Apartment Hunting and Rental 101

How Do I Find an Apartment?

Start by researching the area you want to move to and ask yourself a few questions. What neighborhoods are close to where you want to work? If you do not want to live near work, how will you get to work? Is there public transportation? How long will your commute be?

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • If you have connections in the city, ask them about neighborhoods they would recommend for you to live in. If you cannot visit yourself, consider asking them to drive by an apartment before you sign the lease. 

  • If you can, visit the apartment complex. Many apartments offer tours of the complex before you move in. Many people will go to visit their prospective home and stay in a hotel, hostel, or short-term rental while they look.

  • If you cannot visit in advance, at least call and speak with the landlord.

Important Questions to Have Answered

  • How much will rent be? Do they require you to pay the first and last month’s rent before moving in? 

  • How much is the security deposit? (This is money you pay in advance. It will be returned to you if the apartment is not damaged when you move out).

  • If you need a furnished apartment, ask about what furniture is included in the apartment you are looking at.

  • What amenities does the apartment include? This might include a dishwasher, laundry facilities, a gym, a pool, doorman, parking, cable service, and the Internet.

  • Ask about utilities: How much is heat and air-conditioning? Do you pay for water, sewer, electricity, and cable? Do you control the utilities for your unit? 

  • Does the apartment have security of any kind? Do they watch the parking lot at night? What kind of locks are on the door? Make sure the door has a deadbolt.

  • Ask about what happens if there is an emergency like a plumbing issue. Is someone available to help you 24 hours a day?

Important Terms

Guarantor: Some apartments or realtors will require someone to guarantee that your rent/mortgage is paid if you are an international student. They will ask your guarantor to sign a document saying they will cover your debt if you cannot pay it.

The best choices for a guarantor are permanent residents of the U.S. with stable incomes. If you have relatives in the U.S., they are ideal. You can also find guarantor companies online. As an alternative, you may be able to pay a full year of rent in advance. 

A lease is a legally binding agreement that you will live in the apartment and pay rent for a certain amount of time. If you “break the lease” and leave early, you will be penalized. Generally, the fee is one or two months’ rent.

The lease explains all of the company’s policies regarding living there. Your lease could specify that you may not smoke, have a pet, commit crimes, or even burn candles. Read it carefully before you sign it.

Renters insurance:
Some apartments may require you to get renters insurance. Even if they do not, it is a good idea. Renters insurance reimburses you if your things are stolen or damaged due to fire or natural disasters.

Documents You Will Need

You will need documents to prove who you are, that you can afford the apartment, and that you are not a security risk. The exact requirements may vary, but you will probably be asked for:

Identification: Driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued identification proving who you are.

Proof of ability to pay rent: Pay stub, employment contract (or other proof that you have a job), or bank statements.

Social Security Number: This is necessary for the landlord to complete a credit check. If you do not have one, ask the landlord what you can do instead.

References: It is important to have letters of reference from people who can comment on your character. A previous landlord, Residence Hall Assistant, or professor are good choices.

Cashier’s check: This is a document that you will pay cash for, give to the landlord, and they will submit the paper to receive the money. It is important not to lose this. If you do, it is just like losing cash and you cannot get it back. Some apartments will take a personal check or a bank check, but many will not.

Tips to Avoid Being Scammed While Looking for an Apartment Online

  • Do not make any online payments. Pay when you arrive.
  • Look for posts with photos.
  • Look up the address with an online map and make sure the picture in the post matches what is online (and make sure it exists).