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Renting An Apartment In The USA Is Difficult

I can’t even rent an apartment in this country.

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ROCHESTER, New York- The USA is a needlessly complicated, needlessly expensive country.

I have this dream of setting up a long-term base of operations in Rochester, Buffalo, or Brooklyn, where I would travel out to do my projects and return to process the content that I collect. But I know this is just a fantasy.

This country would be excellent — it has an array of everything — but it has been rendered “unlivable” with all of its rules and regulations, legal protections, background checks, insurances, and fees, fees, fees. You can’t live free here — you can’t even go to a f’cking doctor here without indenturing yourself to an employer — and for those who have seen the view from the outside it’s difficult to live here at all.

I like the country that I grew up in. It’s still the big show in the world. There are just so many stories here. I travel around the USA salivating about what I could do if I could only work out a way to stay. But I have to rein myself in. I know that I can’t work like I do and stay here too.

We tried to rent an apartment in Rochester for a month as my wife does some work at a school. No big deal, right? We rent apartments by the month regularly in countries spanning the world from China to Latin America We have the ability to pay a little more for the flexibility of not entering into a year long lease, we have the cash to pay up front.

We looked on AirBnb — they’re hosers but the efficiency of their service makes them (barely) worth it. The options were surprisingly few and many hosts were trying to charge thousands of dollars to stay in a room in their house. That’s not going to happen.

Hannah found a sublet on Craigslist. $850 for the month. Not bad. We checked it out. It wasn’t the worst place we’ve ever stayed in … but that doesn’t say much. We agreed to rent it. They guy handed over the key and we went to meet with the manager the following day.

The guy was sketchy. The bullshitting got going right away and just kept rolling.

The $850 simple sublet turned into $865 for the month + $865 security deposit + $50 application fee …

We would need top get criminal background checks.

We would need to get credit checks.

“Why do we need a credit check? We’re paying the full amount of the rental agreement up front plus a 100% security deposit. We’re not receiving anything on credit.”

“It’s company policy …”

“Why do we need to pay a security deposit when you already have the security deposit from the original renter? Why do you need two security deposits?”

“It’s company policy …”

Sure, policy for a company that has a reputation of not paying back said security deposits.

Even if we were to be given ours back the manager informed us that this isn’t done until seven days after our rental term ends. We’re leaving for Prague the day after we check out of this place. I could hear him now:

“Sorry, but it’s company policy to wait a week and we can’t give it to someone else on your behalf or send it electronically for security purposes …”

For $1780 we may as well just go rent a nice Airbnb in a better location and save this guy the work of stuffing his pockets with our cash.

Anyway, I wouldn’t have passed the credit check. I can’t even rent a car in the USA.

We’re looking at a Gattaca-esque underground society of felons, molesters, and people who didn’t pay back their student loans. Technology has given us the ability to investigate and ostracize. We have a social scoring system that’s not unlike that of China. People are pushed along the path of state obedience for fear of not being able to get a job, rent an apartment, see a doctor, rent a car, or, in the future, even stay in a hotel room.

Where is this new underclass to go?

I know where I go: I leave. I go to other countries where life is cheaper, easier, and less constrained by government and social control.

I love the USA. I love being here, I love traveling here. But it is by far one of the least free countries on earth.

My fear is that the entire world will someday be like this. I’m starting to feel like I’m running from something.


Filed under: Apartments, New York

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

15 comments… add one

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  • Julie Hamilton September 22, 2018, 12:27 pm

    Amen, Brother. Its too much to think about all that we have lost. I’m curious to see just how far it will have to go before people finally say Enough!

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    • Wade Shepard September 23, 2018, 12:38 am

      Very true. But it seems as if we’ve been conditioned to believe this is normal. It’s pretty insane how quickly this is happening.

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  • Rory Doolan September 22, 2018, 4:39 pm

    Dud you literally picked one of the most expensive places to live possible in NY. I have 3 times the house I could in Montana, there’s no sales tax few laws… Everyone let’s you do your own thing. Surely there are places in the US where you could find the right mix.

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    • Wade Shepard September 23, 2018, 12:39 am

      WNY? Shit, the last apartment I had here cost $325 per month utilities included. Times have changed.

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  • Rory Doolan September 22, 2018, 4:41 pm

    I was appalled by the fees for everything and anything when I visited back east last time. I mean damn it costs 75 in tolls just to drive from one state to the next

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    • Wade Shepard September 23, 2018, 12:42 am

      Dude, I paid $15 just to cross a bridge in NYC right after paying $8 to cross a bridge in NJ. It cost more for tolls to go from Bangor to Baltimore than it did gas and food. Is there a limit as to what they can charge for tolls? Are we going back to some Midevil age where we have cities and towns exhorting travels for the right to pass through?

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  • Ed Helvey September 23, 2018, 12:28 am

    Hi Wade,
    I just posted a new article on my Facebook group, the “Living Free Project” and on my blog 2livefreely.com based on this article you posted. I included a link in both places to your blog and challenged people to read your entire article. While I haven’t spent the time outside the U.S. that you have, I travel the U.S. as a nomadic trekker. I also know a lot of full-time RVers and vandwellers who have the ability to pay for the “American Dream” lifestyle, but CHOOSE to live simply, minimally and frugally to avoid the same things you mentioned in your article. There does seem to be a movement in this direction, though it’s still very small compared to those who don’t realize how expensive and complicated and unfree life is and has been becoming in the U.S.

    Thanks for this article. It’s a good one and very relevant to our times.

    Live free and be happy,

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    • Wade Shepard September 23, 2018, 12:43 am

      Excellent. I will check it out. Thanks!

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  • James September 23, 2018, 12:40 am

    Hi Wade
    I enjoy your blog, I follow you and Andy. I wanted to write a quick note just to say, don’t
    judge your country by New York, the place is a nightmare, there are plenty of waaay better places in the USA. People are fleeing New York in droves. Its an overpriced, over regulated nightmare. Try the south or even better the northwest, avoiding Oregon and Seattle Washington of course. I’m in California which is losing its mind slowly but surely, but I’m in a pocket area where life is good. I wouldn’t go near New York with a ten foot pole. And yes I’ve been there several times when I was traveling stateside and later overseas in Europe and Egypt. Hang in there all is not lost here in the USA, at least not yet.

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  • Trevor September 23, 2018, 10:36 am

    one cant ‘live’ here either unless u r a couple or have a top end job. appartment rental is way out of sync with reg living costs. must i work 60 hrs a week to be able to rent a single room? thats not ‘living’.. so i work 60 and live with my dad topping up my bank account. haha yet still i work, sleep, eat when i can.. and watch telly.

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    • Wade Shepard September 24, 2018, 11:37 pm

      Yes, the second wage earner is key. I suggest finding one 😉

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  • Robert September 23, 2018, 6:52 pm

    I agree with Wade 100%. I traveled the world for 8 years from October 2003 to October 2011. I visited 70 countries on all the continents. I was born in USA and lived there till I was 47. I live in Ecuador now and would not return to live in USA for any reason. It may have been a free country at some point in history but that time is past and it is not going to be any more free in the forseeable future.

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    • Wade Shepard September 24, 2018, 11:40 pm

      I love the people and culture here but I just don’t understand why everything is so complicated. There’s so many rules, man, so many rules. My fear is that this is where the entire world is heading. Hopefully more countries will evolve to become more like Europe — all the big heavy government and technology but still free — but I doubt it.

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  • Mary Soderstrom September 29, 2018, 4:08 pm

    It may be an accident that we came to Canada so long ago (job offer, if you want to know) but it certainly isn’t an accident that we’re still here. Much more livable.

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    • Wade Shepard September 29, 2018, 5:05 pm

      Yes, especially in Montreal! The gov there just doesn’t get in people’s way as much as it does in the USA. People here seem to want their government to protect and save them from themselves, and they’ve sacrificed their freedom and self determination to get it … and that didn’t even work.

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