Before a landlord approves you for an apartment, they’ll need to see a reasonable credit score, proof of income, and a clean background check. Depending on the property manager, you may also need to provide references from your employer or former landlords.
One of the first hallmarks of adulthood is getting your first apartment. It’s a classic part of going away to college and also tends to be a marker of success. This is especially true when you intend on living without roommates for the first time. Unfortunately, getting approved for an apartment is not a simple process. How do you get through it?
Before approving (or denying) your application, your potential landlord will do a bit of work vetting potential renters. This includes reviewing your credit report, rental history, employment status, and even your criminal history. Let’s talk about what they look for.
Getting approved for an apartment
Though the approval process may only take a day or two, you’ll need to have a few things in order before getting approved for an apartment.
Let’s take a look at the step-by-step application process.
1. Stick to your apartment budget
A landlord won’t rent out an apartment to someone who can’t afford it. This means that you shouldn’t have to spend more than 30% of your monthly income on rent.
To determine this budget, take your annual gross income and divide it by 12. Then take that number and multiply it by 0.30. The resulting number is what many landlords will consider as the maximum monthly rent you can afford.
For example, let’s say you make $50,000 a year at your current job. This means, that before taxes, you make about $4,166.67 per month. When you multiply that monthly income by 30%, you get $1,250. This means your future apartment should not cost more than $1,250 per month.
2. Clean rental history and decent credit score
Your potential landlord will perform background and credit checks before they approve you, so you need to prepare yourself for both. Here’s what you need to know:
- A “good” credit score is subjective. Each landlord will likely have a different score in mind as the average credit score differs between cities. However, most landlords tend to look for a score that is at least in the mid- to high-600 range.
- Your history counts. Though some landlords want to see a credit score above a certain number, others will review your credit report, credit history, and rental history. These reports may reveal specific issues that suggest an eviction, such as a repossession, reported late monthly rent payments, or a foreclosure. Evictions do not show up on credit reports, so landlords will often look for other signs of financial struggles.
- Criminal history could sink your chances. If you have felonies or a bad background check, you may have to explain it during the tenant screening process. In some cases, legal problems can bar you from communities, regardless of the reason. This is particularly common with sex offenders.
- Be prepared to ask for referrals from previous landlords. There are several programs that allow potential landlords to see what previous landlords had to say about you as a renter. This is why you should always try to be a reliable tenant with a penchant for cleaning.
- You’ll also need professional references. Some communities will want supporting documents to show that you are a safe and responsible person. References from managers or your employer can help with that.
3. Complete the apartment’s rental application process
Each rental property usually has its own rental application to fill out. Generally speaking, you should expect to do the following as part of the process:
- Pay an application fee. This is typically nonrefundable and in most cases shouldn’t be more than $100. Application fees cover the background check and credit report pull your landlord will require.
- Agree to a background check and credit pull. Most rentals will not allow you to do a long-term lease without a credit check. Applicants with higher credit scores tend to be more likely to get approved.
- Show additional requested documents. A management company that has high standards for renters may also ask you to furnish references, show recent pay stubs from your job, or (if you’re self-employed) even ask to see your tax returns. To ensure that you get approved, it’s best to do what they say.
- Fill out the application the landlord gives you, if necessary. Not all landlords will have a formal application. If they do, you need to give them the completed application form and the additional requested documents before you can rent.
4. Wait to hear from the landlord
Generally speaking, your potential landlord will need at least a day to review your application before they can make a decision. Once you have proven that you can afford the apartment and that you are a good tenant, the landlord will tell you that you’re approved.
This is the point where you show up with the security deposit and first month’s rent in addition to signing the lease agreement. Make sure that you review and sign the lease prior to giving the leasing office your deposit. To ensure you have enough funding for both the security deposit and first month’s rent, start saving as soon as you have your budget planned.
Reasons to be denied an apartment
Apartments are generally easy to apply to, simply because everyone needs a home. There’s plenty to go around. However, some issues can make it harder for you to get approved because it can lead to a major risk for your landlord. Here are some of the most common reasons why landlords deny apartment applications.
- Not having a job or source of income. It’s pretty hard to afford an apartment without a source of income. This can be helped by getting a guarantor or having a cosigner on your lease.
- Having a history of late payments. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a few months’ rent that you were late paying or one too many late credit card payments on your report. A typical landlord will get nervous seeing signs of financial instability in your recent credit history.
- A bad criminal record. In particular, sex offenders and drug dealers tend to have a hard time getting a new apartment. Even having pending charges is questionable for some landlords.
- Applying for an apartment in a high-demand area. Finding an apartment in a small city with few job opportunities won’t be as difficult as finding an affordable apartment in San Francisco. If you want an apartment in a sought-after place, it’s possible the landlord may raise the price, and also raise the criteria on who lives there.
- No rental history. A typical property management company will want to rent to someone who has a history of on-time rent payments. Obviously, you can’t provide this if you haven’t rented before. To get around this conundrum, you can offer a few documents instead, such as your recent pay stubs, bank statements, or income tax returns.
- A low credit score. Credit scores always matter, and that means that having bad credit can harm your chances of getting approved. What a landlord determines as a bad credit score depends largely on the city and demand for the apartment building. However, the average credit score required by landlords in 2020 was 638, so make sure you’re around this number.
U.S. cities with the highest credit score requirements
|City||Average Credit Score|
|San Diego, CA||680|
|Los Angeles, CA||682|
|San Jose, CA||699|
|New York, NY||715|
|San Francisco, CA||719|
U.S. cities with the lowest credit score requirements
|City||Average Credit Score|
|Las Vegas, NV||584|
* Source: RentCafe.com
How can you get approved for an apartment without a job?
If you do not have a job but need a new apartment, you may need to ask a family member to be a cosigner on the apartment. Students can also use their student loans to fund an apartment.
Not all apartments will allow you to rent without a job, so before you take on the rental application process, it’s best to ask if they have experience with student housing, or if they take cosigners. To find out more, read up on how to get approved for an apartment in college.
How long does apartment approval take?
Apartment approval can take anywhere from 24 hours to three days. This depends both on how thorough the process is as well as the leasing office’s schedule.
What documents do I need to rent an apartment?
This depends on the landlord. To rent an apartment, documents that you almost always need include a valid government ID and proof of employment. However, you also may be asked for references, a Social Security card, or tax returns.
Can you buy an apartment?
Yes, you can buy an apartment, including a duplex, a loft, or a single unit. However, there is a drawback here. You’ll need to find an apartment that is willing to let you buy, rather than rent.
This isn’t always feasible, so buying a co-op or a condo may be a smarter option. You basically get the same lifestyle but will have way more options.
- To rent an apartment, you typically need to have a good credit score and proof of income.
- The process for getting approved for an apartment can vary depending on the property manager.
- Most companies will want to see references, a driver’s license, and proof of income.
- A standard part of the process is also undergoing a check of your credit and criminal records.
- Having a cosigner or a guarantor can help improve your odds of approval, but only if your future landlord allows it.
View Article Sources
- Find Affordable Rental Housing — USA.gov
- Renting — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- How To Afford An Apartment In College — SuperMoney
- Rental Credit Checks: Everything You Need To Know — SuperMoney
- Can You Buy an Apartment? — SuperMoney
- How to Get Out of Your Apartment Lease in 5 Steps — SuperMoney
- What Is a Duplex Apartment? — SuperMoney
- What Is a Loft Apartment? — SuperMoney