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What are the accommodation options available in the US?
What are the accommodation options available in the US?
One of your first jobs after arriving in the United States will be to find a place to live. This section provides you with a few tips to make your search a happy one.
When you first arrive on campus you will need a place to live while you look for permanent accommodations. Many schools will provide temporary housing for international students who arrive before the semester begins. Ask the foreign student advisor or housing office for information about temporary housing.Another option if you know a student at the school is to ask them to let you stay with them for a few days. New graduate students, can often find someone in their department with room for a temporary guest. You may have to sleep on a couch, but at least you will have a roof over your head. You will also be able to ask questions of someone who is familiar with the area.Most major cities have a Council for International Visitors or similar organization to help incoming international visitors. They can often arrange for you to stay with a local family for a few days, but such arrangements must be made in advance. They also are a good source of information for international students and may provide hospitality and social events. Look for them in the telephone book, or ask at the Traveler’s Aid desk when you arrive. Every major airport, bus station, and train station has a Traveler’s Aid desk. Many cities also have a youth hostel. Hostels are a good place to stay for a few days while you look for a permanent place to live. They provide dormitory style accommodations, sometimes with bunk beds in large rooms. The cost is $5 to $25 a night. You will be able to stay at the youth hostel at low cost if you are a member of the International Youth Hostel Federation. The US branch is called Hosteling International – American Youth Hostels (HI-AYH). A one year membership is $25 ($10 if you are under age 18). For more information, call 1-202-783-6161, fax 1-202-783-6171, or send email to [email protected] Your travel agent should be able to help you become a member. A good source of information about hostels is the Internet Guide to Hosteling. Lastly, you can always stay in a hotel or motel. This is the most expensive option, and you will need to make a reservation with a credit card to guarantee a room. Parking is expensive at hotels, and there is often a large tax on long distance telephone calls placed from your room.
The available options include renting an apartment, renting a house, or buying a house. Most international students cannot afford to buy a house, so we will not discuss this option. Most university students in the US live on or near campus. Students who live off-campus generally find a place less than a mile or two away. Not only is this convenient for getting to and from campus, but much of the social life occurs on campus. The US educational experience is not confined to the classroom, and you will find yourself learning as much from your fellow students as from the faculty. If the school offers on-campus accommodations for international students, you should seriously consider living on-campus, at least for the first year. Since this is probably your first trip to the United States and your first time living alone, on-campus housing will help soften the transition to life in the United States. Later, when you are more familiar with the neighborhood, you can consider moving off-campus. Renting a house is usually a viable option only if you will be sharing it with several roommates. You will certainly get more for your money if you rent a house. But most communities have limits on the number of unrelated people who can live together, with most cities having a limit ranging from 3 to 5. These laws are intended to prevent overcrowding for health and safety reasons. In any event, the process for renting a house is similar to renting an apartment. The cost of renting an apartment varies considerably depending on the part of the country and the local supply and demand. A one bedroom apartment in Pittsburgh might cost $400 a month while the same apartment in Boston or San Jose will cost $1,200 or more. The school’s housing office or financial aid office can provide you with an estimate of the annual cost of renting an off-campus apartment.
Finding an Apartment
Some schools provide on-campus housing for international students. Most, however, do not. If your college provides on-campus housing for international students, we strongly recommend taking advantage of it, even though the rent may be higher than an off-campus apartment. This will give you time to become familiar with the neighborhood before committing to a lease. Most schools have an off-campus housing office to help students find an apartment. The housing office will have listings of available apartments and information about the neighborhoods near campus. They may provide a bulletin board for students looking for roommates and run social events to help you find a good roommate. They will probably have pamphlets with information about popular restaurants, shopping areas, parks and recreation, and public transportation. The public library will also have information about local neighborhoods. Ask for this information at the reference desk. You should do a few things before you begin your search for an apartment
- Ask the housing office and current students which neighborhoods are safe and which should be avoided
- Decide whether you want to save by sharing an apartment with a roommate or two
- Get a detailed street map for the neighborhoods you are considering. You should be able to buy a map in the college bookstore. Another good source for maps is the AAA (American Automobile Association). AAA maps and guidebooks are free to members, one of many reasons to join the auto club even if you do not drive a car.
- Spend a few hours walking around the neighborhood to familiarize yourself with the area. Note the location of grocery stores and restaurants, since your most frequent trips will be to school and to buy food. Also note the location of bus stops and other public transportation. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to walk a mile and 5 minutes by bike.
When looking for an apartment, ask friends and fellow students if they know of a good apartment. Sometimes they will know someone who is moving out of a good apartment or may be moving themselves. Such good apartments are rarely advertised because they are rented very quickly.
The school may have a bulletin board with apartment listings. The bulletin board may be on a wall near the housing office, on the campus computer. It will include listings from local landlords as well as students looking for someone to sublet or take over their lease.
The local newspaper will also have apartment listings. Buy a copy of the Sunday newspaper. It will have more apartment listings than a mid-week issue of the newspaper. You may be able to buy the Sunday newspaper as early as Saturday afternoon. There may also be a free weekly advertising circular that lists apartments. You can usually find such apartment listings at grocery stores, newsstands, and real estate offices.
The last resort is to contact a real estate agent. You are often better off going through the classified advertisements yourself. Under no circumstances pay for a list of available places, since such lists are often out-dated.
You will probably need to look at only 3 or 4 apartments before you find one that you like and which matches your budget. But if you do not find a good apartment quickly, keep trying.
The best time to start looking for an apartment is the first Sunday in August.
In the US, house numbers tend to be even on one side of the street and odd on the other. Other than that, there is usually no rhyme or reason to the addressing scheme.
Understanding Apartment Listings
Rental costs depend primarily on the size, condition, and location of the apartment, and whether utilities are included. Larger apartments and apartments which are closer to the school or shopping will cost more. The first distinguishing characteristic is the size of the apartment. The different sizes are defined as follows:
- Sleeping Room – A sleeping room is a single room, usually furnished, located in a private home, with a shared bedroom and kitchen. This is the least expensive option, but provides little privacy.
- Efficiency – An efficiency is a single room with a private bathroom. The room will include a small space that serves as a kitchen and should provide a stove, refrigerator, sink, and cabinet space.
- Studio – A studio is somewhat larger than an efficiency, and has a separate kitchen and eating area.
- One, Two, or Three Bedroom – Regular apartments include a separate kitchen, bathroom, living room and/or dining room, and the number of bedrooms advertised.
The next important consideration is what is included in the rent and what is not
- Utilities – If the advertisement says that utilities are included, that usually means electricity, heat/gas, and water/sewage, but not telephone or cable TV. If the advertisement does not specify any utilities, presume that you will be responsible for paying for them. Heat will cost you an extra $500 to $1,000 a year in the snow belt and electricity a similar amount. If heat is included, this sometimes means that the landlord controls the temperature, not you. Water and sewage fees are usually paid by the landlord, except if you are renting a house.
- Furnished or Unfurnished – A furnished apartment will include a bed, chest of drawers or dresser, a couch or sofa, and a dining room table and chairs. A furnished apartment will also include a stove and refrigerator. An unfurnished apartment will include a stove and refrigerator but nothing else. A furnished apartment will cost you an extra $50 a month. You are probably better off renting an unfurnished apartment and buying used furniture. Graduating students often sell their furniture to incoming students. Most apartments are rented unfurnished.
- Parking – If you intend to own a car, an apartment that includes a garage or off-street parking is better than one that does not. It is sometimes difficult to find a parking space on the street, especially if many students with cars live nearby
You should also ask whether there are any laundry facilities. In apartment buildings there is usually a coin operated washer and dryer, but not always.
Expect the rent to increase by about 5% per year.
- Leases – A lease is a written contract between the tenant (you) and a landlord which allows you to use a dwelling for a specific period of time in exchange for monthly rent payments. The lease outlines the restrictions on the use of the dwelling and the responsibilities of tenant and landlord. A lease is a legal document and should be read carefully before signing.
The lease should specify at least the following:
- The amount of the monthly rent and when it should be paid. The lease might mention how the rent will increase in subsequent years. Whether utilities are included in the rent, and if so which ones. Heat and electricity are the most important
- The time period covered by the lease, usually one year
- Restrictions on the number of unrelated people who may occupy the dwelling
- The amount of the security deposit, which must be paid in addition to the first month’s rent when you sign the lease
- Restrictions on pets, children, and noise. Many landlords do not permit pets because of the potential for damage and noise. The lease may also contain a provision prohibiting noise from musical instruments, stereo systems, loud parties, and other sources
- Landlord responsibilities, such as repairs to heating and plumbing facilities and fire or water damage
- A clause about terminating the lease
- A clause about eviction proceedings. This clause describes the rights of tenant and landlord should the landlord want to force the tenant out of the property during the term of the lease. The most common reasons for an eviction include failure to pay the rent when due or causing significant damage to the property
If the lease includes a wear and tear clause, this allows the landlord to charge you for repainting the apartment at the end of the lease.
When you pay for the rent and security deposit, get a receipt. Get a separate receipt for the rent and security deposit. It is best to pay the rent by check, and to use a separate check for the security deposit. You will need this at the end of the lease in order to recover your security deposit. To get your security deposit returned when you move out, return the key to the landlord and provide a forwarding address. We recommend sending this by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you have proof the key and forwarding address were received by the landlord. The landlord then has 30 days to return your deposit or send you a list of the repairs, their actual cost, and any money left in the security deposit.
Moving In Utilities
If the rent does not include utilities, you will have to get the utilities turned on when you move in. The landlord can provide you with the name and telephone numbers of the gas, electric, and telephone companies that service your apartment. They may be able to schedule service over the phone, or they may require you to visit their offices. If you do not have a good credit history, they may require you to pay a security deposit. The security deposit will be refunded (with interest) after one year if your bills are paid promptly.
The gas and electric companies typically provide two payment options. The first requires you to pay the full amount due each month. The other lets you pay an estimated budget amount each month, with any difference being reconciled at the end of the year. Some people find this more convenient, since gas and electricity bills can otherwise vary considerably during the summer and winter months.
Most utilities have programs which allow you to have the monthly bill automatically deducted from your bank account. You still receive a copy of the bill, but save the cost of a stamp to mail in the payment.