Where Will You Live?
One of the first practical matters you’ll have to deal with after you arrive in the United States is finding a place to live. It’s great to have a helping hand, and your host organization will be happy to assist in your housing search – so be sure to ask! The organization can help by:
- Asking team members if they know of any apartments that might be available
- Answering questions about local housing
- Connecting you with local real estate agents and/or housing owners
- Providing links to local websites that list housing options
- Checking “For Rent” sections of local newspapers and sharing what they find
- Offering advice on which areas of town to focus on
Finding a place of your own
Having your own place to live will make you part of the local population and give you a sense of belonging to a community. Travel around the area and try to get a feel for various neighborhoods – someplace where you feel safe, that’s convenient to shopping and transit, and where it will be enjoyable to spend your off-work hours. And, of course, you’ll want to pay attention to how long it will take to get to your workplace and how much rent will cost.
Some CIEE interns and trainees rent their own apartments. Others share with one or more roommates – a good way to save money, make new friends, and share experiences. It’s even possible that a colleague might be looking for a roommate.
Don’t put down a deposit before you’ve actually seen the apartment. Once you’ve decided on a suitable place, it’s important to sign a rental agreement, which defines the terms of the lease, including rent amount and dates, and protects the tenant and landlord. Only written information on a rental agreement signed by both tenant and landlord makes an official legal contract.
Resources for apartment seekers
There are many websites available for apartment hunters, including:
Searches by neighborhood, with lots of filtering options.
Apartment listings by state and city; this service also has apps for iPhone and Android devices.
Connects people who are looking for roommates; it’s likely that the roommate will be an American, and this is a great way to enhance cultural exchange.
Mostly offers short-term stays in private apartments, but it also lists monthly rentals.
The internet makes it easy to find apartments, but beware of housing scams that involve suspiciously low rents, wiring money, or giving cash to strangers. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
University bulletin boards
Many campuses have bulletin boards where students post notices looking for roommates.
Sunday editions usually have the most listings.
Things to look for, things to consider
Look for an apartment that is furnished. Outfitting an apartment can be both expensive and time-consuming. Also ask if heat, electricity, water, cable TV, and internet are included in the rent; if not, those costs can add up! Once you’ve found an apartment, the landlord will ask for a security deposit and most likely the first month’s rent.
All states allow landlords to collect a security deposit when a tenant moves in. Security deposits are usually equal to one month’s rent. The security deposit will be returned, as long as there has been no damage to the apartment and you’ve fulfilled the lease agreement.
Inspect your new apartment with your landlord before signing an agreement. Be sure to get a written record of existing damage and a list of all furnishings and their condition. For additional documentation, it’s wise to take photos of the apartment when you first move in.
Be smart – ask questions!
Before renting, make sure there will be no surprises. Most problems with housing happen because of simple misunderstandings that can be avoided. For example, ask about legal responsibility in case of damages, policies about out-of-town guests, or any issues with noisy neighbors. Don’t sign anything until you’re comfortable with all the details!
Questions for landlords and real estate agents
- How much do I have to pay before I move in (security deposit, first month’s rent, etc.)?
- What are the conditions of the lease? Under what circumstances can it be canceled? What are the penalties if it is broken?
- How long is the lease?
- Are utilities (electricity, heat, water) included?
- Is furniture included?
- Is this within walking distance of my workplace?
- Is there public transportation nearby?
- Is the neighborhood safe?
- Does the building have laundry facilities?
- How accessible are stores, banks, entertainment venues, and other places I’ll regularly visit?
- What’s the average rent for a place this size in the neighborhood?
- How soon can I move in?
Living with roommates
If you share a place with other people, you’ll become part of one another’s lives. You don’t need to be best friends, but you do need to respect one another and have clear expectations. Get an agreement in writing about how you’ll share costs. Make sure you talk about things like chores, space, privacy, food, smoking, hours, guests, and noise.
Questions for roommates
- How much does each person pay for expenses like electricity and internet?
- How many people will be living in the apartment?
- How do you feel about having guests? Are sleepover guests allowed?
- How do you feel about drinking and smoking in the apartment?
- Are there any items or areas in the apartment that will be private?
- How will grocery expenses be handled? Should we share food or keep it separate?
- How messy or neat are you?
- Do you like to listen to loud music or watch TV late at night?
- How will we keep the apartment clean?
- How will we resolve disagreements?
- How will we end our roommate arrangement if it doesn’t work out?
Being a good tenant
Everyone appreciates a good neighbor. If you pay your rent late, make too much noise, or damage property, your landlord can ask you to leave the apartment. (If this happens, you should get a written eviction notice and be given a deadline by which to leave.)
If you have concerns, talk to your landlord or whoever your contact is for your apartment, and try to resolve conflicts with your landlord or neighbors before the situation escalates!