Housing Tips for International Students

Use these helpful tips when searching for housing in Northern Virginia

Graduate students walking to class in Katherine Johnson Hall on the Science and Technology Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

1. UTILIZE THE HOUSING FINDER

Use the Off-Campus Housing Finder to look for apartments, condos, and room rentals in the area. Housing options can be filtered by price, distance from campus, etc. This website also can tell you if an apartment complex is international student-friendly.

2. SEARCHING FOR ROOMMATES

Find roommates on the Off-Campus Housing Finder website at och.gmu.edu. This safe and secure website is only available to George Mason University students, staff, and faculty.

3. USE RELIABLE SERVICES

Avoid using sites like Facebook and Craigslist to find housing and/or roommates! Use verified search services, such as the Off-Campus Housing Finder (och.gmu.edu) to help you find housing and/or roommates.

4. THINK ABOUT TRANSPORTATION AND PARKING

Transportation and parking can be a challenge in Northern Virginia. If you do not have a car, look for a place to live close to public transportation. Be sure to look into the local bus, Metro, and Mason Shuttle schedules (https://och.gmu.edu/resources-tabs).

5. OBEY ALL APPLICABLE LAWS

Remember to obey all laws while in the United States. If you plan on driving please look up all regulations and rules at www.dmv.state.va.us/webdoc/pdf/dmv39.pdf. Additionally, obey all city, county, and state regulations related to maximum occupancy in a residence (Fairfax City and Fairfax County legally limit the number of residents to four).

6. FURNITURE RENTALS

CORT furniture rental is a strong supporter of Contemporary Student Services at George Mason University. They offer international students rentals and services to help international students settle into the United States. Please refer to their website (https://www.cort.com/)

7. SECURITY DEPOSIT

Be prepared to pay the first month's rent and security deposit, which is often equal to a whole month's rent. If you don't have a U.S. Social Security Number or credit history, the security deposit may be larger. You may also need to pay deposits for utilities, such as telephones and electricity. If you are asked to pay too much more than this, act with caution.

8. ASK CONTEMPORARY STUDENT SERVICES IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS

If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Contemporary Student Services (CSS). CSS can help you determine if something is out of the ordinary.

AVOIDING HOUSING SCAMS

Housing scams are far too common today. Before you find yourself out thousands of dollars or without a place to live, take this advice to keep yourself safe.

1. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Remember that you have rights as a renter! There are multiple resources that can help you learn what is and is not legal when attempting to rent in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Additionally, remember that certain municipalities also have separate renters' rights regulations. You can find these in the resource section of the Off-Campus Housing Finder site.

2. KNOW YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES

Renters have responsibilities as well! You, and any roommates, need to maintain a clean and safe dwelling, follow the rules as outlined in the lease, maintain privacy in your unit, and be good neighbors in your community. You can find some of these in the resource section of the Off-Campus Housing Finder site.

3. USE RELIABLE SERVICES

Avoid using sites like Facebook and Craigslist to find housing and/or roommates! Use verified search services, such as the Off-Campus Housing Finder (och.gmu.edu) to help you find housing and/or roommates.

4. GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING

While it is very rare, if you should find yourself in a dispute with your landlord it will be beneficial to have proof of the terms of the lease outline. This should include items like names, dates of move-in and move-out, the amount of the rent and fees, pet allowance/prohibitions, termination notice requirements, access to premises allowances, security deposits, and maintenance duties and responsibilities among other items.

5. DON'T SIGN SOMETHING YOU HAVEN'T READ

Leases are legal documents. Do not sign a lease if you have not read and fully understand the document. If something feels like it is excessive, overly prohibitive, or just wrong, check with an unbiased third party (such as Contemporary Student Services) to make sure you are not being taken advantage of or putting yourself in a bad situation.

6. REMEMBER A LEASE IS A LEGAL CONTRACT

LEASES ARE LEGAL CONTRACTS! While a lease cannot break the law, you can agree to situations that are legal but well outside of what is considered normal. It is important that prior to signing anything you 1. agree with what you are signing and 2. check with an unbiased third party to ensure what you are signing is normal. A quick search on the internet can yield multiple sample leases to provide an idea of what can be found in a standard lease.

7. BE CAREFUL WITH MONEY

Avoid wiring money, especially overseas. Once you wire funds they are gone. Large apartment companies will often have a formal payment portal or process. With individual landlords, it is important to verify the property and that they in fact manage the property. Additionally, it is a good idea to utilize a traceable form of payment (such as a check). Additionally, do not pay for a residence until you have a signed lease. Finally, do not send money to a third party who is not listed on the lease as a formal payment processor.

Common Questions To Ask A Landlord

  • What are the terms of the lease? How long is the lease?
  • Are there additional fees on top of rent?
  • Are there rules about hanging up pictures, painting the walls, etc? Are pets allowed? If so, is there an additional fee
  • Do I get the security deposit back at the end of the lease? What maintenance am I responsible for?
  • Is there parking available, or is there nearby public transportation? Is there an on-site manager I can contact?
  • How do I contact the landlord and/or property manager? When is the rent due?
  • What happens if the rent is late? Is this a furnished apartment?
  • What is your policy about having guests overnight?
  • What kind of heating is in the unit and where is the thermostat located? Who is in control of the temperature setting?
  • When is the heat turned on?
  • Do other tenants have access to the thermostat? What is the cleaning expectation when I move out?
  • Does the apartment/home need to be cleaned before I leave?

Common Off-Campus Housing Terminology

  • Lease: a contract by which one party conveys land, property, services, etc. to another for a specified time,
    usually in return for a periodic payment.
  • Sub-Lease: a lease of a property by a tenant to a subtenant.
  • Property Manager: a person or firm (company) charged with operating a real estate property for a fee, when the owner is unable to personally attend to such details or is not interested in doing so.
  • Landlord: a person who rents land, a building, or an apartment to a tenant. Tenant: a person who occupies land or property rented from a landlord.
  • Apartment: a large building containing residential suites; an apartment building.
  • Studio Apartment: a small apartment that combines, many times but not always, the living room, bedroom, and kitchen into a single room.
  • House: a building for human habitation, especially one that is lived in by a family or small group of people.
  • Townhouse: a tall, narrow, traditional row house, generally having three or more floors.
  • Security Deposit: an amount of money that a renter pays when beginning to rent property (such as an apartment) and that can be used to pay for any damage that the renter causes to the property
  • Rent (noun): a tenant's regular payment to a landlord for the use of property or land. Rent (verb): to pay someone for the use of property, land, or an item.
  • Utilities: an organization supplying the community with electricity, gas, water, or sewage. Furnished Apartment: an apartment available to be rented with furniture.
  • Roommate: a person occupying the same apartment or house as another. Ordinance: a piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority.
  • Public Transportation: buses, trains, subways, and other forms of transportation that charge set fares, run on fixed routes, and are available to the public.