manhattan.
The company, with 6,900 apartments in New York and New Jersey, says the Big Apple's improvement is being felt in suburban markets: Many of its communities in New Jersey, Westchester County and Long Island, typically not big broker fee markets, have seen rental increases in recent months.
"Regionwide, market conditions have improved over a year ago," said John Christie, senior director of investor relations and research.
To be sure, some local landlords continue to cough up the fee. The LeFrak Organization, which owns about 2,500 Manhattan rentals, pays the broker fee in buildings with several units available or with larger apartments, which rent for more and can take longer to fill.
Still, LeFrak's occupancy is about 99% currently, meaning it's unlikely to have to pay out much in broker fees.
"The fee is something that comes and goes based on supply and demand," said Jamie LeFrak, a company principal. "If it makes reasonable sense to pay brokerage commissions, we'd always prefer not to cut out the broker. Keep the brokers happy because that's who brings you customers."
Not surprisingly there's some consumer resistance to renters having to pay the broker fee. Some prospective tenants won't look at properties if they are responsible for the fee.
Write to Dawn Wotapka at firstname.lastname@example.org