Once you arrive in the United States, it is likely that your company will provide accommodation for the first few weeks. After that you will be expected to move into your own accommodation. The first thing that you must do is to look for a suitable apartment. Renting an apartment can be a very simple task if you know exactly what to do. However many H1B visa holders are clueless on where to start.

This article will explain the process of renting an apartment and includes many practical tips for choosing the right apartment.

Why is it so important to rent the right apartment?

Of considerable importance for the H1B visa holder is to blend into the mainstream U.S. culture. Renting an apartment is the first step to get used to the local lifestyle. One of the greatest dangers confronting someone new to the country is the danger of being ill-informed. Renting the right apartment in the first go is important.

  • First, it is likely to affect your day-to-day life and commuting hours.
  • Second, it is a bit challenging to move from one apartment to another. So consider your decision irreversible for some period of time.
  • Last, the location of your apartment will affect proximity to shopping areas, schools, hospitals, public transportation, etc.

How to rent an apartment?

The first step is to collect all the necessary information about apartments near your place of work. Think of it as a problem of narrowing down your needs to get the right apartment.

  • Read newspapers and local apartment guides which are easily available. Many of the guides are free. You may also look at Yellow Pages.
  • Ask your friends or colleagues. Many times you can get valuable pieces of information from word of mouth.
  • Search online for apartment and home rental listings in your area. Some of the popular websites in this niche are:

You will be required to fill in your city, state, number of bedrooms required and a price range. Many sites will also ask you to sign up with your email address. Once you fill in the required details, you will get a list of available apartments. You will get all the information required like floor plan, amenities, property features, pet policy, leasing terms etc. Once you see an apartment that meets your requirement, call the landlord to take it further. Browse the feedback that existing or previous renters have given on the apartments that you are looking at. You can also look at www.craigslist.com to search local listings in the housing section.

Criteria for selecting the right apartment

We shall look at several different approaches to choose an apartment, beginning with location of the apartment and amenities, terms and conditions of the lease, maintenance issues, etc.

Location, neighborhood and amenities

  • Increasingly people are opting to live close to their place of work to avoid traffic and long commutes. Ideally your apartment should be close to your workplace and grocery stores, library, banks, schools, etc. The neighborhood should be safe.
  • First-floor (called ground floor in India) apartments are generally cheaper than the ones on higher floors. It is relatively quieter in apartments on higher floors. Consider issues such as security and noise while making a choice of the floor.
  • Analyze the amount of rent. You must ascertain if the total rent includes basic facilities like hot water supply, electricity, and garbage disposal expenses. You will have to pay these separately if that is not the case.
  • Make sure that the apartment is equipped with a dishwasher, a refrigerator, and cooking range. You may have to purchase your own microwave oven.
  • The rent of an apartment goes up with amenities like air conditioning, a clubhouse & fitness center, swimming pool and tennis courts.
  • Look for apartments with attached washer-dryer if you prefer to do laundry at home. The rent of such apartments is usually higher than the apartments with a common laundry room for all residents. These laundry rooms have coin-operated machines.

Deposit and Lease period

  • You will be required to pay a security deposit before occupying the apartment. This deposit will be given back to you after you leave the property. The amount will be adjusted towards any dues to the landlord.
  • You will have to fill out a rental application. Normally each adult must complete a separate rental application unless otherwise required.
  • Typically apartments are leased for a month, three months, six months or a year.

Lease Terms

Lease agreement

Discuss the lease terms in detail prior to giving the rental application. This will avoid problems later. Ask questions if you are in doubt.

Notice

The leasing agreement requires that you give a notice of 30-60 days before moving out of the apartment. If you break the lease

  • you will have to pay a penalty, which usually amounts to a full months rent
  • you may have to pay the full rent until someone else wants to rent the apartment.
  • If the landlord finds another tenant immediately then you will not owe anything to break the lease. All these terms should be cleared up before signing the lease.

Sharing the apartment

It is common practice to share the apartment with other tenants. If you are sharing the apartment make sure that

  • the lease is on the names of all the occupants.
  • you fill separate rental applications for each occupant (adults only) .
  • you inform the apartment management if one of the occupants moves out. If the management is not informed, you could end up losing your security deposit.

Get utilities on your name

Once you move in, you must get utilities like electricity, water supply, garbage service etc on your name. You will get a monthly bill for the utilities.

Maintenance

Inspection Checklist

Ensure that the apartment is in good condition before you occupy it. Make sure that everything is working and there are no leaks, bad fittings, wear & tear. If the equipment, fittings or furniture is damaged you must inform the management. Unless you do so you will be liable for these damages and you will lose your security deposit to get these fixed.

Some apartment communities give an inspection checklist. Report all the damages in the apartment on this list. If there is no such list, make notes of the damages and report to the landlord.

Apartment cleanliness

  • Take care of the apartment. Ensure that you do not spoil the carpet. Do not hammer nails into the walls. Instead use pushpins, blue tack, or other alternatives that do not damage them.
  • Keep your kitchen appliances clean. It is better to cover the burners with aluminum foil to prevent oil stains. If the burners are soiled, replace them with new ones before moving out. These are available in Wal-mart or Target. Clean the exhaust fan regularly as well.
  • Before moving out of the apartment, clean everything so that you do not have to pay much for cleaning. Remember that if you are leaving a dirty apartment, you will lose part of your security deposit. In larger managed apartment complexes there are fixed deductions towards cleaning and painting. If you get the cleaning done elsewhere you may be required to give a copy of the invoice.

Pest Control

If you have a problem with pests such as ants, cockroaches, fleas, or mice immediately contact the apartment manager or maintenance. You must do this as soon as you notice the problem, so that action can be taken and other rooms and apartments are not affected.

Prevent pest problems by keeping your apartment clean. Make sure that

  • you remove all the leftover food and crumbs,
  • food is properly sealed and not left on the countertops or outside the fridge
  • you vacuum the apartment regularly
  • you dispose the garbage out regularly.

Garbage disposal

Use plastic garbage bags to dispose trash. Once the bag is full you simply have to toss it away in the disposal system. There are disposal shoots in larger apartment communities. At other places there are garbage dumpster. Follow the garbage disposal procedures in your apartment complex.

All garbage should be placed in plastic bags, tie securely, and place inside the dumpster. Make sure that you do not leave garbage on porches, hallways, sidewalks, or beside the dumpster. Some apartment complexes have strict rules about disposal procedures. If you leave garbage in unauthorized places you may be subject to fines and judicial action.

Please read the leasing agreement and other information carefully to understand how you are expected to deal with a situation. Renting an apartment is the first step towards blending in the local culture. If you are new to the country just follow the procedures required for renting an apartment.