10 Things to Expect When Applying for an Apartment

Close-up of an apartment application.

You’ve finally found the perfect apartment. Great location, the ideal number of rooms, affordable rent, and you can already picture where everything is going to go. Now what? The application process for an apartment can take a while, but there are things you can do to ensure everything moves along smoothly and efficiently.

Pay an Application Fee

Most of the time you apply for an apartment, you’ll be charged a screening or application fee. This fee can only be used to cover the costs to obtain and process credit and other information about someone who applies for an apartment, which in turn helps landlords decide who to rent to, and who to avoid. Depending on your state, there are laws in place to limit the amount of money a landlord can charge for these checks, but you can generally expect to pay around $35 to $75 per person. This is usually non-refundable and covers things like a background and credit check.

Gather a Security Deposit

One added expense that you might not initially think of is the security deposit. These deposits are often one month’s worth of rent, and if you have pets, they could be even more. This won’t be paid until after you’ve been accepted, but if you don’t have it ready to go, it can cause some irritating delays in getting the apartment you’ve got your eye on.

Complete a Rental Application Form

You’ve now budgeted for the application fee, but you’ll also need to complete a long list of forms if you want to call that new place yours. Most properties have online application forms that you can complete, but you can also apply in person, especially if you’ve gone to tour the apartment and decided there and then to apply. The forms will be different depending on the landlord or rental company, of course, but typically a rental application will require the following information:

  • photo ID
  • name
  • address
  • phone number(s)
  • email
  • social security number
  • employment information
  • proof of income
  • previous addresses
  • pets (if applicable)
  • emergency contacts
  • vehicle information
  • landlord references
  • personal or professional references

While this may seem like a lot of info to provide, there will be multiple checks on you taking place, and they all require different bits of information. Make sure that you complete each application you fill out in its entirety, as some landlords have a policy of rejecting “blank space” forms, or forms with information missing.

Provide References

Prospective landlords are going to require references from previous landlords, so speed things up by getting them beforehand. If you don’t have any past landlords, you could consider providing personal references, instead. These can be people like college professors or employers, or anyone else that can attest to your responsible nature.

Sign Authorization to Release Information

To enable the landlord to gather information about your employment or rental history, you need to make sure that you sign the appropriate paperwork. Without your signature, most companies will not give out the information required to process your application.

Give Time for the Background and Credit Checks

Now that you’ve filled out the forms and paid the appropriate fees, you need to allow the landlord time to carry out those aforementioned background and credit checks. Usually, they’ll have a company that specializes in these checks gather all of the information for them. If there’s something that you know will show up on these checks, be sure to prepare some explanation for it. With regards to the background checks, sometimes a landlord may be able to work with you if you’ve been convicted of a crime, but if you’re not upfront about these issues, they’re eventually going to be found out, and your application will end up being denied as a result.

Explain Bad Credit

Be sure to mention if you have bad credit or if you are still dealing with past medical bills. If you do have bad credit, you’ll probably want to look for a cosigner. They will then be responsible for paying your rent if you can’t or won’t. They can also be a great way of strengthening your application if you have no rental history (for example, if you’re just moving out from living with family members).

Write a Cover Letter

If you know that there are certain things that may come to light on the background check that could disqualify you, write a cover letter with your explanations of why they shouldn’t be a problem. You can explain poor credit, a criminal record, or reasons why you don’t have a rental history. It will also give the landlord a better idea of who you are as a person, which could help your application.

Prove That You Can Afford the Rent

Most landlords will require you to prove that you can actually afford the apartment you’re applying for. This is pretty obvious, but hey, they need to make sure. Most commonly, they’ll ask for evidence along the lines of pay stubs and copies of tax returns. They’ll also usually require a certain amount of income in proportion to the rent, so they can be assured that you’ll be able to pay all of your bills on time.


After all of the forms and information gathering, exactly how long does it take to get approved for an apartment? On average, waiting time for an application approval can be anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. If you’re really lucky, you could be approved the same day you applied. This generally depends on how quickly other people get back to the people carrying out the checks — if the application takes longer than 48 hours, it could be because they are having trouble contacting someone you listed as a reference.

Once you’ve had your application accepted, there may be a holding fee to pay. This will keep the apartment for you until the paperwork is all formalized. This is generally taken out of the rent owed. It can be annoying waiting for an application to be approved, but if you have as much information as possible on hand to begin with, it can take a lot of the stress out of waiting, and speed things up even more.

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