Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
sesostris

Renting apartment

Recommended Posts

Hello,

I am starting a PhD at MIT this fall, I'm international and the process to rent an apartment is very confusing. They ask for huge upfront payments and they say that they would return it after an "application" process.

They are also concerned with the fact that I am international, they ask for co signers, proofs of income, I-20s and so on. The thing is that apartments are quickly renting (at least they say so but from what I have seen online that is in fact the case) this time of the year in Boston and of course I don't have my I-20 yet as the university just opened the applications for them and I just completed it.

Has anyone gone through this or knows how this works? It would help a lot.

Thanks!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yep, the Boston area is a fast-moving market, and this time of year things go very quickly. What they ask for generally sounds about right -- you'll need to pay a downpayment (often first+last month's rent), plus a security deposit that would be returned to you when you leave the apartment, after they've ascertained that you haven't caused any damage (could be anywhere from half a month's rent to two or more). Some places use a real estate agent and that comes with a (non-refundable!) fee, as well. I'm not sure what they need the I-20 for, but what worked for me was to get a letter from my department stating that I was an admitted (and later, current) student, with X years of guaranteed funding in the amount of Y. I assume all they want to know is how much you're making, which is something the I-20 shows. Otherwise, I don't know what they would need it for. So I would ask for such a letter (I got mine from the department's admin person), and ask whoever you're talking to about apartments if that letter could be used as a substitute for the I-20, since you haven't been issued one yet. The Boston area sees thousands and thousands of (international) students a year, so you're not the first one these people will have dealt with. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here are some related thoughts

Deposits
In the last week, we just found an apartment in a very fast moving market in Canada! Luckily the laws in that particular place limit the maximum security deposit to be half of one month's rent and that is the only fee they allow. In California, the maximum is 3 months rent! So there is a lot of variation and these large costs are very difficult. My school offers a $2500 startup loan that is no-interest and no-fees and you don't start repayments until 6 months after you start your program. Check if something like this can help with these initial costs.

Timing
I am assuming that you are not moving to Boston until the fall, so by then, you will surely have your I-20. It is probably way too early to be applying to apartments now for a lease starting in the fall. My tip would be to figure out what the "rent cycle" is like in Boston. If tenants generally give their landlords 30 days notice to vacate (typical for most states, some places in Canada require 60 or 90 days), then the apartment will be listed shortly after notice is given. Some tenants will wait until exactly 30 days to give notice while others will do so a little bit earlier. So, typically for a lease starting on September 1, the best time to look is probably the last week of July and the first week of August.

However, a good idea that worked for us is to look at several rent cycles ahead of time. For example, throughout May, look at the listings and count how many come up for June 1 and how many for July 1. You should mostly see June 1 at the beginning and then more July 1 at the end. If you see that a particular weekend hits peak numbers for July 1, you can expect it might occur again for the month you are moving. This strategy helped us in our move...in February and March we notice that the peak number of open houses/listings for Apr 1 and May 1 were in the 3rd weekend of Feb and March, respectively, with a few more at the last weekend of the month. So, we timed our apartment hunting trip for the 3rd weekend of April (we want to move in on June 1) and were successful! We had a backup plan to travel again in the first weekend of May (the 2nd highest peak listing) if the first trip didn't work out.

Financial documentation
In a competitive rent market, having good credit is really important because they want to make sure they can get their rent money from you. For an international student, this is a challenge because we don't have well established credit histories. Here are things that worked well for us this time around and also when we first moved to the US:
- Get a copy of your credit history report in your home country. We got ours from the Canadian credit reporting agencies and included it in our packages.
- Have enough money in your bank account and show them your bank statement. Having something like 6-12 months rent in savings can help. Not sure if this is feasible for your case, but it will help
- Proof of adequate income: an offer letter saying your stipend will be great
- Cosigners: For the very first apartment I ever rented, without any history, I needed one of my parents to be a "guarantor" for the lease, someone who is legally liable for the rent should I fail to make the payments.

Reliability documentation
- Landlords want to rent from people that they can trust to not destroy the place or make trouble in other ways. Typically, they will ask for employment and rental history along with references so that they can check whether you are a good person. If you haven't rented before, then you might want to strengthen your personal and professional references. References from previous landlords are great because you want them to know that you've paid your rent on time, didn't break any terms of your lease, and didn't cause any major damage.
- In my experience, some places ask me for my DS-2019 (equivalent to I-20) in place of a SSN, especially before you get a SSN issued, because it's a federal number that can "track you" in case they need to send collectors after you. It is also proof that you are an international person and it would allow them to waive the SSN requirement.
- If you are viewing apartments in person, being presentable could make a difference. Dress well (no need to overdo it with a suit or anything, just don't wear dirty/messy clothes), and be polite and nice!
- When we learned that our new city will be super competitive, we made little packages with a cover letter that introduces us with our photo and things that landlords care about: contact info, our jobs, whether we are smokers, whether we have pets. We had a "rental CV" that lists our rental history and contact info for those, and all of the typical required documents (above) all in a little package. Although I don't know whether this made a difference in the end, we got a lot of positive reactions to it. In any case, it will help you be more prepared and be able to answer whatever questions come up in their application forms. 

 

Finally, as @fuzzylogician said, Boston has tons of international students coming in with MIT, Harvard and other schools, so this won't be a new thing and even though you might not have all of the above stuff, it should be fine. Your education will help you appear more reliable. MIT is a well known school so that could work in your favour too. Also, if the landlord has rented to MIT grad students before, that might help you as they will know what MIT students are like. I know that many landlords in my local area that have rented to my school's students will advertise on campus especially for our students before listing their units on the open market.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

Timing
It is probably way too early to be applying to apartments now for a lease starting in the fall. My tip would be to figure out what the "rent cycle" is like in Boston. If tenants generally give their landlords 30 days notice to vacate (typical for most states, some places in Canada require 60 or 90 days), then the apartment will be listed shortly after notice is given. Some tenants will wait until exactly 30 days to give notice while others will do so a little bit earlier. So, typically for a lease starting on September 1, the best time to look is probably the last week of July and the first week of August.

Actually, unless things have changed since I moved away, now is very much the right time to look. Leases normally begin on September 1, but they are normally signed pretty long in advance, and good apartments might already be gone, or are going now. I don't think May is too early to start; and sure, you might also find good things in August, but you're much less likely to.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
42 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

Actually, unless things have changed since I moved away, now is very much the right time to look. Leases normally begin on September 1, but they are normally signed pretty long in advance, and good apartments might already be gone, or are going now. I don't think May is too early to start; and sure, you might also find good things in August, but you're much less likely to.  

Oh, wow, I guess that is a thing specific to Boston? I have not yet encountered a market where Sept 1 leases are signed before the summer even begins. My bad for extrapolating from my limited experience!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

Oh, wow, I guess that is a thing specific to Boston? I have not yet encountered a market where Sept 1 leases are signed before the summer even begins. My bad for extrapolating from my limited experience!

Well when I say Boston I mean Cambridge and Somerville, but yes. In my current city, leases begin August 1, and I know people who are well underway looking, and others who've already signed a new lease for next year. I found my own place last year in early May, and some places I was hoping to see were already taken by the time I could visit. So, I think there's a lot of variation, and it's best to ask locals about their experience in their town. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm currently in Boston, as an international student, and can definitely appreciate the housing stresses! I've also lived in Canada, where we'd usually see places going up 30 days before, but in Boston I'm asked months in advance (usually 3-4) if I'll be resigning my lease. There is a short period of answer turnaround, and then the place is listed if I don't resign. This does vary a bit place to place, but this seems to be reasonably standard for real estate companies, whereas private landlords seem to post places closer to the vacancy date (this information is solely based on my own personal experiences and those I've seen from my friends and colleagues). 

I had a lot of luck renting with Copley. They didn't ask me for much documentation, just ID and my social security card, although a friend of mine was able to sign a lease when she explained she didn't have a SSN. They did require first and last months rent plus a brokers fee, but no damage deposit. All of those payments had to be made using a certified check from my bank, so you'd need to have those funds in your bank account to acquire the check. 

If you're looking to get the lay of the land before you dive into the renters market in Boston (and gather al your funds together!), I would suggest subletting for a few months. This is what I did, and it made the transition a lot easier. Just be aware that move in day at the end of August is a city-wide event, and it can be a difficult and chaotic time to acquire a lease. I'm part of a bunch of MIT/Harvard subletting groups, feel free to PM me if you'd like me to send you the links!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.