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Renting An Apartment

For the first few years after you arrive in the U.S., renting an apartment rather than buying a home may be a better option. Renting offers greater flexibility so that if you need to move in order to take another job you won't need to go through the time-consuming process of selling your home. Renting now will also let you take your time to choose where you want to settle more permanently.

Renting may be better for:

  • those with non-immigrant work visas, ie. H-1B workers and Corporate transferees
  • those in a lower income and tax bracket
  • newcomers unfamiliar with an area

To compare the costs of buying and renting a home, here is a useful calculator:

To find an apartment, you may do several things:

  • Look for a rental agency in your city which has listings of available apartments. Often you will need to apply for a set fee, $35-$50 in order to receive regular listings from them.
  • Search in the classifieds section of your Sunday newspaper under "apartments for rent". The larger newspapers usually feature separate listings for furnished and unfurnished units.
  • Visit online services like Move.com, Apartments.com, ForRent.com & Craigslist.orgwhich let you browse available apartments in large multi-unit complexes.

Before the Appointment:

If possible, survey the apartment property you might be interested in and its surrounding neighborhood before making an appointment to make sure the unit looks safe and presentable, and is in a good neighborhood. Make sure it is close to transportation and shopping, especially if you have to use public transportation. Check the terms of the lease - is it one year, six months or month-to-month?

Once you have narrowed down your choices, you can make an appointment to view the apartment with the landlord, agent or representative by calling the number of the appropriate contact.

Compile a personal and professional resume(cv) to bring to the appointment, You may find yourself in a one-on-one situation with the landlord or in a large group of competing tenants milling around the apartment. In any case, dress appropriately (casual but neat dress) and be ready to "sell" yourself in a competitive market.

Things to bring to the appointment:

  • a professional resume
  • a personal resume containing:
      • name
      • current address
      • contact info like phone number and email address
      • past addresses and jobs for the past four years
      • bank and credit card references
      • approximate annual income
      • personal references from work and past landlords

! Be on time for your appointment, and call ahead if you need to cancel. In general in the U.S. it is better to call than to simply miss an appointment.

How to Inspect the Apartment:

Compile a mental or written list of problems you see need fixing.

Here is a preliminary checklist:

  • Check that the plumbing works properly in both the kitchen and the bathroom. try all the faucets and the toilet to check for problems like low water pressure.
  • Note any strange or objectionable smells - animal urine, for example, may be quite difficult to erase from a carpet
  • Stains in the carpet and the walls
  • Peeling or chipping paint
  • Bugs around and under the sink areas
  • Make sure the blinds work properly
  • Are the hallway and entrance lit properly for safety?
    How secure is the building? Many apartments have buzzers or doormen for security.
  • If you own a car: Is there enough parking nearby? In some cities like San Francisco, it is nearly impossible to park on the street.

After going through your checklist, if you decide you still want the apartment but want to negotiate any repairs, you may give the landlord a list of things you would like to have fixed.

If the apartment market is very tight, you may want to hold off on certain items until later in order to increase your chances of getting the apartment. Even in this type of market, make sure you look at least two or three different apartments before settling on one that's less than ideal.

Before you sign a lease, make sure you have a signed acknowledgement by the landlord of existing problems with the apartment so you don't end up paying for repairs you did not cause.

! "Go with your gut" - it is better to forgo an apartment if you have an inkling the landlord might be disagreeable. This may end up costing you money, time and possible legal battles down the line, Use your gut to weed out future problems.

The Security Deposit:

Many landlords ask for both first month's and last month's rent and a security deposit to cover any minor damages or cleaning costs that you might incur. This is to insure them against tenants "skipping out" before finishing their lease.

The amount of the security deposit should be no more than one or two months' rent. Most states (including Florida, Texas and New York) have no legal maximum, but a few, like California, do - two months rent (waterbeds are more). Maximums allowed under the law may be found in individual state statutes, found at nolo.com's online legal encyclopedia: http://www.nolo.com/encyclopedia/articles/lt/lt1.html

>> Info on how to get your security deposit back (Nolo Press)

Your Tenant Rights:

After you finish your lease you are entitled to receive your security deposit back along with the interest made from the deposit in a timely fashion, usually within two to four weeks.
Deadlines for All 50 States: http://nolo.com/encyclopedia/articles/lt/deadlines.html

Useful Books and Links:

Tenant Legal Rights Kit:

Every Tenant's Legal Guide: http://www.nolo.com/product/EVTEN/summary_EVTEN.html?t=01750MPTB03202000
Landlord and Tenant Page, Nolo Press: http://www.nolo.com/category/lt_home.html

Rent Control:

If you have a six-month or a year lease, the landlord may not raise your rent unless it is specified in the lease. If you have a month-to-month lease, the landlord may raise the rent as long as you are given at least 30 days' written notice.

Some states - California, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York - have rent control statutes limiting rent increases. Check your local rent stabilization board or city hall clerk to find a copy of your city's statute.

New York Rent Stabilization Laws: http://www.tenant.net/Rent_Laws/
Rent guidelines (how much can rent increase?): http://www.housingnyc.com/

New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal:

The Tenant Resource Directory (Useful info for tenants and landlords in California cities):

HUD California guide:

Rent an Apartment?

Make an Appointment?

Inspect the Apartment?

Understand my Tenant Rights?

Buy a Home?