You've searched and searched and then... yep, probably searched some more to find the perfect rental home or apartment. Now what?... well as a surprise to no one, the first step is usually to contact the landlord, view the home and then submit your application. But wait... after all that searching how can you be certain your application will get approved? and why is that even fair... to have to be 'approved' to 'pay' for an apartment. Well as you can imagine there is a lot more that goes into a housing application approval other than just being able to afford the rent... although that is an important one too.
Renting is unique in that you are not just purchasing a product, also known as time but whether you realize it or not, you are also establishing a working relationship with your landlord and are taking control of one of the most expensive assets most people will ever own - their rental. Because of this, concerns other than merely being able to afford the initial move-in costs come into question and rightfully so, concerns such as... character, financial stability, ability to pay, willingness to pay, ease of communication, residential history and the list goes on are all factored into whether your rental application is approved or declined. Lucky for you, we are going to spell out exactly how to best improve your chances of getting your rental application approved... lets go!
Get Organized Before You Go Apartment Shopping
When a Landlord is reviewing rental applicants, if an application is organized and thorough, the cards will already be in your favor. Most landlords will require you to fill out an application, provide a copy of your photo ID, submit documented proof of income, and they will charge you an application processing fee to verify your application. If you are moving for a new job, make sure to have the signed offer letter from your new employer. If you are self-employed, get a copy of your tax return and a copy of a few bank statements to show current consistent income. The more organized you are the less work the landlord will need to do. This will automatically enhance your application and put you ahead of the pack.
Get a Co-Signer if You Have Poor Credit or Rental History
Applicants with poor credit or poor rental history may need to ask a friend or family member with good credit and ample income to act as their co-signer. That person is guaranteeing that they will pay your rent if you don't. Landlords sometimes think... 'why should we trust this person with a bad track record to pay rent on-time each month, if their friends and family themselves won't vouch for them?' The co-signer will also need to submit the same application documents as the applicant. If you get these documents ready ahead of time it could save you a few days of scrambling. If you cannot secure a co-signer try offering more in security deposit if possible or more in rent.
"...the vetting and approval process usually starts from the moment an applicant picks up the phone or sends an email to inquire about a property and schedule a showing."
Stay Within Your Budget
One of the hardest things to decide is how much you can afford to pay for your new apartment or home. Expressing interest in a property that is above your pay grade can discourage a landlord from renting to you. The general rule is to take your annual salary and divide that by 40. Another method landlords often use is to multiply the monthly rent by 2 or 3. If you’re gross monthly income isn’t at or above this number you probably can’t afford the rent. Remember to include all sources of income including your spouse, roommate(s) and/or investments when doing the math. Impress prospective landlords by knowing exactly what the maximum rent you can afford is and then looking only at rentals slightly under that amount. For a single person who’s net annually salary is $35,000 the maximum rent they can afford is right around $875-$970. Avoid approaching a landlord or leasing agent to look at properties that are out of your price range. Most professionals will do this same calculation and will be disappointed if you have been looking at homes that you simply cannot afford.
Screening Begins The Moment You Inquire
Leasing a home or apartment is a unique process unlike any other... on one hand you are purchasing time to use a product but, on the other the Landlord has valid worries beyond whether or not you can merely afford the rent. How will you take care of one of their biggest assets?... Will you treat it like a home? or Will you destroy it beyond repair?... Will you be a good neighbor? or Will you run up a bill of neighbor complaints and then leave to let the Landlord figure it out?... Will you call for every little item during tenancy? or Will you only call for legitimate repairs? ... Are you easy to get along with? or Is communication with you difficult or unpleasant?... These are just some of the worries that Landlords have and why the vetting and approval process usually starts from the moment an applicant picks up the phone or sends an email to inquire about a property and schedule a showing.
Be Honest and Professional
Nothing gets your application denied faster than omitting the truth or dare we say... lying on your rental application and during your interactions with the landlord. Chances are that any items you may be trying to hide or keep the landlord from knowing in connection to your housing application will surface either during the application verification process or throughout your tenancy... both of which will lead to no place good and may even have some real legal repercussions. By setting the tone and being upfront and honest from the beginning your chances of approval increase drastically even if it's something you may have been denied for originally.
Do not try to hide a pet from a landlord. Even if a dog-owning tenant gets past the application process on a no-pets property, they put themselves at risk for getting caught later in the lease. If a landlord discovers an undocumented animal in the building, they can withhold the security deposit, charge for cleaning fees, apply pet fees and evict policy violators. Avoid these financial burdens and complications by taking responsibility for animals and paying all necessary dues to have them co-habitate. As long as the building or home allows animals, informing management of a dog or cat shouldn’t negatively impact the application process.
A tenant can impress a landlord by treating the application process with respect. Treat property managers politely during all scheduled showings and meetings. Applicants should also dress appropriately to set a notable first impression. Applicants who appear qualified are more likely to prove themselves as responsible future tenants.
Factor in Fees
Most apartment communities and landlords charge fees even before being approved. Make sure that you have enough money saved up to cover these expenses. Telling a landlord you’re interested in a property but don’t have the cash to secure the place can send a very bad signal. Advance fees can include application fees, deposits, credit check fees, pet deposits, HOA/COA dues, cleaning fees, parking permits, broker fees, utility fees and even the last month’s rent in some cases. The application fee, cleaning fee and security deposit are the most common pre-approval charges and are charged by almost every landlord unless you’re moving in with friends or family. Some fees are not refundable including application fees and others. It’s important you know which fees are required in the pre-approval phases and which of these fees are refundable if you decide to lease elsewhere. Make sure you know what’s required to secure the place you’re interested in and have that cash ready before submitting your application rather than waiting to find out in your lease.
Related: Top 5 Most Overlooked Lease Clauses
Know your Market Before Trying to Negotiate
You are after all a consumer and as such you should be seeking the best product for the best price however... there's always a 'however'... real estate is unlike any other product. Unless it's an apartment community you will likely not find any two rentals which are exactly alike in quality, size, location, amenities, price and lease terms. That means that the availability or lack thereof of similar properties will impact the monthly rent and the lease terms of each particular rental. Negotiating the rent can lead to savings but more often than not will just lead to a declined application in most markets. For example, it would be ill-conceived to believe that a property which is listed for $1,500/mo. would take an offer of $1,200/mo. The most logical path and one which most real estate professionals would advise the landlord to do, is to drop the rent slightly to welcome new applicants.
Availability is yet another reason why negotiating the rent will many times lead to nowhere. For example, a property without current competitors which offers a garage for snowy winters would likely not bring the rent price inline with lower quality rentals without such an amenity. If you are set on negotiating, tread lightly and be sure to provide market examples of current listed rentals to justify the negotiation however, be prepared for your negotiation to only be taken seriously only after submitting an application to determine if you qualify for the rental in the first place... it may work in your favor but more often than not the landlord will just reason 'I hear you, why not just go with one of those other guys?'
Have a Good Attitude
This might be the most important tip! Searching and applying for apartments can be a stressful time for a prospective renter. Running around looking at multiple places and providing personal financial documents can create anxiety which sometimes manifests in a bad attitude. Make sure to be polite and friendly to the leasing agent, landlord, or owner. Your pleasant attitude will have a direct impact on the success of your application. This one seems like a no-brainer, but from our experience, sometimes ya really do need this reminder.
Remember, applying for a new rental house, townhouse, condo or apartment is a lot like applying for a new job. Just like the ratio of qualified applicants to openings, in many markets there are now more interested and qualified renters than there are great rental properties to lease. If you’re really not that interested in the job then show up late without a resume dressed like a slob and make unreasonable demands. On the other hand, if you’re genuinely interested it’s important to set yourself apart from others being interviewed. Give yourself the best opportunity to wow potential landlords and land the new place of your dreams. By following the simple tips above you’re sure to impress even the most stringent landlords and increase your chances of getting approved for that dream home.
About Ricardo Reis
Ricardo is a member of G3 Management & Investments and a real estate professional. He has been a successful property manager and real estate investor for over 10 years.