Before you hit the apartment hunting trail, make sure you have all your paperwork ready to complete a typical rental apartment application.
Your future landlord will judge you mainly on two things: your financial history and your personal background. First and foremost, he wants to be comfortable that you can pay your rent on time, every month. Second, he wants to know that you will be a responsible tenant and not wreck his beautiful apartment or building. How does he do that if he doesn’t know anything about you? By asking you for all kinds of documentation, of course.
1. Credit Check
The landlord will ask you to fill out a form that allows him to run a credit check and get your FICO* score. This tells him how you have handled your past credit card, auto loan, student loan, and other payment obligations. (Typically, you have to pay for this report $50-75.) It is essential that you run your own credit report before you let anyone else to see it, so that you can correct any mistakes or be able to explain any problems. You can do that FREE once a year on annualcreditreport.com. If you also want your FICO score — which is a good idea — you may have to pay extra for it, up to $19.95. However, you may already have your FICO score reported free on your monthly credit card bill or you may get it free through your bank.
The landlord will use your FICO score (range 300-850) as a shortcut to judge your financial fitness.
- Score over 700 – you will most likely meet the landlord’s guidelines
- Score 650-700 – you will be OK in most markets, except the most competitive ones
- Score below 650 – you may have difficulty qualifying for an apartment and need to find someone to guarantee your rent or pay an extra high security deposit
Read our tips on what to do if your income or credit score is too low to meet landlord’s guidelines.
2. Pay check stubs
You typically need to show your three most recent pay stubs to prove that your income is what you claim.
3. Letter of Employment
Instead of pay stubs, or in addition to, the landlord may require a formal Letter of Employment from your department head or your company’s HR Department, stating your salary, position and length of employment.
4. Tax returns
You may also have to show your two most recent tax returns, especially if you have different sources of income, your income fluctuates or you have changed jobs.
5. Bank statements
The landlord may require you to prove that you have sufficient funds in the bank to pay the first month’s rent and security deposit and perhaps also the last month’s rent, before he will take the apartment off market.
6. Proof of Identity
A copy of an official photo ID.
7. Previous landlord’s contact information
If you are a new grad, you can list your parent’s address, with explanation.
8. Personal references
Typically two references who can vouch for your good character. Make sure to ask your references first for a permission to use their names.
9. The landlord may also run a criminal background check.
Keep copies of all your documents in a neat folder, together with a few checks that you can use to pay for the credit check and other application fees. During the most competitive summer rental season you have to be prepared to move fast when you find your dream apartment.
After you have your paperwork under control, check out Alex’s tips on how to sound like a rental pro even if this is the your first time in the game.
*What is a FICO Score? Check here for an explanation. For a real deep dive into FICO’s secrets there is also a downloadable PDF pamphlet, “Understanding Your FICO Score.”
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