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. I learned how to get an apartment the hard way (and with no credit, to boot), so now I can show you the ropes.
When I was 23 years old, I took the plunge, picked up sticks, 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 you must jump through to be considered for most properties — one being the dreaded credit score.
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Difficult Lessons: Finding an Apartment That Isn't Disgusting
When I arrived in New York, 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 was my welcome to the city.
My friends and I used Airbnb as a way around needing credit. Not only did we have none to speak of, but we were also completely unfamiliar with the concept.
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 Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, 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 Get an Apartment With No Credit
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 the 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, though 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
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Subletting is by far the easiest way to snag a place without a credit score. If you’re content 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 provide proof of income.
It’s pretty straightforward. While it might 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 sublets, with pictures.
Ghostlight Housing (formerly Gypsy Housing) is the MVP of the subletting world. Not all ads are for sublets though, so make sure to look for that keyword 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 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.
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3. Get a Guarantor
This option 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, modern, and affordable 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 single 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. The companies still require you to have a certain credit score, though it doesn’t need to be as high as the lease requires. On top of that, their fees are usually the equivalent of another month’s rent. No thankie.
Final Thoughts on How to Get an Apartment — With or Without Credit
All in all, if you're prepared to spend the time, you will find the perfect apartment that falls within your budget.
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My last piece of advice? Try to view every 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.