Finding an Apartment
When moving to a new city, looking for housing can seem daunting, especially if you can’t visit in person. Starting your search well in advance of your move – based on the timeline information provided on this site – will make the process much less stressful.
Once you decide how much you can afford and what you are looking for, the easiest place to start is with online listings, looking at the cost for what you want in different parts of Hyde Park or other neighborhoods. You may want to connect online or by email with current students who can offer advice to help you feel more confident during your apartment search.
Size, location, and the condition or amenities of a building are the most significant factors in the price of an apartment. You may find a wide range of apartments available which fit your budget in different neighborhoods across the city. After you have an idea of what you can afford in the area you are targeting, narrow down your choices and shorten your list of possible apartments. Then begin contacting properties that seem like a good fit to learn more, or if possible to make appointments for tours.
Tips for Your Search
Don’t feel like you need to rush through this process and accept the first place you find. Keep in mind that new listings come up regularly, and landlords may only know they will have a vacancy four to eight weeks in advance. Here are a few tips to help you avoid common mistakes.
Renters have rights. The City of Chicago has extensive rules and regulations governing the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and you, the tenant. You may find it helpful to review these regulations before starting your search, and you should definitely review them before signing a lease. The City provides a summary of the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, as well as a link to the ordinance itself, here.
Condition of the unit and the building. In person or online, check the general condition in the apartment, and also around the building (Google Maps Streetview is helpful if you can’t do this in person). It’s OK to ask the landlord to let you ask the current tenant questions, although they probably will not put you directly in touch with them for privacy reasons. If anything seems to be broken or not functioning, you should ask that the maintenance be completed before your actual move-in date and that the agreement to do these repairs be included in your lease agreement. You will also have an opportunity to list these items upon move-in.
Ask about utilities. Don’t forget to ask the landlord about which utilities are included in the rent and which are not. Most listings will describe this up front, but it’s fine to double check.
Things to check for if you or a friend can visit an apartment
- Turn on all the faucets to check the water pressure and how quickly it gets hot
- Turn on all the lights; not every room in an apartment will have ceiling lighting
- Check the locks on the doors and windows to make sure they work
- Check for holes or water damage on the floor, walls, and ceilings
- If provided, check to make sure the air conditioning and heating work properly (Note: most older buildings do not have central air conditioning, and heat is often provided via radiators which you will not be able to turn on or off at will)
- Take note of the number of electrical outlets and where they are located
- Ask to see the laundry room or any other amenities the building offers (storage, bike room, etc.)
- If you are unsure about an area, consider visiting in the evening
Take notes on these items based on either provided photos or your visit, and use these notes to compare units. You can also use this apartment comparison checklist.
Questions to Ask
Asking questions is just as critical as seeing apartments and neighborhoods. Below you will find some questions to ask when evaluating properties:
The Apartment and Lease
- How long is the lease period? Most are one year, but feel free to ask about other options.
- How much is the rent, and what was the rent of the last tenant?
- How often does the rent go up, and by how much?
- Does the landlord ask for a security deposit or a move-in fee? In what circumstances can you get this deposit back?
- What would be the results of breaking the lease early?
- How old is the apartment?
- Is there central heat and/or air conditioning, or is the unit heated by radiators?
- What is the pet policy? Note that buildings may allow only certain types of pets, and may charge a fee if you have one.
- What is the apartment maintenance process? How are emergency repairs taken care of? Is the building supervisor or engineer located on-site?
- Does the landlord have any other special policies you should be aware of?
- Which utilities, if any, are included in the rent? (Water is usually included; heat is often but not always included; additional amenities like electricity, cooking gas, internet, or cable television are rarely included.)
- Will the utilities be handled by the manager or landlord, or do you need to re-apply? Most renters will need to establish their own electricity accounts, and often natural gas as well; you can also choose to sign up for internet or cable services.
- Does the building have parking available? How much does it cost? Is there a waiting list?
- Is any visitor parking available?
- Where are the closest grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, laundromats and/or dry cleaners, and train lines or bus routes?
Furniture & Appliances
- Is the unit furnished? If so, what is provided?
- What appliances are included? Almost all units include the stove and refrigerator, but dishwashers and microwave ovens are less common.
- What condition are the appliances and furniture in?