Terms and Concepts to Know When Renting an Apartment in the United States

If you’re moving to U.S., you’ll need somewhere to live. Typically, this means you’ll rent an apartment or house (or just a room in an apartment or house.) In this post, we’ll go through the most commonly-used terms and phrases used when renting an apartment.

The types of apartments available will vary dramatically depending on your location. However, the terms used will generally be the same.

Shared Room

A shared room is one in which you sleep in the same room as another person.

Private room

A private room is a room completely to yourself. You’ll typically need to share the bathroom, kitchen, and other living areas.


A studio apartment is composed of a single room. Usually, this means that there are not separate rooms for the living room, kitchen, and bedroom. Everything is in one open room.

1-Bedroom, 2-Bedroom, etc.

A one bedroom apartment means that there are at least two rooms: one bedroom and one living/kitchen area.


A sublet is a short-term rental. Usually, a sublet is between one month and three months.

Furnished and Unfurnished

If an apartment is furnished, it usually comes with a bed, chairs, couches, a desk, and so on. If an apartment is unfurnished, it doesn’t include any furniture.

Landlords and Tenants

The word landlord refers to the owner or manager of the apartment while the word tenant refers to you, the person renting the apartment.

Appliances Included

In some countries (like Germany) the appliances, such as a refrigerator or oven, are moved with the tenant. That is, the applicances are not left in the apartment when the tenant moves out. A new tenant has to bring his/her own refrigerator and other appliances.

In the U.S., however, most heavier and larger appliances are kept in the apartment, even after the tenants change. Usually this includes the refrigerator, oven, and washing machine.

Utilities Included?

Some apartments in the U.S. come with all utilities included in the price. The word utilities usually means the combined bills of heat, electric power, water, and trash removal, although it completely depends on the location. You should ask Are the utilities are included?

It is not typical for an Internet connection or a cable TV subscription to be included in an apartment’s lease. You will need to contact an Internet provider on your own.

To Rent vs. To Lease

If you walk around an American city, you may see a few different kinds of signs on houses and other buildings. Some these signs will probably say “to rent” or “to lease”.

What do they mean? What’s the difference? It’s simple. “To Lease” almost always refers to commercial or industrial property, not to private living spaces.

“To rent” usually means the space is for personal living, but at times, it is also used to refer to commercial space. It depends on the context. If a “for rent” sign is on a house, you can probably assume that it’s to live there, while if a “for rent” sign is on a store-front, you can probably assume it’s to rent the store space for a business.

A startup leases an office, while an individual person rents an apartment.

But What’s a Lease?

The physical document (the piece of paper) that you sign for an apartment, house or other rental space is called a “lease.” Even if you’re “renting” an apartment, you still “sign a lease.”

Security Deposit and First-and-Last Month’s Rent

In most American cities, you’ll need to provide a few things when you sign a lease for an apartment or house.

The specific documents depend on the city. Generally speaking, you will need to provide a security deposit and first month’s rent.

Security Deposit

A security deposit is a sum of money (a “deposit”) that is intended to off-set the cost of any damages that you (the renter) make to the apartment. At the end of your lease, if there are damages to the apartment, the landlord will deduct the cost to repair them from the security deposit.

If there are no damages, the landlord returns it to you without any deductions. The reality, unfortunately, is that not returning the full deposit is a common scam pulled by landlords. Usually, a security deposit is equal to one month’s rent.

First Month’s Rent

The first month’s rent (often called “first month’s”) is just that – the rent for the first month.

Some more expensive and in-demand cities, like New York City or San Francisco, have other requirements, like a proof of income, both first month’s rent and last month’s rent, and so on.

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