Are you moving to New York City? Do you want to avoid gross, cockroach-infested apartments with landlords who rip you off? Look no further for your definitive guide to finding a decent place in “the city that never sleeps”!
Just less than two months ago, 23-year-old me took the plunge, picked up stakes, and moved to the Big Apple. Leaving Ireland behind was both exciting and terrifying, but it also felt undeniably right. New career opportunities and a different quality of life called to me, and I answered back harmoniously. While it’s been an amazing journey, not all of it has been smooth sailing.
There’s no denying that it’s tough to find an apartment when you’re not only new to a city, but also new to a country. It’s even tougher when you consider the hoops one must jump through to be considered for most properties — one being the dreaded credit score.
Learning the Hard Way: How to Find an Apartment That Isn't Disgusting
When I arrived in New York, in the summer of 2016, I had no idea what rules and regulations applied to renting an apartment. A derelict, cockroach-infested, broken-front-door-handle dog box of an Airbnb apartment was my welcome to the city. We used Airbnb as a way around needing credit, which my friends and I had none to speak of. Located in East Harlem, the apartment terrified us so much that we vowed to leave the city and never come back. New York had been ruined for us, and there was no hope of it ever getting better.
Oh, how foolish we were! Our second night was spent in a lavish business suite in Times Square, courtesy of an extremely apologetic Airbnb, which also fully refunded the money that we'd spent for the Horror House in Harlem.
In hindsight, we were lucky that we had used Airbnb in the first place, as we were protected if something went wrong. And how wrong it had gone!
And so, situated in our luxurious hotel room that could protect us from the harsh reality of the streets for only one night, we were effectively homeless in New York City. Ultimately, we lucked out and landed an amazing apartment in Sunset Park, but that’s another story. I’m here to tell you all the things I wish I’d known about finding an apartment when I was covered in cockroaches in Harlem.
How to Find an Apartment When You Don’t Have a Credit Score
Many factors in locating an apartment will depend on your current situation — do you have any friends that can put you up until you find a place of your own? If not, do you have enough backup funds to last you until you do? These are questions you must answer before you step foot near an airport to make this journey. There are many ways to get around needing a credit score — some are more practical than others. Knowing your budget, what type of place you’re looking for, and whether or not you’d like to have roommates will benefit you. To help you further, here are my top tips and tricks for working around the credit system:
- Sublet from somebody else
- Network with people
- Find a guarantor
Subletting is by far the easiest way to snag a place without a credit score. If you’re happy with not having your name on the lease, it’s the perfect solution. Most of the time with a sublet, you don’t have to go through background or credit checks or have proof of income. It’s pretty straightforward; and while it may not be a long-term solution, it’s a great way to get started.
Facebook is your best friend in this search. There are countless groups that advertise both long- and short-term rooms, with pictures. Ghostlight Housing (previously Gypsy Housing) is the MVP of the subletting world. Not all ads are for sublets though, so make sure to look for that key word and always ask for more info.
There are also tons of smartphone apps that can help with your search. HotPads, StreetEasy, and Roomster are a few of the top dogs. Sometimes they require a fee if you want to use extra services, such as instant messaging. That’s why I prefer Facebook — no fees!
Always check online for any groups that have an affiliation with your home country. I found my current apartment through other, random Irish people who advertised it on an Irish in New York Facebook page. Again, most of these will be sublets, but they’ll be from other people who have also had to work around the credit system. As such, you may be be able to find different options and advice this way.
If you know people already living in your destination country, network with them and see if they know of anyone offering a room. Ask coworkers, clients you’ve become friendly with, your parents' friends. Don’t be afraid to ask anybody! You’d be surprised how quickly and how well it can work.
3. Get a Guarantor
This is the option that would have made life for me so much easier when I first moved over. Sadly, I didn’t know anyone who qualified.
A guarantor is a person who usually must make 40 times the annual rent you’re trying to pay. He or she agrees to pay your rent in the event that you can’t. As such, it’s a huge thing to ask of someone. It’s an attractive option, though, because it seems that the most beautiful, most modern, and cheapest apartments require either a guarantor or a good credit score. But if, like me, you don’t have any wealthy relatives willing to stake their Midtown condos on your one-room in a four-room apartment in Bushwick, this may be useless for you.
There are many companies that will act as your guarantor. However, my research found that the fees are usually astronomical and not really worth it.
All in all, if you're prepared to spend the time, you will find the perfect apartment that falls within your budget.
My last piece of advice? Try to view every single apartment that you apply for. You never know whether you’ll be happy somewhere just from pictures of it online. Even if a place seems ideal, be vigilant and reluctant to send payments without viewing it (and even interviewing the landlord). Be especially wary of doing so from your home country. People can and do get taken advantage of! And always check for cockroaches.