How to Find a Room for Rent

If you're relocating or you have poor credit, subletting a room can be a smart financial move.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Find a Room for Rent

When looking for a room to rent, experts suggest searching many reputable online sources.(Getty Images)

Whether you've recently moved to a new city and you need a place to live or you want to maximize savings and don't want to go through the process of collecting financial documents (think: pay stubs and tax returns), subletting a room can be advantageous. Maybe you're uncertain of how long you'll be located in a given destination, or perhaps your credit is shot and you want to find a room without needing to secure a co-cosigner. Regardless of your housing situation, before you search for a room for rent, keep these considerations, caveats and pro pointers in mind.

Understand the benefits and drawbacks of subletting a room. There are a few enticing propositions for prospective renters looking to forgo getting locked into a yearlong lease in favor of a month-to-month arrangement. For example, subletting a room often means not having to pay a security deposit or the last month's rent, which may be welcome news if you don't have much socked away in savings accounts. Plus, some landlords do not require a credit check.

"I thought I would have to go through a background check or provide something that would prove my income. They surprisingly did not ask for any of that," recalls Shane Lee, the founder of RentHop, a NYC-based apartment search site. That said, when Lee rented out a room in her apartment, she took a more careful and conscientious approach. "I asked all renters interested in renting the room to fill out a form, including contact information of their previous landlords, referrals and their annual gross income."

Regardless of the agreed-upon terms and conditions between you and your landlord, it's important to agree to a sublease for added legal protection to ensure you're not on the line for property damages that occurred prior to your move-in date. Another important consideration: your comfort level with sharing communal areas such as a kitchen and bathroom with roommates. After all, for all the flexibility renting a room affords, you still also may feel a lack of privacy living in someone else's home.

Utilize the internet and social media to find a room. When looking for a room to rent, instead of relying on one database, explore many reputable sources across the internet. As Sarah Hill, the founder of the NYC-based roommate-matching service Perfect Strangers, puts it: "There are a ton of resources for finding rooms for rent. There are websites like SpareRoom and the Roomi app, as well as many Facebook groups."

She suggests typing in "rooms for rent" in the Facebook Marketplace search engine and seeing what comes up. Roomster.com, EasyRoommate.com, PadMapper.com and FindRoommate.com are other websites and apps worth checking out. After providing details based on your specific needs and criteria, such as how many rooms you're looking for, your price range and your location, each online platform provides a listing of rooms or apartment units that match your preferences. And don't forget to crowdsource for leads among your friends and family members on social media to look for a room for rent for someone you trust.

Decide if you want a written agreement. You may discover that the person renting out a room has no contract for you to sign. Still, Lee suggests drawing up some sort of contract.

Kara Cook, a real estate attorney and co-founder of Cook & James, a closing services company in Atlanta, also recommends getting an agreement in writing. Sure, you may think of a written agreement as a document that protects the landlord, but it will also protect you, too.

"Even though you may only be renting a room, you need to make sure you have a signed lease agreement, which should not only outline the rental amount, but also any requirements or restrictions expected from the landlord, like will they allow overnight guests and other details," Cook says. "You also want to define how utilities will be handled. Typically, if you're renting just a room, that would be included in the rental rate since it's difficult to determine an individual rate when utilities are shared throughout the home."

Determine if you will be a boarder or a tenant. "This varies from state to state, but you'll want to establish whether you're considered a boarder or a tenant," Cook says. This isn't just semantics. "A tenant has exclusive right to use the property in exchange for rental payments. A boarder pays in exchange for the right to occupy the room and perhaps share other spaces and typically has fewer legal protections," Cook explains.

Most states have detailed laws that regulate how a lease can be terminated between landlord and tenant, Cook says. "In the case of a boarder, however, the landlord may only have to give notice commensurate with the time period for which rent is paid. For example, if rent is paid weekly, only a week's notice may be required for termination."

Remember: Communication is key. Though not every prospective apartment-seeker is going to rent a room in as formal and professional a manner, even if you skip crafting a written agreement, you should (at the minimum) discuss agreed-upon rules and requirements. Talk about your living habits, your work schedules, if you'll be able to use the refrigerator and other important details. Do you have a pet? If so, you'll also want to discuss pet restrictions. Other questions to ask before you move in: Will I have roommates? Can I expect the room to be furnished?

And if you are subletting, "it's crucial to have a signed contract before sending any money," Hill says. "You want to make sure the contract lists the full name of the person you are renting from, the address and unit of the apartment, who the landlord is, length of stay, the monthly rent (amount), how much you paid in security deposit and terms on receiving that back, termination, splitting utilities and so on."

She also cautions that if you are subletting, "you have to be super careful that it's not a scam. If you didn't see the apartment in person, you want to make sure you had someone else view it on your behalf to make sure it's legit." Listen to your intuition. If you're not allowed to see the room before you rent it, that's a telltale sign of a scam.

And never send anyone any money electronically before viewing the place in person, Hill advises. That could be a big mistake if you're dealing with somebody shady. So be careful; when you're going through the process of finding a room for rent, there's plenty of room for error.

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