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Ask Real Estate


Q. I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate whose name is on the lease. She is moving out June 1, and I’d like to take over the lease. My rent will increase from $2,450 a month to $2,500. Even though I already live in the apartment, the property manager is insisting that I go through their broker who will charge me a $4,500 fee (15 percent of one year’s rent) to transfer the lease to my name. The broker didn’t have to show the apartment, and the property manager won’t have to renovate between leaseholders. Is this fee legal? Or is it all too common?

Lower East Side, Manhattan

A. Few New Yorkers like paying a broker’s fee, which often feels like an outsized sum for the service provided. It must be vexing to write that check for an apartment you already live in. But, unfortunately, you will probably have to hand over the cash.

“It’s unusually harsh,” said Victoria Vinokur, a broker for Halstead Property. “At the same time, I am not surprised by anything.”

It is likely that the management company has an exclusive arrangement with the broker. Even though the broker isn’t showing you the apartment, you are still considered a new tenant. So, he might have to conduct a background check, file paperwork and vet your finances, which takes time. Remember, the landlord is not required to add a roommate to the lease, so he could have simply asked you to move out when your roommate didn’t renew her lease. He probably could have raised your rent by much more than $50.

“There is nothing presumptively illegal about a landlord requiring a prospective tenant to work with a broker,” said Lucas A. Ferrara, a real estate lawyer and professor at New York Law School.

Try to put your overall costs in perspective. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in a non-doorman building on the Lower East Side was $3,459 a month in March, according to a report by MNS. (With the summer rental season heating up, rents will likely climb even higher this summer.) So, even after you factor in your fee, you will still pay far less than market rate. If you move, you’ll likely pay that 15 percent fee to another broker – on a much more expensive apartment.

You could try to negotiate the fee. But instead, use this as an opportunity to ask the property manager to make some repairs. You say that the apartment won’t be renovated. But maybe management could swap out an old stove for a newer one. Is there a leaky faucet that could use some attention? Maybe the bathroom could be caulked or the tiles reglazed. There’s no time like the present to ask for a few bells and whistles.