Introduction to Housing Search
When to Start the Search
The Application Process
When to Start the Search
It is not uncommon for graduate students to begin inquiries as early as January and the actual search in March/April. Companies that target the graduate student market will usually have information about available apartments in March or April. Other companies, however, will not know about availabilities, until 90 or 60 days before the new lease is supposed to start.
While most graduate students are probably interested in finding leases that commence in August or September, it is important to be flexible about the beginning date of a lease, especially if it is a popular choice in high demand.
Deciding What to Look For
Consider carefully what kind of housing will suit your needs. Are you looking for a studio or a one-bedroom? Do you want to share a 2- or 3- bedroom apartment with other graduate students? Are you coming to Penn with your spouse or family? Are you interested in apartments in converted Victorian homes or brownstones, or do you prefer to live in a mid- or high-rise building with certain amenities? Do you have pets? Will you have a car in Philadelphia? How much can you afford to spend on rent?
Each type of housing has its benefits and its drawbacks. University City contains many apartments in converted homes and smaller buildings, with a few larger, newer buildings closer to the campus. Center City offers a great deal of high-rise buildings options with a range of prices, in addition to the apartments in converted brownstones and smaller buildings. Other neighborhoods have different options depending on the architectural features of the neighborhood.
More detailed information is available online about neighborhoods
and rental rates
How to Search for Housing
Begin by browsing the landlord and building profiles in this guide. Many buildings popular with Penn graduate students are profiled with such relevant information as rental rates, location, and student feedback. You may contact the landlords or buildings directly to inquire about availability.
Continue to find out about the choices available to students using the resources of the Office of Off-Campus Services. The interactive search database will give you information about hundreds of available apartments and houses in the areas that may be of interest to you. Additional information about landlords/realtors and buildings in University City, Center City and other Greater Philadelphia areas is also available in the Housing Search section of the website.
Among the countless websites that offer apartment search information, graduate students tend to use Craigslist
above all other sources. You may also want to check available apartments at the website of the Philadelphia Weekly
. These sites are not controlled in any way by the University of Pennsylvania and no representation is made concerning the information that they provide.
Once you have narrowed down your choices, visit the units that match your needs, if this is possible. If you make the decision to rent after obtaining the information over the Internet, make sure you ask detailed questions about the property, obtain pictures, and, if at all possible, have a friend visit the place for you. Written correspondence in situations like this is especially important.
The Application Process
If you are interested in obtaining a lease on an apartment the landlord will likely ask you to fill in an application form. An application fee in the range of $30 to $50 is usually charged. Some landlords also ask for a deposit to be paid with the application, which can be as much as one month's rent.
If you are an international graduate student you will probably not have a social security number unless you obtain on-campus employment. Although a social security number is not required to sign a lease, open a bank account or utility account, most landlords will be used to requesting this information in the application process. We suggest that you provide the landlord with a copy of your I-20 and a letter of admission from the University of Pennsylvania in place of the social security number.
The information that you provide in the application and the credit check that the landlord conducts will assist the landlord in determining whether he or she will grant you the lease. Although the landlord is not permitted to discriminate against you if you are a member of a protected class (protected classes include: gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, national origin), the landlord may refuse your application based on legitimate business criteria. Valid grounds for refusing an application are poor credit history and insufficient income. In the case of insufficient income the landlord may grant the application on condition that a guarantor or co-signer signs the lease.
You should read the terms of the application very carefully. The application fee is unlikely to be refundable. The deposit paid with the application may also not be refundable (or you may have a difficult time obtaining a refund) if your application is approved and you ultimately decide not to sign a lease on the apartment. The message is: read the documents you sign, obtain copies of all documents you sign, and don't pay a deposit with an application unless you are very sure that you want the lease.
In a tight rental market like that in Philadelphia, tenants are usually not able to negotiate the terms of the lease provided by the landlord. Despite the fact that illegal clauses in the lease will not be enforceable, there is no protection for tenants against unfair lease terms.
You should be careful to ensure that the lease includes all of the agreements between the parties. For example, if the lease says that no pets are allowed but the landlord assures you orally that a cat will be fine, it is important for you to get the agreement included into the lease in writing so that there is no dispute later about whether a pet is allowed.
Be sure to obtain a copy of the lease that you sign!
Being an informed consumer and knowing your rights and responsibilities is of great importance in having a pleasant off-campus living experience, so be sure to learn as much as you can about your rights and responsibilities
as a tenant. Explanations of the most common lease terms are also available here
If you would like to discuss the terms of a particular lease that you are considering signing, the Office of Off-Campus Services can help. For a lease review, please contact the office to make an appointment.
A lease form
which is considered to be fair in its treatment of tenants and landlords is available from the OCS website. If you have the opportunity to suggest this lease to your landlord, do so.