Before signing the lease, the potential landlord will want to ensure that you can afford the apartment and don’t have a history of late rental payments or damaging property. Here is a look at everything you will need to be approved for an apartment.
- Proof of Identification
- Proof of Income
- Recommendation Letters
- Rental History
- Credit Report
The first thing that you’ll be asked to submit with your rental application is proof of identification. This will typically be required when you first apply for the unit. The landlord will want to be sure that you are who you say you are, and you’re legally allowed to reside in the United States.
A driver’s license will typically suffice. If you do not have a driver’s license, you should ask the landlord or the agent representing the landlord what other forms of identification are acceptable. Common replacements for a driver’s license include:
- A passport.
- US military photo ID.
- Permanent resident card.
- Local government photo ID.
- Any other legal document with your legal name and photo.
The next step in getting approval for an apartment is proving your income. The prospective landlord will want to know you can afford the apartment, and proof of income is a crucial part of the application.
Each landlord has different requirements regarding how much income is needed to qualify for an apartment, depending on the location. Typically, landlords will use a 3x rent rule, meaning your monthly income needs to be at least 3x the monthly rent, but requirements may be even stricter in some big cities.
To verify your income, you may be asked to submit various financial documents, including W2’s, recent pay stubs, bank statements, a letter of employment, and any documents showing income from other sources such as real estate or stocks. If you are self-employed, you may need to provide a letter from a CPA to verify that your business is profitable and you can afford the rent. If you cannot prove the necessary income, the landlord may require you to get a guarantor or have a family member co-sign the lease.
Many applications may also require a recommendation letter from previous landlords or personal and professional references who can vouch for your character. Your financial outlook can say a lot about you, but it doesn’t always show the full picture of who you truly are.
Some tenants may have all the right qualifications on paper but lack basic responsibility and respect for another person’s property. Likewise, a tenant may have gone through a rough patch financially, which may be affecting their current credit or income. But otherwise, they are an amazing tenant. So, a recommendation letter can help reveal what may be missing from your financial profile.
Ultimately, if you can’t afford the apartment, a strong recommendation letter isn’t going to help much. Likewise, if you otherwise qualify for the apartment, a recommendation letter isn’t going to change much (unless it’s negative). But if a tenant can’t get a recommendation from anyone, this may be a red flag. Or, if the applicant is right on the edge, a strong letter vouching for their character may be enough to persuade the landlord to accept them.
In addition to income verification and reference letters, the landlord may also request a rental history. This includes the previous properties that the tenant has rented. A rental history check may also include a background check, tenant’s criminal history, and credit report.
The landlord may run a rental history report and cross-check it with any information you provided on your application. For instance, if a previous property comes up on your rental history report that wasn’t listed on your application, they may be able to reach out to your previous landlord to find out if there were any issues.
So, it’s important to be as truthful as possible when filling out the application, even if you didn’t have the best relationship with a prior landlord. Because it’s going to look worse if the landlord runs a rental history report and finds out that you purposefully omitted a previous address.
The landlord will also want to run your credit report to see how much debt you have and how responsible you are with paying back that debt.
Your credit report contains four categories of information; your personal information, credit accounts, credit inquiries, and public records and collections. Based on this information, the big credit agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) will assign you a FICO score based on their own formula, represented by a number from 300 to 800.
Every landlord will have their own credit requirements. But generally, they like to see that your score is around 680 or above. The most important categories are your credit accounts and any public records or collections.
Landlords need to see how much debt you currently have and whether or not you’ve ever missed an important payment or been the subject of a financial judgment such as a bankruptcy or foreclosure. So, it may be wise to pay off as much debt as possible before applying for an apartment to improve your chances of being accepted.
The last thing you will need to secure your new apartment is your checkbook.
Most landlords will require you to pay the first month’s rent and security deposit when you sign the lease. Some also require last month’s rent upfront as well. The security deposit is typically equal to one month’s rent. However, it may be higher if the landlord deems you to be a potential risk (the limits on a security deposit vary from state to state). It’s important to keep track of all the associated costs so you don’t get overwhelmed by the final price tag.
Also, keep in mind that you may have to pay a broker fee if you are renting the unit through an agent. The broker fee can be anywhere from one month to 15% of the annual rent. So be sure the verify with any agents involved in the transaction whether or not there is a broker’s fee. Also, be prepared to pay credit check and application fees which can vary from about $20-$100 each.
So, when all’s said and done, you should be prepared to pay several thousand dollars to secure your new apartment (depending on the monthly rent). But at least the bulk of it will go toward rent and a security deposit (which will be refunded as long as you satisfy the terms of the lease). So look at it as an investment rather than a sunk cost.