The New York City housing crisis is playing out on TikTok

In May, Grace Pinegar received an email from her landlord informing her that the rent of her New York City apartment would increase by $700 if she decided to renew her lease. Your landlord justified the rent increase with “the value of the apartment”.

So, like other New Yorkers frustrated by rising rents in the city, Pinegar turned to TikTok.

In her video, Pinegar shows her landlord’s email and then repeats the phrase “it’s what the apartment is worth” while showing all the elements of her apartment building that she finds unworthy of the rent increase: a graffitied entryway, mailboxes with apartment numbers written on them in sharpie, dirt and grime on hall floors, exposed and rusted pipes, chipped wooden floors and walls, peeling paint and roaches.

“Don’t move to NYC now,” Pinegar wrote in the caption of her video. In a June interview with the Daily Dot, Pinegar said she hopes viewers of her TikTok know that “renters have more rights than landlords and property managers would have us believe.”

Many New Yorkers identified with James’ frustration and used her sound in their TikToks about rent increases. Others have independently reported their rent increases, with some saying they felt they were being blackmailed by their landlords.

Angry New York renters aren’t the only ones sharing their experiences on TikTok. A quick scroll through the hashtag #NYCHousing on TikTok reveals videos from New York real estate agents, affordable housing advocates, New York-based TikTokers showing off their current homes and rental information, and affordable housing lottery winners.

With all these videos, views, and comments, TikTok is one of the main places where New York City real estate is discussed online. Thanks to TikTok’s hyper-localized algorithm, tips and tricks are shared faster than Facebook groups and Reddit threads.

The Price of Life

New York-based TikTokers aren’t exaggerating: it’s really expensive to live in the city.

According to an October 2022 National Rent Report by Zumper, an online home rental platform, New York City is the most expensive place to rent in the country. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,860; the next highest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston is $800 less. The average monthly rent nationwide in September was $2,002, reports Rent, a website that conducts housing research.

And while prices in New York have always been higher than other cities, the city’s available low- and middle-income housing has hit a 30-year low, and New York’s Rent Guidelines Board has voted to increase annual rates for rent-stabilized housing to increase by at least 3.25% in May. “Rent stabilized” means that landlords can only increase the rent of an apartment under certain circumstances.

In addition, almost 90,000 rent-stabilized apartments were empty in 2021. Evan Rugen, known as @boweryboi on TikTok, says landlords will increase rents as there are fewer apartments available for rent and demand for apartments in the city remains constant.

“It’s just supply and demand,” Rugen, a New York real estate agent and broker who runs a real estate development firm focused on the Hudson Valley, told the Daily Dot.

In his TikTok videos, Rugen shows the effects of the reduced supply of available apartments. In a July TikTok, Rugen said over “200 people showed up” to tour an East Village apartment he was showing. (Anecdotally, when viewing apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn, a real estate agent is usually accompanied by only one or two renters.)

“This rental market in New York City is ridiculous,” Rugen says in another viral TikTok of vacant, rent-stabilized apartments. He says because landlords can’t raise the apartment’s rent, they don’t renovate the apartment and instead choose to leave the units empty. “We need to offer these homes at a price where landlords can cover their mortgages.”

Not all agreed with Rugen’s assessment of the situation. A popular TikTok sting of his video calls his mindset “landlord propaganda.” But in an interview with the Daily Dot, Rugen said he was neither a “landlord advocate” nor a “tenant advocate”.

Take a bad situation lightly

Trina Notaro has received more expensive rents from her landlord. In July, Notaro posted a TikTok with Pinegar’s TikTok sound, “it’s what the apartment is worth,” and announced that the rent of her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is flooded and infested with roaches and rats, will be increased by $800 increases.

“As tenants, we are told that rent increases are based on market value,” Notaro told the Daily Dot. “But the ‘market’ doesn’t address the current problems within a home.”

Notaro kept her TikTok followers updated on her apartment woes throughout the summer, and said in August that she found out her apartment, which originally cost $3,000 a month, wasn’t even listed at $3,800, which is what her landlord required her to renew her rent. It was listed at $4,700 per month.

“The greedy bastard,” Notaro says of her landlord in her TikTok. “And is he going to make $1,700 worth of improvements here? No.”

She told the Daily Dot that TikTok was used to talk about her rent increase, not only because she wanted to “take a bad situation lightly,” but also to use her platform to talk about what she saw as an injustice.

“I knew the only way I could speak out on this matter, which I feel is intentionally unfair, and show people in a similar situation that they are not alone, was to use my voice on TikTok,” Notaro told the Daily Dot.

The rent increase, coupled with the “extent of the pest infestation,” prompted Notaro and her roommate to move out of their Williamsburg apartment after their lease expired. She told the Daily Dot that she found a cheaper apartment 4 miles away in Sunnyside, Queens, through

Madison Raye Sutton, a New York real estate agent with over 100,000 followers, creates videos on her TikTok account @thenycagent to help people like Notaro. Her videos cover how to renegotiate your rent if it’s gone up, how to find rent-stabilized housing, and encourage renters to discuss “housing/building issues and what they pay in rent” with their neighbors.

Like her New York real estate agent Rugen, Sutton says she remains neutral on renters versus landlords and posts apartment-hunting tips on TikTok because “everyone should have a level playing field.”

“If I had seen videos similar to my style when I moved here I would have saved a lot of money,” Sutton told the Daily Dot.

According to Sutton, TikTok is so popular for New York real estate because millennials and Gen Z use TikTok like a search engine. In response, she creates shareable, hyperlocalized content relevant to the city’s real estate market. It paid off: Sutton says that in 2021 nearly 100% of her non-recommended business came from TikTok.

No easy solution

Although younger New Yorkers are using TikTok to find apartments, city public advocate Jumaane Williams warns those looking to move to the city to always exercise “due diligence” when looking for an apartment over any form of secure social media. In an interview with the Daily Dot, he also said the city “needs to do better public awareness and education” when it comes to affordable housing so people don’t just rely on TikTok.

“There have been failures, quite simply, at every level of government,” Williams said of the current state of housing in New York.

And he thinks that social media platforms like TikTok have made things worse by increasing competition in the housing market.

“We are now hyper-competing on increasingly scarce units,” Williams told the Daily Dot. “And people who have any means rise to the top of it.”

Williams says that means affordable housing like rent-stabilized apartments, units and buildings included in the city’s affordable housing lottery — and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) units — don’t end up going to those who do they need most.

“There are many discrepancies. And I think that’s why homelessness is increasing [while] House prices are going up,” Williams told the Daily Dot. “They are very deeply connected.”

In August, the Coalition for the Homeless reported that there were over 55,000 homeless people in New York City’s emergency shelter system. That is around 30,000 fewer people than rent-stabilized apartments were vacant in 2021.

Referring to the role of social media and TikTok in this discrepancy, Williams said he knows the popularity of using such apartment-hunting platforms is not waning.

“We just need to do a better job of educating people about how to better use it,” Williams said.


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Jaclyn Diaz

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