Ultimate Guide to Finding a Cheap Apartment for Rent | Roost
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Find a cheap apartment for rent in your chosen area

How to find a cheap apartment, or at least, lower your rent

Here’s the deal: The U.S. Census Bureau recommends that your rent not exceed 30% of your monthly income. So if you follow that recommendation, you shouldn’t have any trouble paying rent, right? Actually, the 30% recommendation is pretty outdated, like from the early ’80s. Housing costs have increased, debt has grown at a crazy rate, and people of all backgrounds are really struggling. In fact, the latest data show that nearly a third of all households are paying more than 30% of their incomes on housing.

It’s unlikely that a whole slew of reasonable and affordable housing is going to come onto the market anytime soon. If you’ve already established a budget, and are still struggling financially, take a look at some of our recommendations below for ways to find a cheaper place or pay less rent.

Tips to find a cheaper place or pay less rent

1. Get a roommate

What you’ll lose in privacy, you’ll gain in savings. Not only do you save on rent, but all of the extra expenses get shared, too. WiFi, electricity, garbage, and even furniture are often costs shared. If you’re already living somewhere and want a roommate to move in, make sure you clear it with your landlord in advance and that your roommate gets added to the lease. (Otherwise, you’re legally responsible for anything your roommate does.)

2. Use apartment rental sites with filters for cheap apartments  

If you’re thinking of moving, check out rental listing sites like Apartments.com, ForRent.com, and Hotpads that have “cheap rent” and “low-income” search filters. Get familiar with the rental options in your desired area. Create alerts for the apartment or similar apartments to get first in line for new openings. Or, go about it the old-fashioned way with Craigslist. Sometimes you’ll find a local, single property site posted here that isn’t on the other sites. 

3. Look outside urban areas (but consider transportation costs)

Rent in the city is often more expensive because you’re paying for convenience and the higher real estate cost. If you can, take a look at apartments in the suburbs that are probably just as nice but charge lower rent. However, don’t forget that if you have to commute into the city, you’ll be paying for transportation. Do some quick math to make sure that any savings you get from lower rent end up going towards increased transportation costs.

4. Think small

Apartments are usually priced by the square foot. The smaller your unit, the lower the rent (usually). Going for a studio or one-bedroom may mean missing out on some space, but you’ll make up for it with big month-to-month savings. And if you’re currently struggling with rent every month but really love your neighborhood, a slightly smaller unit might make it possible for you to stay.  

5. Do without the extra amenities

Some rental properties offer you loads of common space, a gym, pool, and more. This usually also increases the cost of rent. That might be fine if you’re going to drop your gym membership and use your condo’s workout space instead, but if you’re not likely to use the extra amenities, find a different place.

6. Avoid high season

Seasonality does affect market rental rates. Renters tend to avoid moving in bad weather and fewer moves happen in the winter. Lease an apartment in November, December, or January (when rent prices are lowest). If you have to move to a new city in the summer, sign a six-month lease and start searching for deals in early October. This is when you’ll get the best deal and have the most room to negotiate. Is the place you want next to a university? You may be able to get a lower rate when students leave — turnover is highest between semesters and the summer. 

7. Look for new apartment leasing deals

Most new properties offer move-in deals like a free month of rent to new tenants. Sometimes you can negotiate more for a multi-year lease and it’ll usually come with a couple of free perks such as a parking space and full gym.   

8. Take on a fixer-upper 

Consider a cheaper apartment that just needs a bit of TLC if you’re handy and like projects. You may be able to get a cheap rate locked in if you offer to help fix it up for the landlord, like a fresh coat of paint, new faucet, fix that window.   

9. Clarify fees and add-ons listed in the lease  

We’ve heard quite a few “extra or add-on fee” stories at Roost. Make sure you’re clear about what you’re agreeing to and have it budgeted. Also, check your state renter rights as they pertain to add-on fees. Many require the fees to be spelled out in the lease agreement at signing so you know what you’re responsible for. Meaning, they can’t be added later. 

Your landlord shouldn’t charge for most of these, but will likely charge for some. 

  • Application fee
  • Move-in fee
  • Security deposit
  • Pet fee
  • Storage fee
  • Lawn/landscaping fee
  • Amenity or property fees
  • Early termination fee
  • Late fee
  • Check fees
  • Credit card fee
  • Co-signer fee
  • Processing fee
  • Interest
  • Tenant screening fee (replacement tenant)
  • Parking fee
  • Trips to unlock premises
  • Unreturned fees, locks and duplicate keys
  • Legal fees
  • Utilities

10. Government vouchers

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides rent assistance to struggling seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and low-income families. They do this primarily by funneling money to local public agencies in your state for subsidized housing or Section 8 vouchers. Contact a public housing agency in your state or check out Roost’s Rent Help section to find out more. 

11. Negotiate

Do your research and check out market rates in the area. Apartment listing sites like Zumper and ApartmentGuide give market rates for most areas. If you find a place you like, but it’s a hundred dollars more per month higher, you may be able to shave a bit of it off by asking the landlord to match another comparable apartment or agreeing to a longer lease. Some landlords will lower a lease if you pay three or six months at a time, too. Don’t forget to negotiate fees too. You may be able to get some of them waived for the first year or forever. 

Roost Tip! If you plan to renew your lease, ask the landlord to include a provision in the agreement that states rent won’t increase when you re-sign the contract. This could mean some pretty significant savings, since annual rent hikes can be substantial.

And, if you have a good personality, use it! Landlords and property managers want nice, reliable, low-maintenance tenants. 

Found a cheaper place? Snag it. Quick.

If you’ve found a cheaper place and are ready to apply, nice work! Now you just need to apply and provide a security deposit. To help make sure you get this place before someone else does, have all of your documents ready. You’ll need your:

  • Proof of employment: Pay stubs, a letter of employment or a tax return if you are self-employed.
  • Reference letter
  • Proof of funds for your security deposit and first and last month’s rent.  

When you apply, you’ll also need a decent chunk of money to cover your security deposit and first and last month’s rent. (If your rent will be $800 a month for the new place, you need $2,400 ready to go when you actually sign your lease.) While you won’t need to give a landlord a security deposit until you sign the lease, it’s always a good idea to have the amount saved up in your bank account. That way, you won’t lose out on a potentially perfect apartment to a better-prepared renter simply because you didn’t have the money.

If you’re struggling to come up with all the money upfront, check out one of the newer security deposit insurance products that let you make a small monthly payment instead of a full security deposit upfront. Leaselock, Jetty, and Rhino are a few of the better-known brands that your landlord might accept. 

Settle in and enjoy your new place!

By doing your homework and gathering the right documentation beforehand, chances are good you’ll be able to find a less expensive apartment that doesn’t leave you struggling every month. Keeping a close on eye on extra fees listed in the lease or negotiating some terms with your landlord will help, too. Good luck!

A quick note! Our goal is to gather and share info that’s up-to-date and helps you make great decisions as a renter. That said, the information you get directly from a provider could be a little different. Make sure to review their terms and conditions directly; and, if you see anything here that needs to be updated, please let us know! Advertising disclosure
Last Updated: November 2nd, 2020