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Rents and Rental Agreements in the USA

While many Americans eventually buy a house or an apartment, renting a home in the USA is much more common for expats. Still, finding a place to live can be quite challenging. We have some info on the housing search, the rental agreement, and more on renting in the USA, to help you along the way.
Read your rental agreement thoroughly before signing it.

Tips for Renters

When you are ready to start negotiations with your prospective landlord, you should also make sure that you are making a good impression. Coming prepared is definitely a good start: bring along a completed application (if you are required to do so), references, and a copy of your credit report.

Make sure that you understand all of your rights concerning privacy and your security deposit refund. Check if everything is put down in writing in your rental contract so that there is no space for any misunderstandings. That way, you can be sure that your life in your new house or apartment will be relatively hassle-free.

Rental Prices in Comparison

Depending on where you plan to settle down, the rental prices you will be confronted with might be higher than what you expected. Some cities are particular popular; usually the ones which offer a lot of job opportunities. Densely populated urban centers, where living space is harder to find, are also known for higher rents. The most expensive cities to move to in the United States are:

  • San Francisco (with a median rent of $3,400)
  • New York (with a median rent of $3,300)
  • Boston (with a median rent of $3,200)
  • Washington, D.C. (with a median rent of $2,700)
  • Los Angeles (with a median rent of $2,200)
  • San Jose, California (with a median rent of $2,170)
  • Oakland, California (with a median rent of $1,800)
  • Miami (with a median rent of $1,740)
  • Seattle (with a median rent of $1,700)
  • San Diego (with a median rent of $1,670)

You may notice that all of these cities are located on the east or on the west coast. This is good news for expats who plan to settle down in the Midwest, for instance. There, living space should be a lot easier to find at a more affordable price. If you plan to move to New York or San Francisco nevertheless, try to look at houses and apartments in the suburbs. A longer commute might not be all that bad, if it helps you save a lot of money on rent. For single expats, a house or apartment share may also be a good solution.

The Rental Agreement

The rental agreement, also often called “lease”, should contain all the details concerning your rights and obligations as a tenant, as well as the rights and obligations of your landlord. These include the security deposit, monthly rent, terms and conditions of the lease, utilities and other services, as well as special clauses and conditions for an increase of the rent.

The contract should clearly state the amount of security deposit you are required to pay before you move in. It should also include details on how and when you will get your deposit back once you move back out. In addition to the gross rent, the contract should include information on which utilities are covered by it. In some cases, for instance, water, heating, and electricity might be included in the rent. In other cases, the gross rent may only cover garbage disposal. Also try to find out if you are required to pay your rent by check  or if other types of payment are acceptable as well.

Terms and Conditions

The duration of your lease should clearly be stated in your rental contract. It should also include information on whether and how you can extend or terminate the lease. In most cases, you need to give your landlord a 30-day notice to get out of your contract.

Furthermore, there should be clear information on who is to pay for repairs. Make sure to inspect the property together with the landlord before you sign the contract. That way, you cannot be held accountable for any wear and tear damage.

Building Rules and Special Clauses

If you move into an apartment block, you may find that there are certain building rules you have to abide by. These rules are designed to ensure a peaceful and respectful atmosphere among all tenants. In some cases, they will be part of a separate agreement, in others they might be stipulated in your rental agreement. In any case, you should make sure that you understand and agree with these rules before you sign the lease.

They can include points on mandatory quiet time, pet ownership, and on who is responsible for cleaning the hallway. Try to be respectful and if anything is unclear, talk to your landlord first. For instance, make sure you are allowed to keep a pet in the house before getting a cat. If you violate these rules many times and cause a series of complaints, your landlord actually has the right to kick you out of the apartment.


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