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How Do I Find an Apartment While Social Distancing?

Here’s what you need to know about apartment hunting during a global pandemic.

First things first: now is not the best time to look for a new rental. As the coronavirus continues to spread and most states remain under shelter-in-place orders, the best thing to do is to stay put until things settle down. If your lease is about to expire, try negotiating with your landlord for a month-to-month agreement for more flexibility.

But if you’re in a situation where apartment hunting is inevitable, you should go into the process informed. Here’s everything to know about how to keep yourself safe and healthy during apartment viewings.

Are in-person apartment viewings allowed under shelter-in-place orders?

It depends. Shelter-in-place orders aren’t uniform across cities and states, so you’ll need to check the rules where you live. Many major cities are heavily restricting in-person viewings:

  • New York City: In-person viewings are not allowed. Although the real estate industry has been classified as “essential,” all viewings must happen virtually under the state’s PAUSE order.
  • San Francisco: All viewings must be virtual unless “a virtual viewing is not feasible”—in which case, the showing must be limited to one broker and two visitors from the same household. In-person visits are never allowed if the occupant is still residing in the unit.
  • Chicago: Virtual showings are preferred, but in-person showings are allowed as long as the unit is vacant or owner-occupied and it’s limited to no more than four people. Showings of occupied units are not allowed.

Even if viewings are allowed in your city, it’s safer not to be in contact with anyone during this time—which is why we suggest you check the Caretaker search page to see if there are any rentals with self-guided viewings in your area. If you find a place that you are interested in and the landlord isn’t set up to allow you to view the unit privately, then you can refer them to us. We’ll get them set up for free.

What about options for totally remote viewings?

You can also ask an agent or landlord to give you a live walkthrough using FaceTime or a similar app. This way you can ask them questions about the unit in real time as they show you around using their phone. A lot of agents are also creating virtual tours of their listings—the downside, of course, being that you can’t stop them to ask a question or ask them to zoom in on something that looks suspicious.

If I do sign a lease without seeing the unit, what should I watch out for?

In normal times, we would never advise signing a lease without seeing the property in-person. Signing a lease is serious business, and once they’re signed, they’re not easy to get out of—even if the rental unit isn’t exactly as you expected. Of course, these are not normal times. If you absolutely have to move without seeing the unit in-person, start by doing your research. You may be able to find reviews of the building or property manager available on places like Yelp or Google Reviews. You could even ask the landlord to put you in touch with another tenant in the building to ask questions about what it’s like to live there.

If everything seems like it’s in order, we’d recommend negotiating with your landlord to sign a short-term fixed lease of two or three months to start. Typically, a landlord wouldn’t be interested in this sort of proposition, but there are a lot fewer people moving during the pandemic than before. If your landlord is reasonable, they’ll understand why you’re asking them to make this concession. Reassure them that your goal is to protect yourself in case the apartment isn’t as advertised, and that you don’t plan to move out immediately.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.