Jimmy McMillan, leader of the "The Rent is Too Damn High Party," struck something of a nerve with his 2012 candidacy for President. While McMillan was never a real contender for the office, that platform continues to reflect the feelings of millions of Americans in search of cheaper housing. Fortunately, you don't have to wait for politicians to act to find a better deal on a rental.
Research the Area
Start figuring out what "cheap" actually means in the city you plan to live in. In New York, $2,000 might be a great deal for a one-bedroom apartment. In other states, you could rent a whole house for $500. Dozens of websites track rental prices across the country and can be a resource in your housing search. Checking Rent Jungle, Rentometer, or Numbeo can give you a sense of what a "cheap" home rents for in your city.
Target Specific Neighborhoods
Rents can vary drastically from the neighborhood to neighborhood in the same city, so don't take a city-wide average as an absolute baseline. In New York City, for example, average rent in Tribeca tops $4,000, while rents in Astoria will run you around $1,700 as of this publication. If you're willing to live in a less desirable neighborhood, you'll find cheaper deals.
If you don't have kids, another great way to save is to live in an area with poor schools. According to the Brookings Institute, great schools can raise a home's value, and thus the rental price, by more than 100 percent. If good schools don't matter to you, you can save a bundle. By the same token, you can save on rent by living in an area with higher crime rates.
Checking the Listings
Once you've got a neighborhood in mind, start hunting for bargains. There are dozens of rental websites that can help, but Craigslist has the biggest market share and usually the most listings, according to SFGate. If you're not having much luck online, contact property management agencies in your area. Many landlords hire property management companies to find tenants and keep up with maintenance, so these agencies sometimes have lots of available rentals to show you.
Other Ways to Find Rentals
Some of the best housing deals are the hardest to find. The single most common way landlords advertise is a simple "for rent" sign in front of a property, according to Nolo. Small-time landlords who only own one or two rental homes may not advertise online or in newspapers, so driving or walking through the neighborhood is the best way to find their rentals. Alternatively, try driving or walking around a neighborhood you might like to live in. You should generate a few leads by spotting "for rent" signs. Another useful technique for finding these properties is word-of-mouth. Ask your friends and coworkers if they know anyone renting a home.
Negotiating the Lease
Once you have the perfect home in mind, you can save extra money by negotiating favorable lease terms. Some landlords may insist on sticking to the asking price, but others can be flexible for the right tenant. To negotiate effectively, show the landlord you'd make an ideal renter and be prepared to walk away if you can't get a better deal.