Breaking Down the Rental Application Process

in Moving on by

a woman filling out a rental application in front of an eager landlord.

Renting your first apartment is one of the biggest milestones of your adult life. Whether you’re coming straight from your parents’ house or transitioning from the dorms, this is certainly a big step towards becoming independent and learning how to make it on your own. But before any of that happens, you’ll have to fill out a rental application.

Since this is your first place, you may find that the application is a little different or more involved than you initially expected. Don’t worry, though — we’re going to break it down so that you know exactly what to expect before asking the landlord for one.

Here’s everything you need to know about the rental application process.

Why an Application is Needed

While you already know that you’re a trustworthy tenant, your potential landlord has no idea who you are or what kind of history you have. The application is just a necessary tool they use to get better feel for your rental, credit, and job history so as to determine whether or not you would make for a good, reliable occupant in his or her unit.

What It’ll Ask You

The Basics

Like every other application out there, your rental application will start by covering the basics, including your name, date of birth, social security number, cell phone number, current address, drivers license number, and email address.

Employment Information

Your rental application will then ask you to fill out some information on your current job, likely requesting details about the name of the company you work for, the company’s phone number, your supervisor’s name, and how much money you net per week, month, or year. Your landlord may also ask you about your past employment, especially if you haven’t been at your current position for that long.

In addition to requesting information about your current employer, your landlord will need proof of income. This generally entails them asking you for recent pay stubs or a W-2 to confirm that your income is at least two to three times the required rent.

Credit Check

Besides verifying that you have a stable income, your potential landlord will also want to check to see how responsible you are, thereby ensuring that they won’t need to hound you each and every month just to get the rent check.

The easiest way for them to do this it to check your credit score. On the application, they’ll probably ask your permission before checking this. If you have no or bad credit, you might have to find yourself have a co-signer: someone with good credit who can vouch for your ability to pay the rent on time each and every month.

Background Check

Not only will your landlord want to know whether or not you pay your bills on time, but they will also want to know more about your general background, and more specifically whether or not you have committed any crimes or misdemeanors before. Don’t be surprised if a landlord or leasing office asks your permission to run a background check on you.

If you know for a fact that something less than savory is going to come up on your background check, you’ll find it best to explain it up front so that the landlord isn’t shocked by it later on — especially if it’s something minor.

Landlord References

Whenever you’re trying to live somewhere new, your new landlord is going to want to know what it was like when others had you as a tenant. For that reason, many rental applications will ask you for landlord references, which themselves should just be short letters from your former landlords that cover basic stuff like “Jimmy always pays his rent on time and is a quiet, nice tenant.”

If this is your first apartment and you don’t have a landlord reference, don’t panic. You can always ask for a letter of recommendation from a boss, a former RA, or even a teacher that knows you well. All you need is someone to vouch for your character and let this new landlord know that you’ll be a respectful, responsible tenant.

When to Fill Out an Application

If you’re interested in an apartment you just viewed, you should put in an application right away. Every minute that you don’t submit it, someone else who is equally as qualified is putting one in, gradually lowering your chances of actually getting that apartment. And depending on how competitive your rental market is, there could already be dozens — if not hundreds — of applications in your landlord’s hands.

Submitting your rental application in a timely manner (with everything filled out and all your references at the ready) will put you ahead of the curve and hopefully get you into your first dream apartment.

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