Are you currently planning your move to the USA? Then you will soon need your own apartment there. Learn the ins and outs of the US housing market and get essential tips on renting your first apartment in the United States.
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The US Immigrant Visa (also called Permanent Resident Card) entitles you to live and work in the United States permanently. Also, with a Green Card, you enjoy almost all the rights of a US citizen and are free to choose both your place of residence and your employer.
The easiest way to get a permanent residence and work permit in the United States is to participate in the US government's annual Green Card Lottery, in which 55,000 immigrant visas are drawn.
Rental prices in the United States vary depending on the region and location. Do you want to live in New York City, Hawaii, or San Francisco in California? Then you'll have to dig deep into your pockets for average rents of more than $ 1,700 per month.
In contrast, you'll pay cheap rents of $ 800 or less in South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, or Alabama. Of course, there is also a wide range of prices within the same state and even within the same city.
You should expect to spend at least 30 % of your salary on renting an apartment in the US. By the way: In the United States, the terms "rent" ("rental housing", "rented apartment", "apartment for rent") and "lease" ("leased apartment", "leased residential", "for lease") are both commonly used for renting an apartment.
Depending on where and how you live, the utility costs that you will pay in addition to the rent will vary. For example, if you move into a 60 m² apartment in hot and humid Florida on your own, you may pay more than $ 100 extra in electricity just for your air conditioning.
However, some leases in the USA include part of the utilities such as heating, hot water, and electricity in the rent. It is best to make a calculation to determine your total rental costs in the USA. Address the following questions:
If you hire a real estate agent for your apartment search in the USA, they will be able to tell you the annual utility costs of a property or at least give you a fairly accurate price range.
Renters Insurance is a form of liability insurance policy for tenants. You are only obliged to take out this insurance if your future landlord requires it for the conclusion of a rental agreement.
A good Renters Insurance policy will cover the following:
Although Renters Insurance is not required by law, we recommend purchasing this insurance for every US immigrant before beginning an extended tenancy. It can protect you from major financial losses.
The housing market in the USA is as diverse as the country itself. You can really get it all, from a mini apartment in the big city to a spacious loft with an ocean view to a lodger flat in a somewhat conservative townhouse.
Popular platforms for apartment hunting in the USA include:
When searching for apartments in the United States, keep the following quirks of the American housing market in mind:
You should become suspicious of unusually favorable offers or demands for money without prior viewing. Do a background check on your future landlord, e.g., via Internet platforms such as ratemylandlord.co or wyl.co.
When you apply for an apartment in the US, the first step is usually the credit check, which your prospective landlord will use to inquire about your credit score. If you haven't built up your credit history at the time of your apartment search in the USA, you'll probably have to make some rent payments in advance.
Since building a good credit score in the USA can take up to two years, many US immigrants use a trick: they get an American Express credit card back home and reissue it post-immigration.
Once you have found the apartment of your dreams, you will apply to your potential landlord with a number of documents. If you are coming to the USA as an immigrant, you will have to put a little more on the table than an established American.
The following documents may be required of you when looking for housing in the US:
The Fair Housing Act of the United States prohibits discrimination in housing based on national origin, race, color, religion, sex, disability, or marital status. This means that you may not be disadvantaged just because you are a US immigrant.
American leases come in all shapes and colors. There are long-term and short-term agreements, digital and paper agreements, auto-renewing, and auto-expiring agreements.
Your rental agreement in the USA should include the following things:
If rules of conduct and quiet hours are not specified in the contract, ask for house rules and familiarize yourself with them.
If your landlord wants to change certain details of the contract (e.g., the amount of rent), they can do so when renewing your lease, but they must give you advance notice. This allows you to object to the automatic renewal in good time and, if necessary, look for another apartment.
Rent in the USA is usually paid in cash or by check. If your landlord also accepts payment by credit card, be sure to check if there are additional fees for doing so. Often, 3 - 5 % of the rental price is charged.
You pay the rental deposit to the landlord before you move in. This is to ensure you will keep the rented property in good condition and to cover any damage you may cause.
About half of the states in the US have caps on rent deposits. Typically, you will pay between one and three and a half months' rent as a security deposit. You may also have to pay a separate deposit for pets in the apartment.
Obtain a receipt for the rent deposit paid. It should include the following:
In some US states, security deposit accounts are required to earn interest. This means that after you move out, you get more money back than you have paid in. However, a rent deposit may be increased retroactively if, for example, the rent was increased.
Most utilities that are not included in the rent can be paid directly to the utility company by credit card.
Monthly electricity costs in the USA are usually not assessed as a fixed amount but through regular meter readings by employees of the electricity company. This can lead to wide variations in the amount billed due to the different time periods between readings.
The American utility company PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) now offers payment of a monthly flat rate in order to avoid unpleasant surprises when billing.
In the most recent evaluation by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2020, the average monthly residential electricity bill in the United States was $ 117.46. The evaluation is published approximately every two years on the eia.gov website.
Before you move into your new apartment in the US, you should agree on the property's condition. On the day of the handover, you and your American landlord will walk through the apartment and record the current state of the premises.
The following things should be listed in the handover protocol:
If you agree to make repairs, record this in the log. We also recommend that you take a picture of each room and document any damage or defects in detail.
Your American landlord must comply with specific laws when renting you an apartment. However, these vary from state to state, so you should check local laws carefully before renting.
Some examples of obligations of a landlord in the USA:
Incidentally, your American landlord is only allowed to enter your rented apartment with good reason, e.g., for maintenance, repairs, or in case of an emergency.
If you rent an apartment in the USA, you must fulfill certain obligations during the rental period. These vary by US state, so you should check the local laws carefully before moving in.
Some examples of obligations of a tenant in the USA:
When you move out, you must leave the apartment in the same condition you took it over. However, normal wear and tear, such as a dull parquet floor, is usually not a problem after years of use.
With our tips on apartment hunting and leases in the United States, nothing is standing in the way of a worry-free tenancy in the land of your dreams:
Have you already found your dream apartment in the United States? Congratulations, now the move can begin! However, don't forget that you will need permanent residency if you want to live in the United States.
The best way to get an unlimited right to live in the United States is to take advantage of the high odds of winning the Green Card Lottery. Lottery participation takes only a few minutes, and if you win, it will make your life in the USA much easier.