How to Apply for a Rental Apartment. What Paperwork is Needed?

You've found your first apartment, but you're a rental virgin... how do you apply? What do I need to provide the landlord to get approved? While the requirements may vary depending on the area you are in, there are some common things everyone should expect to experience when applying for an apartment. Newbies, take note!
1.) The Rental Application -- All landlord will require you to fill out an application. Usually this consists of providing them with your basic personal information, including name, address, current employer and income (or other income sources), past residences, social security number, driver's license or state issued ID info, and sometimes references (personal or prior landlords, if applicable). Make sure you have all of this information written down and with you, in case you can't remember all of it. 2.) Proof of Income, etc. -- In some areas, you will not need to provide anything beyond filling out the application. The landlord will take the initiative to call to verify income, employment, etc. In other areas, you may be asked to provide copies or original documents backing up the application (the thought being that you could provide a false contact number for your "employer" and a friend is the one "verifies" your income). The most common paperwork required may include:
  • copies of your last 2 pay statements
  • copies of 2-6 months of bank statements
  • copies of your income tax statements and/or W-2s
  • a letter of employment on company letterhead stating your position, length of time with the company, annual income, etc.
The landlord will let you know, but when you start looking at apartments, you should ask what kind of documentation the landlord requires, even if you're not interested in the apartment you're viewing. That will give you an idea of what other landlords in the area will likely ask for, and you can begin to gather the required documents. 3.) The Application Fee -- Some landlords accept personal checks, some only accept cash. Ask in advance--or have both cash and checks with you when viewing apartments. Application fees are almost always non-refundable, and can range from $25 to over $100 per person. 4.) The Credit Check -- There is nothing you need to do, except provide the landlord with your social security number on the application, and sign a form (sometimes separate from the application, sometimes "built-in" to the application) that authorizes the landlord to check your credit. Refusing to all the landlord to check your credit will almost certainly result in you not being approved. If there are credit issues, you should discuss them with the landlord to see if they will work with you. Please also note that sometimes a landlord will charge a separate credit check fee. In other cases, the amount is built in to the application fee. 5.) The Background Check -- Again, nothing you need to do other than give the landlord permission to check. There is usually a place on the application to explain any felonies, so it's best to explain what happened in your own words, otherwise all the landlord has to go on is a conviction. They do this check to get an idea of your dependability--are you going to pay your rent, and be a responsble tenant, or might you cause them problems down the road. 6.) The Housing Court Check -- In some markets (such as NYC), the landlord will run what's called a housing court check. They want to see if you have ever sued, or been sued, specifically in housing court. Housing Court checks frequently don't list the outcome of the case, they just report whether or not you were in court. While some landlords may consider the situation, others don't care why you were there. The figure either a.) you did something that was egregious enough for your landlord to take you to court, or b.) you're a troublemaker who sued your landlord, and you might sue them too. So, if you've been to housing court and it was the landlord's fault (e.g. they refused to provide heat in the winter), you should explain it in advance (if they will be conducting this check). 7.) The Co-signer Application -- If you have bad credit, or no credit, or are just starting out the landlord may not approve you without a co-signer (sometimes called a guarantor). They want someone who, in the event that you fail to pay your rent, they can legally pursue for payment. Because of this, a co-signer is frequently an established family member. Well, assuming your family trusts you! Keep in mind that the standards for a co-signer are usually the same as for the person renting the apartment, except that the income expectation are frequently much higher. The landlord wants to know that, in the event you don't pay your rent, that your co-signer can afford to pay both your rent, and their own rent (or mortgage).
So, that's it! Now you know what to expect when you apply for a rental apartment. Good luck!
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