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How your rental application gets screened
And what to do to improve your chances of getting that apartment
Let’s be honest here. Nobody likes filling out rental applications. You just want the keys to your new place already! All that paperwork is tedious, time-consuming, and the fees associated with it can add up quickly. But what’s even worse than filling out pages and pages of personal information? Filling it out and then getting denied. Especially when you don’t understand why.
Yes, some rentals are going to be more competitive to get into than others, but what makes one candidate more appealing than another? While it may seem like a mystery, there are some pretty standard pieces of information your landlord looks at.
This article will break down how your rental application gets screened, what landlords are and aren’t looking for in a tenant, what landlords can and can’t screen for, and ways to improve your chances of getting selected for the apartment you most desire.
Here’s what matters to your landlord…
The rule of thumb is that you should not spend more than 30% of your monthly gross income on housing. (Although we know this isn’t always realistic!) This guideline is meant to safeguard you so you have enough money left over for other expenses, savings, etc. If the apartment property is federally financed, then it’s a hard and fast rule your landlord must adhere to.
Is the apartment you are looking at is more than thirty percent? Consider a roommate to share the financial burden with or find a trusted friend or family member who can co-sign the lease with you. Just understand that in the case that you can’t pay the rent, they would be legally responsible for covering what you can’t.
2. Your credit
Your landlord’s main concern is that you can pay your rent when it’s due. When they run a credit check they are looking for a history of paying bills on time as well as your income to debt ratio. If you’re paying off student loans or have car payments every month, that means you have less wiggle room when it comes to money allocation. Even if you’re a master budgeter and thrifter, you don’t want to have to choose between rent and putting food in your stomach, in the case that an unexpected bill would come up. If you have a ding on your credit report, be prepared to explain the situation to your property manager and how it won’t happen again.
3. Your criminal background
As part of the application process, you may be asked to give permission for a background check. This background check can include looking into court and criminal records as well as running your name through the national sex offender registry.
It is a landlord’s responsibility to maintain a safe environment for other residents as well as protect the property itself. Criminal convictions for arson, vandalism, assault, drug trafficking and sexual crimes are more likely to give you issues than, say, a speeding ticket. If you know you have a criminal history, a cover letter explaining how you’ve changed since that offense may help tip the scales in your favor.
4. Your past rental history
Expect the landlord to follow up with previous landlords you’ve rented from. If you paid on time and were a respectful tenant you should have no problems here. But if you left an apartment trashed from a college rager gone wrong, well maybe now’s the time to reevaluate some past life choices. But in all seriousness, no one is perfect. You can always try to make things right with an apology and payment for previous damage.
5. Your references
Yes, your landlord can and often will call the references you provide. So make sure they are people who know you well and can vouch for your character. It’s always a good idea to let the references you choose know that you’re listing them as a reference. Also, make sure your references will talk you up and not put you down. The last thing you want is to have a reference who doesn’t paint you in the best light.
6. Your stability
Your landlord wants to keep turnover down. Filling their property with flighty tenants doesn’t help them accomplish that goal. If you’ve hopped from place to place and job to job, that doesn’t reflect well on your ability to settle down. How stable you are is often based on an interview with you, the above items, and your employment history.
7. Their instinct
Sometimes it comes down to chemistry. If a landlord has two equally good candidates, they’ll likely choose the tenant they like best and who is likely to stay the longest. This is up to their discretion, as long as they don’t discriminate against you by violating Fair Housing laws.
What your landlord can’t do
To comply with Fair Housing rules, your landlord must be consistent with the prescreening questions they ask. The same questions must be asked to everyone who applies. It is illegal discrimination to reject your application because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. This means they can’t ask…
- Do you have a disability?
- Are you planning on having children?
- Where were you born?
- Do you need more information about the local religious institutions?
Roost Tip! Check out your renter rights by ZIP code to get the lowdown on what’s important where you live.
Improving your application and getting the place you love
Landing the apartment you want may not be entirely in your control. But there are ways to improve your chances of claiming most coveted spot on the block. Before you submit your application make sure to do these things:
- Consider a mom and pop rental. Make a good first impression and use that likeability factor to your advantage.
- Get your credit score in order. Make sure it’s updated and fix any discrepancies.
- If you’re worried your income won’t be enough, find a cosigner or roommate. Or offer a larger security deposit.
- Have your documents, security deposit, and first month’s rent ready to go.
- Make sure you have solid references.
- Use a cover letter to explain potential shortcomings.
Doing these few simple tasks can really improve your odds of hearing a yes! Making sure your ducks are in a row can give you a competitive edge, especially now that you know what information your landlord is using to screen your application.
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