If you’re desperately reading this you’ve probably found or are soon to find some fellowship, internship, or research opportunity to do this summer. It’s not an easy process and you worked hard for this, so take a quick moment to congratulate yourself and remember the little people who helped you make it here.
The only thing is, where are you going to live while you do this exciting new thing you now have the opportunity to do?
This post is intended to give you a brief introduction to the world of finding summer housing. In addition to what I say here I strongly encourage you to ask someone who has had to find summer housing in that city before about how they went about the process. Their advice will be far more specific and relevant than my more general advice.
Lets begin with some vocabulary:
Landlord: A landlord is simply the person who owns a property and ultimately the one that you pay to rent the place from. In some subletting situations, you may have to pay the landlord directly and in others you may have to pay the person you are subletting from so they can pay the landlord. In addition to getting your cold hard cash, the landlord can often also be responsible for certain kinds of repair and upkeep in the place where you are living. You should clarify with the person you are subletting from what your relationship with the landlord will entail and when or if you should be contacting them.
Rent: Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes! Rent is just a catchall term for the money that you pay to rent something from another person. In general, rent refers only to the money specifically for renting that thing and is separate from other related costs to the actual thing (such as utilities).
Sublet/Sublease: When somebody signs a contract on an apartment or home for some period of time, they may also sublet or sublease a room or the whole thing to somebody else. You, as the person looking for temporary housing for the summer, would be the subletter and you enter into an agreement with the person who has actually signed the lease and ideally, the landlord.
Utilities: Utilities is referred to distinctly from rent. It usually refers to a lot of the associated costs with living in a place such as gas (used for heating), electricity, and water. Wireless internet access is also often a utility but can also be referred to separately.
Now lets get into the advice
- Identify the location. This may seem quite obvious, but the first step in this process is to identify where you will be working and doing a little bit of research to figure out where you would potentially be able to live in the area around that. In a smaller city like Providence, there are a number of places where you can live on the east side since that is close by Brown’s campus. If you aren’t sure about the locations within the given city, I highly encourage you to try and find somebody who has stayed the summer there before. They can point you in the right direction. This step is especially important if you have constraints on your mobility. I can’t drive, so when I look for summer housing I have to think about what areas of the place are accessible by public transportation and how I would get from an area to my place of work.
- Identify your timeline. This step will help you to determine your budget in the next step. Try and find out: how long your summer opportunity lasts, the start date for the next semester, when you can move into your housing for the Fall, as well as if there is anywhere else you need or want to be during the summer. Then figure out where you will need housing and for how long in each place. It is not uncommon for people to sublet either one month or all three months of the summer. It is also not uncommon for people to negotiate staying for slightly shorter or longer times with the person who is subletting to them, especially since sometimes people may want to return to their apartment before the full month is up. In any case, you can’t do any negotiation until you have identified how long you need housing in a place.
- Identify your budget. This step may also seem obvious, but you need to think early about how much money you have to spend on your housing situation. This includes thinking about (the income you will get from the opportunity) + (any other sources of incoming money) and then subtract (food costs) + (public transportation fair, medication costs, and other costs related to living such as having to buy toilet paper) + (other costs like if you need to send money home). The remaining amount will give you a sense of the maximum amount you can spend on your housing, including rent as well as any associated costs like utilities, internet, etc. Some of these costs can be reduced by having a roommate in the place you choose to sublet and negotiating with that person to split costs.
- Find listings. This is the step that can seem the most nebulous, but most of the time it can be fairly straightforward. Many students find listings on Facebook and you can do this too. Just search for “summer [city name] [year]” and you should be able to find a Facebook group people are using to organize housing and post listings in that city. If you are staying in Providence and are a Brown student you can use the Brown University Summer Subletting 2017 group or the current Buying and Selling Group to find a place. If you don’t have a Facebook you can ask a friend to look at these listings through their Facebook or you can make an account to just use for this and delete it after you find a place. In this step I also recommend asking people who have stayed in a place for the summer before as they might be able to put you in contact with the people who they subleased from and/or tell you who to avoid subletting from. Other lists to look into are Craiglist, Co-ops, and/or, if you are staying near Brown, the grad student listserv (they regularly post housing opportunities year round).
- Get more information. In an individual listing they should include information about where the apartment or house is located, the monthly rent, and whether you will be required to pay for utilities for the months you sublet from them. This information is all important, but this is not usually enough to really make an informed decision. You should also find out:
- What does the place look like? Ask for photos and schedule a visit to the place if you are in the area. You want to try to find a place where you will feel comfortable living.
- How accessible is it really in terms of transportation? Do the buses actually run on time? Are there parking spaces nearby? How far a walk is the train station? Websites can give you some information, but if you need to park a car or take public transportation, the best person to get information from is someone who has lived there or around there.
- What services are included in the cost? Do you have access to laundry facilities or will you have to find a laundromat? Is the laundry coin-operated or free? Will you have access to wireless internet? Is the internet an additional cost? Does the place come with furniture, and what kinds? Does it come with cooking utensils, pots, pans, plates, bowls, etc.? Do you have access to a stove and oven? What about the bathroom? Air conditioning? How many electrical outlets does the place have? There are a lot of questions to consider when you think about actually living in a new place, especially if you can’t visit yourself.
- What is it like to live there? Some apartments may have quirks you wouldn’t know about just based on what they look like. For example, is it on a really busy street that gets very noisy on Friday and Saturday nights? Are there restaurants nearby that have food deliveries scheduled for the early mornings? Are there annoying upstairs neighbors? Does the heating and cooling have quirks or not work as you would expect? Will you have roommates? Is the tap water OK to drink or should you be getting a filter of some kind?
- How accessible is it more generally? If you have accessibility needs you should also be sure to inquire about these as you don’t want to look into a place that is supposed to have an elevator and find out firsthand that the elevator actually doesn’t work.
- How do they want you to send them payment and is there a deposit? This is important so you can know what steps you will need to go through to pay them, information you will need to know so you can pay them on time. Mailing a check will take longer than an electronic transfer which will take longer than a Venmo. You should also find out if there is a deposit which would require you to come up with much more than the first month’s rent before you move in. A deposit is meant to be returned to you at the end of your time renting from the person but can often range to as much as a month’s worth of rent.
- What are your responsibilities? Do you have to put out the garbage yourself? who do you report broken things in the apartment to? Are you financially liable for broken things? All these are important questions to ask to know not only what you get out of living somewhere but also what you should be doing.
- (Negotiate and) Sign a contract. I highly recommend negotiating the details of your sublease with the person subletting to you so that you can be sure about what your rights and responsibilities are and, in general, avoid confusion. Included in this is negotiating the cost of your rent as well as associated costs so that you can fit within your identified budget. Many people will be willing to lower their prices if asked and given a specific number that you would be willing to pay. Don’t be afraid to ask for something more reasonable, as the worst they can do is say no. And more likely, they may identify a different price that might not be as low as you wanted, but which might be a bit better than what was on the table before. Once you’ve negotiated, ideally you should sign some contract putting all the agreed-upon details into writing and identifying your rights and responsibilities as a subletter. It’s unlikely this contract will need to be used in court proceedings, but it can be helpful in avoiding confusion around what you need to do and what you need to pay, especially as the summer rolls on.
In general this process can be stressful but you can manage it if you start as early as possible. That will give you time not only to negotiate, but also to find out all the relevant details about the place you are trying to live and give yourself a better sense of what your living situation will actually be like. In addition, starting early will allow you to look for a variety of places, especially important if the person you’re contacting is unresponsive and/or seems sketchy.
An optional step which can (ideally) make all of this easier to organize is to find a roommate who is also trying to live in the same city as you and who has similar budget and needs. That way if there are two bedrooms available to sublet, you and your potential roommate can take the place together, and then you are already more familiar with who you will be living with before you show up. This can additionally help with planning in the stages leading up to when you will actually be living there such as deciding, “If you bring some cookware, I can bring my vacuum and some toilet paper.”
And that’s the end of my advice, but again I encourage you to reach out to more people and get more specific advice about living in particular areas. You’ve already done the hardest and most competitive thing, finding a fellowship, internship, or research opportunity for the summer. These other parts are just a matter of organization. You can do it!
Before I end I also want to shout out Matt Dang for helping edit this piece and adding his perspective to the housing search process.