Finding a new apartment is often more complicated than renters may anticipate. With credit and background checks, employer verification and conversations with previous landlords, property managers and owners are diligent about ensuring your ability to pay rent throughout your lease.
But if you’re in the country temporarily on a work or student visa, how can you rent an apartment when you don’t have a financial background in the U.S.?
If landlords and property managers are unable to perform a standard credit check, they use a set of alternative pieces of information. Particularly in major cities where global business is common, many landlords are accustomed to the process of vetting an international renter and can walk visa holders through the process.
“Be prepared to answer questions about finances and employment verification,” says Elizabeth Gibson of ezLandlordForms, a service providing legal forms and tenant screening to landlords throughout the U.S. Gibson says ezLandlordForms regularly fields questions from landlords and tenants regarding the vetting process for international renters.
All people living in the U.S., regardless of whether they're a citizen, green card holder or here on a visa, are protected under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on national origin, race, color, religion, sex, disability or family status. A landlord is required to treat you like every other prospective renter when considering you for an apartment, and as a result, the vetting process is largely the same, even if the landlord must use other information to verify your ability to pay rent.
Even if you’re new to the country, the landlord should still conduct a background check to verify any criminal past or renter history “in case there’s more to [the renter’s] story – just like any other applicant,” says Mary Gwyn, owner and chief innovator of Apartment Dynamics, a property management firm that also trains companies on property management practices.
To make the renting process as smooth as possible, prepare official documents about your finances and rental history. Here are a few things you should be ready to provide or discuss with a potential landlord.
Passport or state-issued identification. Landlords and property managers will want to confirm that you are who you say you are, so a photo ID is necessary. If you’re new to the U.S., you likely haven’t received a state-issued photo ID or driver’s license yet, so the most reliable form of identification is typically your passport.
Proof of employment. A landlord will want to know that you have a steady source of income, so you’ll need to provide proof from your employer, which could be as simple as a letter from your boss on company stationery.
“We ask for pay stubs [and] we ask for any offer letter if you’re moving for a new job – anything like that you can really easily upload onto our online application process,” says Chuck Hattemer, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Onerent Inc., a tech-based property management company.
Online rental applications like those from Onerent often allow prospective renters to upload additional documents that can help the housing provider decide whether the applicant is a worthy tenant.
Bank statement or financial information. Particularly if you haven’t lived long enough in the U.S. to establish a credit history – typically at least six months to a year – a bank statement and additional financial history such as evidence of regularly paid rent or utility bills will help ensure you have the means to cover the cost of living while you're a tenant.
Hattemer says Onerent's goal is to be sure income is steady rather than sporadic: “Is the person getting regular monthly income that’s at least 2 1/2 times the monthly rent?”
Social Security number, if you have one. If you’re authorized to work in the U.S., you’ll be expected to apply for a Social Security number, which is often requested by landlords during the rental application process.
If you haven’t yet applied for your Social Security number or aren't eligible for one, explain this to the landlord, who should be able to move forward with your proof of employment or financial support, such as a student loan, grant or parents who have agreed to pay for your housing.
Contact information for previous landlords. In lieu of credit history, Gibson says, “A rental history, if possible, is a really good thing to ask or inquire about.” Contact information for previous landlords isn’t an uncommon request even with credit history, and it's a way to confirm you'll make regular, on-time rent payments.
Have your former landlords' names and contact information available for a prospective property manager. Since your previous landlords are likely located elsewhere in the world, email may be the easiest way for the parties to connect.
Proof of financial assistance. If you’re an international student studying in the U.S., you may have financial aid in the form of a scholarship, loans or the financial backing of your parents that will cover your housing while you’re enrolled in college.
Any international student approved for a student loan in the U.S. is required to have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident serve as their cosigner, whether it’s a relative, friend or acquaintance willing to vouch for your financial responsibility. If willing, Hattemer says that person may be a good candidate to cosign your lease as well, which may help the landlord feel more secure about accepting your application.
Your own concerns. Before you hand over any personal information to a landlord or property manager, be sure you trust the individual or organization. Housing scams are not uncommon, and they often prey upon those who may be unsure how the rental market works.
“I would really be cautious as they’re going out and looking,” Gibson says. “They want to be careful with their personal information and not too trusting.”
Don't provide any personal information without verifying there is an apartment to lease. There are plenty of housing scams on the internet that falsely advertise to renters, so be sure any deal you engage in is legal.
Online marketplaces like Craigslist have a reputation for a high volume of scam listings, but some rental listing sites like Apartments.com and Trulia note a listing is "verified" when it's been substantiated by a company employee.
And if an individual is advertising a sublease in their apartment, check with the property manager to ensure they allow for sublet tenants, as you don’t want to show up on move-in day to find out you can’t legally live there.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.