Renting as an International Student in NYC

Originally posted on December 28, 2022 3:00 pm
Updated on December 28, 2022 1:34 pm

With dozens of colleges and universities, NYC has one of the largest international student populations in the country. People from all over the world come to study here, and all those students need housing. If you’re one of these pupils, finding a place to live can get a little complicated, with each school having different rules for on campus housing. For this reason, many international students choose to rent apartments, but that comes with its own set of problems. So how does the rental process work for international students? Are there easier ways to find a home in NYC while you’re in school?

Documents International Students Need to Provide to Landlords

US citizens need to verify who they are, their ability to pay rent, and how reliable they are at paying bills on time. This last one is usually verified by checking a potential tenant’s credit score. However, if you’re an international student, you most likely don’t have a credit score. This means you’ll have to provide different documentation to landlords in order to prove you can and will pay for your space. The main documents you’ll need are:

  • Passport/Photo ID to prove you are you.
  • Bank statements from the previous two months to prove that you can pay for the apartment.
  • Any document that proves you’re receiving financial assistance like a scholarship or familial gift.
  • Your I-20 Visa to prove you can live anywhere in the US.
  • The offer letter your school sent you.

It’s possible that landlords will also ask for recommendation letters from employers, friends, or former roommates that have lived with you before. This is because landlords want to know that their apartment will be well cared for while you’re living in it. They might also ask for an employment letter if you intend to work while you’re in school. If you do get a job, the government will provide you with a social security number that you should give to your landlord as well. However, the documents listed above will be enough for most landlords in the city.

What Are My Tenant Rights as an International Student?

Every tenant has rights thanks to the Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of nationality, race, age, gender, disability, religion, family, or relationship status. Essentially, landlords in NYC are required to treat every potential tenant the same. If you think you’ve been discriminated against because you’re an international student, you can file a complaint here or call 311. To be honest, though, it would be better to file the complaint and also look for different housing. Nothing is worse than a landlord who is willing to break the law, and your housing situation can quickly become a nightmare during an already difficult time.

What If I Can’t Provide Bank Statements or Proof of Employment?

We all know life gets in the way of some plans, and there are scenarios where you might not have a bank statement or proof of employment. Still, as an international student, there are ways around this issue.

Most international students who run into difficulties have great luck with guarantors. A guarantor is someone who is legally obligated to pay your rent if you aren’t able to for whatever reason. A guarantor can be anyone, family or friend, and can provide you with adequate proof of payment without having to give away a bunch of financial information. Some landlords will only accept guarantors in New York State and the tri-state area, so keep that in mind. At the end of the day, landlords just want to know that you can pay rent. Once they know that you can, they will be able to sleep soundly at night.

If you’re uncomfortable or unable to provide some of the required documents to a landlord, consider finding roommates instead. There are always people looking for roommates in the city, and the vast majority of them will be fine if you aren’t on the lease. That said, just because roommates aren’t landlords doesn’t mean you can just waltz into an apartment. Roommates will still likely want to talk with you a bit, know what your financial situation is, and be sure that you can pay rent on time. It certainly a less rigorous process than going through a landlord, but there are still hurdles you will have to jump through.

Things to Avoid When Seeking Housing

Housing in NYC is complicated by design, so if things are going too well too fast, you might want to look out for some red flags. For example, if someone is pitching their home to you as an Airbnb, run away as fast as you can. It’s illegal in NYC to rent multi-unit spaces for less than 30 days. However, if an Airbnb says you can stay for longer than 30 days, they don’t have to register info with the city, and hosts can charge whatever they want for rent. You can lose a lot of money that way, so it’s best to stick to traditional renting routes.

While renting with landlords is the law of the land in NYC, you should still avoid building owners who have a history of building violations. You can look up a building’s past violations here, and be sure to check whether or not the building has fixed the issue. Most buildings have few violations. After all, many of the city’s buildings are old. However, if a building has over ten violations, especially if said violations are repeated, then it’s best to avoid renting there. Landlords might also ask that you pay a little more money upfront. While this doesn’t show up on a violation list, it’s still an illegal practice, as landlords can’t charge more than one month’s rent up front. So be cautious. Nothing is worse than a bad landlord.

Things to Look For When Seeking Housing

Finding an apartment can be hard, especially if you don’t know where to start. First and foremost, look for an apartment near your school. This is easier said than done. Afterall, a lot of NYC schools are in very expensive areas. With that in mind, check out the subway stations near your school. It can be pretty easy to get around once you get the hang of the subway, and there are a ton of more affordable neighborhoods that have great access to trains. While being close to your school is ideal, finding an apartment with a good subway line is a great back-up plan.

Students will have a ton of work to do, and while many of your nights will be spent in the town, it’s important to find a place that can also turn into a quiet haven when you need to study or do homework. Finding neighborhoods that aren’t as busy, or apartments with good sound proofing, is going to be a major game changer. You might have to get used to noise no matter where you are in the city, but some neighborhoods are definitely better than others when it comes to peace and quiet.

Tips For Apartment Hunting

Finding an apartment is hard for people in the US, and it can seem almost impossible for international students. This is why we recommend working with a real estate agent. They will be able to find quality apartments that meet your needs, and can even be your eyes when you’re out of the country. NYC agents know the neighborhoods, buildings, and landlords like no one else, so it’s a good idea to utilize their expertise.

This might not be possible for every international student, but it’s a good idea to visit the city a few times before you sign a lease. Visiting the city will help you get the lay of the land, check out possible neighborhoods to live in, and see your campus so you know what to expect. Again, we realize this isn’t going to be possible for everyone. However, if you’re able to explore this big city, it will definitely help prepare you for it. If you aren’t able to visit the city, ask a friend or relative to check out some sights for you. NYC is a major change for everyone, so you should know what to expect.

The most important piece of advice we can give is to stay optimistic. Apartment hunting in NYC is hard, and there’s a very good chance it will take awhile. The market is insane right now, and it will remain that way for a long time. That said, don’t give up! There is always space for renters in NYC and you will figure out where to live eventually. Don’t let the hunt for an apartment take away from the excitement of the city and your educational journey. You will find an apartment, you will nail it in school, and you have a great time in the big apple.

Housing in the city complex, especially for international students who have to jump through a bunch of hoops. However, once you have all your documents in order, you know what to look for, and you know what to avoid, the hunt won’t seem as bad as everyone tells you it will be. Moving to a new country is hard, and finding a place to live in the new country can be intimidating. However, it’s important to know that the city is on your side. So welcome to NYC, international students! We hope you get as much out of NYC as you can. 

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