Maybe you felt the siren call of New York City for college. Or want to climb your way up Manhattan’s sky-scraping corporate ladder. But if you’re moving to New York for the first time, you may be in for a reality check. Finding an apartment can be as daunting as navigating the subway for the first time if you’re among the city’s many international renters. We interviewed industry pros for everything international renters need to know about finding a place to live in NYC.
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Demonstrate Your Financial Stability
Most landlords require prospective tenants to prove that they are currently employed, with a salary of at least 40 times the monthly rent. It sounds intimidating, but it’s just sticking to the common advice that your rent be no more than 30% of your income.
However, even prospective tenants with high-paying jobs in the U.S. can run into challenges if they don’t have a U.S. credit score, U.S. tax returns, and rental references from local landlords. Still, there is some good news for international renters: “No credit is always better than bad credit,” says Senad Ahmetovic, a licensed associate real estate broker for Brown Harris Stevens. Ahmetovic has worked with tenants from all over the globe, including the United Kingdom, Australia, India, China, and elsewhere.
Before applying for an apartment, request a letter from your U.S. employer that verifies your job title, length of employment, and salary. If you are moving to the U.S. for the first time, you might also consider obtaining reference letters from individuals in your home country, such as previous employers and landlords.
You should also be prepared to provide documentation of all international bank accounts and assets. In lieu of a formal credit check, these credentials will help assure prospective landlords of your ability to pay rent. “My advice to anybody renting, but especially international renters, is to get these documents together upfront,” says Angela Mannino, a licensed real estate salesperson at the Bizzarro Agency. “When you’re going through brokers, they’re going to ask for it.”
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Can International Renters Pay More Upfront?
The short answer: nope. “In the past, people would pay a few extra months of security or prepay the rent,” Ahmetovic says. But in 2019, the state of New York changed the law to protect tenants. Now, the maximum amount landlords can collect from tenants for a security deposit is one month’s rent and not a penny more. “There’s no prepayment of rent allowed, either,” Ahmetovic says.
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Find a Guarantor
So, what’s an international renter without deep pockets to do? “If you don’t have a ton of reserves and don’t make the 40 x the rent, then a guarantor, someone who will pay the rent when you can’t, is absolutely essential,” says Mannino, who adds that they’ll need the guarantor’s proof of income and tax return to proceed.
Enlisting the help of a guarantor is a way to assure prospective landlords that your rent will be covered if you can’t pay it. Still, international renters should know that many landlords will not accept guarantors who reside out of the tri-state area, let alone out of the country. “There is no such thing as an international guarantor,” Ahmetovic says. “I’ve been in the business for 22 years. Some landlords will take a Canadian guarantor, but for most, the guarantor has to be the U.S.”
This was the case for 28-year-old Natasha when she moved from Vancouver to New York to begin design school. “One broker told me that in her entire real estate career she’d never seen a landlord accept a Canadian guarantor because there’s no way to take action if rent isn’t paid. I would say it comes down to either finding a building that’s familiar with international renters or finding a broker that will help push it through.” Natasha also recommends asking about the building’s guarantor policies upfront, to avoid wasting time on an application only to be turned away because you don’t meet a building’s requirements.
Don’t have a local you can ask to be your guarantor? You still have options. Ahmetovic recommends using a third-party guarantor. Companies like Insurent, Rhino, or The Guarantors can act as your guarantor in exchange for a monthly fee. “It could be as little as $20 a month, to much more,” Ahmetovic says.
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Work With a Real Estate Agent
Looking for the perfect SATC-worthy apartment? Hire a professional real estate agent. With boots on the ground, a good real estate broker in New York City will be well aware of all the issues you might face as an international renter. Additionally, they will likely have the knowledge and the understanding of the market gained from years of living and working here. Examples include the character of different neighborhoods and buildings, the responsiveness of landlords and management companies, and more. A real estate broker can help an international renter get their feet literally in the door — so they can start living their best NYC life.