The first few times you deal with leasing agents, landlords, and rental offices, it’s easy to be intimidated. It’s also easy to get pushed around, particularly if you are young and appear even younger, or sound inexperienced or nervous over the phone. A reader recently emailed us to say that she and her fiancé (who are 20 and 21 years old, respectively) were recently denied the opportunity to even look at a place because the receptionist at the rental office thought she was too young. And this was despite the reader’s having the money for the deposit and first month’s rent at-hand.
Unfortunately, what happened to our reader is not technically illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act, which has no direct stipulation against age discrimination. However, the Fair Housing Act does stipulate that an individual cannot be discriminated against based on his or her race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or familial status. Though, of course, just because something is illegal, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. So, if you feel someone is discriminating against you unfairly for any of the above reasons, you should consider filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It won’t get you the apartment, but it may help stop future unfair renting practices.
However, today we will focus on ways you can demonstrate that you are a serious renter, despite being (or looking) young.
1.) Confidence counts. If you sound anxious or inexperienced, you won’t be taken as seriously. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got money and a steady job – if you’re twenty-two, but look eighteen and you have trouble stringing together three sentences without interrupting yourself, you’ll be at a disadvantage. While it may sound silly, a good way to overcome this is practice – with your parents or friends. An hour of asking rental questions and pretending to inquire about properties can give you the confidence and calmness you need to speak articulately with real rental agents. It may sound like a simplistic plan, but this type of practice usually works.
2.) Be prepared. Have all the documents handy you’ll need to score a rental. This includes a checkbook (with the necessary money in your bank account), your most recent tax returns, paystubs, and bank statements. Also, if you don’t have stellar credit, be ready to answer questions about your credit history.
3.) Be well-informed. Learn about the neighborhood in which you’re looking, so that when you inquire about the area, you sound like have some familiarity with it. Also, understand all the apartment-rental jargon, so that you’re not caught flat-footed by an explanation. If you’ve prepared in this way, you’ll have rock-solid responses if someone begins to question your seriousness or credibility.
4.) Stand up for yourself. If it seems that someone is picking at your age, or doesn’t appear to take you seriously, don’t take it in stride. Politely ask why the person feels that way. Re-iterate your sincere interest and your ability to afford the rental. If the person still doesn’t take you seriously, it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit pushy. Insist upon seeing the place. Say that there’s no reason you should be denied the opportunity for a viewing – if this doesn’t work, ask to speak to a supervisor.
5.) Don’t get defensive. This is harder than it sounds – I know because I’m a babyface myself. At times, people will use your age against you. If you start to become defensive, many people will see this as a sign that you really are too young. So, instead of deflecting questions, answer them politely, and then try to turn the tables. Ask the questioner what age he or she feels would be appropriate for a renter to begin renting. If the person says something ridiculous like, “Oh, twenty-four, or so,” ask him or her (politely and calmly), what individuals who are between the ages of 18 and 24 should do … with any luck, this type of question will begin to get the person to approach the situation from a more sympathetic place.
6.) Be wary of people who want too much information from you too soon. If someone wants to know your credit history and age before meeting you in person, it’s okay to ask why the person needs all that information so soon. Or, you can suggest that you’d be happy to discuss all your qualifications in person. Though, honestly, there’s no reason you need to justify inquiring about a place.
That said, if someone is already searching for reasons to reject you over the phone, the person is going to be difficult, and likely won’t give you a fair shake. Consider how much of a fight you want to put up. If the place is just too good to pass up, follow the steps above: confidence, preparedness, and calmly and politely standing up for yourself. If you do these things, you might not win every battle, but at least you’ll know you’ve done the best you could and gained some good practice for your next call. And, really, in this situation, that’s all you can do.