How to find a place to live

Are you looking for a place to live? Housing in the USA is often expensive. It may be hard to find a nice place to live in a safe neighborhood. This page provides important information about types of housing, looking for a place to live, your rights as a renter, signing a lease, and buying a house.


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Your home is an important place. There is a saying in the United States: “Home is where the heart is.” This means our physical homes – the places we live – symbolize the people and things we love. Having a safe, comfortable place to live will help make the United States feel like home. Housing needs are different for each family, but there are many different types of homes to choose from.

Types of housing

Renting a place to live

Homes in the United States can be apartments (a self-contained part of a larger building) or a single house. To rent a place to live, you must pay an amount every month to the owner. You will sign a lease, which is an agreement that says you will pay your rent and other bills each month.

Sharing a house or apartment

Shared housing means you rent a house or an apartment with what Americans call roommates – other people living in the same house or apartment with you and your family. It is often cheaper than renting your own place because you can split the cost of the rent and utilities (electricity, heating, etc). Usually, everyone has their own bedroom and they share a living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

Owning a home

Buying a home in the United States is expensive. When you buy a home, you normally need to have saved money to pay for a down payment (a percentage of the total cost of the house), and then you often borrow money to pay for the rest of the house. Each month you pay your mortgage payment to the bank for the money you borrowed. When you buy a home, you also have other expenses, including insurance, taxes, and home repair.

Looking for a place to live

Finding a place to rent is hard. There is always a lot of competition for affordable rentals. There are two types of housing you can try for when you are looking for a place to live on a limited income:

Affordable housing

In large cities and some smaller ones, there are non-profit organizations and government agencies that provide housing for low-income people. Unfortunately, there is usually a long wait for affordable housing. But if there is affordable housing in your area, it is good to get on the waiting list. A housing counseling agency can tell you what affordable housing is available. You can find local public housing agencies and counseling agencies in your area.

You can also search for a local organization in your community in FindHello. Choose your language, then choose your city. Then select “Housing & Food.” If there is nothing listed for your community, search on the internet. Type “affordable housing in  [name of your city].”

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Private rentals

Cheap private rentals get filled as soon as they are advertised. You will need to find the best listings and check them every day.

Websites like Craigslist, Hotpads, nextdoor, and different social media platforms are commonly used to list rentals. Some listing pages will notify you when new advertisements are posted. Like you’d do with any online transaction, be careful of people trying to cheat you; some of the ads could be fraudulent. Never send money or personal information to anyone online. You never need to pay rent until you have an agreement.

You probably want to rent your own place, especially if you are more than just one person. But often you will have a better chance of finding somewhere if you consider sharing a house or apartment. This is especially true in big cities where rents are very high. Sharing means not just sharing the rent, but sharing all the other costs with other working adults. If you are prepared to share, you may actually end up in a nicer place, with more space or with a yard, because with roommates you can afford something bigger.

Renting a place to live: your rights

If you are renting a home, you have several rights. You have the right to live in a place that is clean, has no If you are renting a home, you have several rights. You have the right to live in a place that is clean, has no bugs, and has heat and water. In the United States, there is a law that a landlord cannot discriminate against you. This means a landlord cannot say no to your rental application because of your race, ethnicity, or religion. There are also specific laws in different states about how many people can live in your apartment and what your landlord must provide for you.

On the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development website, you can learn about housing discrimination and tenant rights in your state.

Signing a lease

A lease is a written document that you sign when you rent a place to live. The lease is an agreement between you and the landlord, the owner of the rental unit. In the lease, you agree to pay your rent and bills on time each month and the landlord agrees to provide a safe and sanitary rental unit.

Before you sign

Before you sign your lease, make sure to look at the rental unit with the landlord. If there are things broken, or if the place is dirty, ask the landlord to write that down on the lease. That way you will have evidence later that you did not break anything or make it dirty.

Paying security deposits

When you first move in, you may have to pay a security deposit. This money is kept by the landlord until you move out in case you do not pay your rent or if you make the rental unit very dirty and they have to pay to have it cleaned. If you pay your rent and clean the apartment when you move out, then you should get your deposit money returned to you. Some leases require you to clean your carpet in order to get your deposit back. Be sure to check if the carpet in your apartment was cleaned when you moved in. If it was not cleaned, ask for the landlord to put in writing that you do not have to clean the carpet. If you do have to clean the carpet, you can rent a machine for a low price instead of having to pay a company a lot of money to clean the carpet.

Length of lease

Leases are signed for a certain number of months. Most leases are for six months or for one year.  You might also be able to sign a month-to-month lease. This means you can move out any time you want. However, you would still normally have to tell the landlord a month in advance that you will move and you must pay rent through the end of your agreement.

Notice requirements

Most leases will require you to give a certain number of days’ notice before you move out. If you are going to move out of your rental, be sure to check your lease to see how many days ahead of time you need to tell your landlord you will be moving.

Mail and bills

When you find a place to live, you will need to pay your bills on time. You will probably get bills for electricity and other utilities in the mail.

Rent

Rent is normally due on the first of the month or on the day of the month that you first moved in. Try to always pay your rent using a check, instead of cash. Always ask for a receipt so that you have proof that you paid.

Mail

Ask your landlord where your mailbox is located and be sure to check your mail regularly. You will need to fill out a form at the post office if you move. When you fill it out, your mail will be sent to you at your new address.

Utilities

Usually, you will have to pay for your utilities including your electricity, natural gas or oil, water, TV/internet, telephone, trash, sewer, etc. Sometimes, some or all utilities are included in your rent, but most of the time you have to pay them separately. You can save money on your utilities by keeping your heat low and wearing warm clothes in the house, and by turning off lights and unplugging electronic devices when they are not needed.

Buying a house

Buying a house is probably the largest purchase you will ever make. There are lots of legal issues for you, the bank, and the person selling the home. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has good information about buying your first home and programs for first-time and low-income home buyers.

You can look to find home buying programs to help you buy a home in your city or state.

Neighbors

It is always important to have a good relationship with your neighbors, wherever you live. But this relationship might be different than in your home country. For example, in your country, you might visit your neighbor at any time of day. In the USA, people often call before they visit a friend or neighbor. You should also try to be respectful of your neighbors. Many Americans think of their property as private property. They might not like it if you walk in their yard or park in front of their house.

You should also be aware of how much noise you are making. Try to be quiet between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., the usual time of rest in the USA.

If you develop a good relationship with your neighbors, this can be good for your family. When new neighbors move in, you can introduce yourself and bring them a meal or plate of treats.

If you are having a problem with one of your neighbors, try to talk to them and explain the situation. For example, if someone is being loud at night, ask them nicely if they can be quieter because your children are sleeping. If you need more help you can tell your landlord about the problem and ask them to talk to your neighbor.