When you first come to the U.S., you might find the apartment rental process difficult. Don’t worry, Nova Credit is here to help. See below for our in-depth guide that covers everything from getting started to getting your deposit back.
You want to make sure that the apartment meets your basic needs. Is it in your budget? Is the location convenient and safe? You’ll also want to make sure that it meets specific needs: will it allow you to bring your pet? Outline the procedure for paying rent, for getting something fixed if it is broken, and what your obligations are when you move out.
You’ll want to make sure that you aren’t getting scammed. If you’re renting an apartment or house from local landlord, verify that they actually own the home and have the right to rent it. (You could ask the landlord for photo ID and a current utility bill, for example). Make sure that you have a written lease, and do not pay cash for a rental.
If something seems “too good to be true” -- for example, a unit has a low rental price but you can’t get inside to see it -- it probably is.
Large corporate rental companies won’t care how you dress, but if you’re looking at an a rental in someone’s home, wear business clothing, not shorts or sweatpants. If your landlord wants you to bring in a co-signer, Nova Credit offers a partnership with The Guarantors. That company will act as your co-signer, charging you a percentage of your annual rent. The guaranty will often help you land a desired apartment even if you don’t meet the landlord’s other approval requirements. The fee is typically 7%-10% if you’re coming from outside the U.S.
Many roommate pairs meet the old-fashioned way, by being introduced by a mutual friend. So put the word out throughout your network that you are looking for a roomie, and give a couple of basic details like whether you smoke and how tidy you want your home to be. You can also use Craigslist (search for “rooms and shares”) or reddit, or a roommate service in your area. Always arrange to meet potential roommates in person.
Nova Credit offers partnerships with tenant screening agencies to help you use the credit history from your home country. Ask your landlord to use one of our partners: First Advantage, Intellirent or Yardi. All three platforms can evaluate a rental application using credit from select Nova Credit-enabled countries, such as Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, or the U.K.
If you are working with a real estate agent, ask them how they handle your personal information. Ask what steps they take to protect sensitive info. For most landlords, it’s okay if you black out, or redact, all but the last four digits of your bank account numbers.
A standard lease is annual, for a one-year period. If you’re seeking a shorter-term lease, be aware that the rent might be higher than for an annual lease. If you want a very short-term situation -- say three months or so -- then consider a sublet. That’s a situation where you are renting from an existing tenant. Check with the local rent board (here’s San Francisco’s) to see your city’s sublet regulations. In general, when you sublet, ask to see the existing tenant’s current lease -- it will outline the procedure to get sublet approval from the overall landlord.
If you are seeking an annual lease, note that many renters move in the summer, in order to be settled for new jobs, or for a school term that begins in the fall. If you do have a choice of when you can move, then move in the winter. A study by RentHop, an Internet apartment search site, found that during the winter is the best time to find cheaper rents.
Your landlord will want a “security deposit.” Security is money that you pay at the start of the lease, but have returned to you at the end of the lease if you leave the home in good condition. The amount of security varies by tradition and locale: in New York State, new rent laws limit security deposits to one month’s rent. The landlord will also ask for the first month’s rent and, perhaps, the last month’s rent. There can be an extra deposit for pets, and also fees charged by a building’s managing agent. A large luxury condominium might also have separate move-in/move-out fees, which pay to protect the building’s carpets and elevators so they are not damaged by your movers. Finally, some real estate agents are paid by landlords and some are not. If you are using a real estate agent, find out at the start if you are paying his/her fee.
Your landlord will generally take a check from a U.S. bank, or allow you to set up an automatic, direct-deposit. Make sure that the procedure for payment is in your lease, as well as an explanation of late fees -- how much the landlord will charge you for being late, and when that charge would go into effect.
Talk with your landlord about how heat and electricity will be handled. Who will pay for heat? Who will control it? (There may be a minimum standard in your area. In Chicago, for example,
the required minimum temperature is 66 degrees Fahrenheit during the colder months of the year.) Other utilities to discuss with your landlord are: cooking gas, cable, Internet/Wi-Fi, water, and trash pick-up.
Once you’re established, can you use your utility payments to help build your credit history? The answer is yes. Experian, for example, is a large credit bureau which offers a program called “Experian Boost.” That program will allow you to use on-time payments as entries in your credit file. You can also contact TransUnion and Equifax, two other major credit bureaus, to ask about adding credit data.