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From abroad and studying in NYC? How to land a rental

Since you're a student (and presumably not earning a full-time income) and don't have a credit history in the U.S., you'll most likely need a guarantor.

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2020
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Question:

I’m a student from France and I just found out I got a spot at the New York Film Academy, so I will be heading to the city for classes in the fall. What kind of documents do I need to rent an apartment?

Answer:

Finding an apartment in New York City as an international student is complicated, especially since you’re unlikely to have U.S. credit or a steady paycheck. The coronavirus pandemic also makes getting an apartment more problematic because much of the process is still happening online, even as in-person viewings resume.

The coronavirus is pushing many classes online too, as well as affecting visa applications and international travel. NYFA says they expect to return to in-person instruction in the fall but there’s still plenty of uncertainty about what will happen in September


[Editor's Note: Realty Bites tackles your NYC rental questions. Have a query for our experts? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity. An earlier version of this post was published in 2019 and has been updated with new information for July 2020.]


That aside, in order to rent a place in the city, landlords want proof that you have consistent funds coming in, rather than a bank account with a temporary, parent-supplied infusion of cash. You’ll also need to show why you're in the city, in this case, for school.

For starters, a student will have to provide a photo ID or passport, bank statements (U.S. bank accounts are almost always required), a letter of enrollment or transcript from the school, and the correct visa that is active for at least the entirety of the lease. 

Use a guarantor

Most landlords, at minimum, require that you earn a steady income of at least 40 times the monthly rent—and have a credit score of around 700 or higher. Since you're a student (and presumably not earning a full-time income) and don't have a credit history in the U.S., you'll almost certainly need a guarantor, someone who will agree to be responsible for your rent if you default. Unfortunately, many landlords require that the guarantor earn a salary of 80 times the monthly rent, and reside in the tri-state area.

One way around this is to turn to Insurent Lease Guaranty (a Brick Underground sponsor), which will act as your guarantor. Charles Schoenau, managing director at Insurent, says, “the vast majority of international students qualify for an Insurent guaranty by having their parents be responsible parties to Insurent, who will be the guarantor on the lease." 

You'll need to provide a copy of your passport and visa, as well as copies of your parents' passports. Additionally, your parents will need to provide evidence that their combined income is more than 50 times your monthly rent, or that they have 80 times the monthly rent in bank or brokerage accounts.

"If the student has this information for their parents, they can be fully qualified in less than one hour," Schoenau says.

Insurent's prices for international students are about 98 percent of a month's rent, and if the student is required to use a guarantor when renewing a lease, the renewal rate would be approximately 88 percent of a month's rent.

Schoenau also notes that a student visa will need to last for the full duration of the lease. “Some students who have material amounts of liquid assets in their own name (over 50 times the monthly rent) may also be able to qualify on their own, but such students are the exceptions, not the norm,” he says.

You can no longer use a bigger security deposit

In the past, another option for international renters was to see if the landlord was willing to accept a bigger security deposit upfront—generally four to six times a month's rent, instead of the usual one month's rent. This is no longer allowed, thanks to stronger tenant protections brought in last year.

For international students, this makes qualifying much more tricky. Without prepayment as an option guarantor services are that much more important. 

Unfortunately, these laws, designed to protect renters, mean those that do not meet the required standard qualifications end up paying more. Upfront rent is simply prepayment of funds but the fees for using lease guarantying services are out of pocket costs that the renters won’t get back at the end of the lease.

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Brick Underground's

Gross Rent Calculator

What's this?

Some New York City landlords offer a free month (or more) at the beginning or end of a lease. The advertised rent is the net effective rent.  The net effective rent is less than the amount you will actually have to pay --- known as your gross rent --- during your non-free months.

Brick Underground's Gross Rent Calculator enables you to easily calculate your gross rent, make quick apples-to-apples comparisons between apartments and avoid expensive surprises. All you'll need to figure out your gross rent is 1) the net effective rent, 2) the length of your lease, and 3) how many free months your landlord is offering.  [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]

To learn more about net effective versus gross rents, read What does 'net effective rent' mean?.

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If the landlord is offering partial months free, enter it with a decimal point. For example, 6 weeks free rent should be entered as 1.5 months.

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Other strategies for finding a place to live include co-living or finding someone who needs a roommate, which does not require you to be on a lease at all. (Of course, that means you don’t have the protection of being on a lease.)

And if all this sounds like an impossible headache, don't forget that almost every New York school has resources to help students through the gauntlet of city housing, and the New York Film Academy is no exception. Its housing department offers rooms in residential housing facilities for $1,800 a month, per person, or, alternately, can set you up with a "housing coordinator" to help you find a place. If you're tackling an apartment hunt for the first time in NYC, it's worth accepting all the help you can get.