Here are some tips to help you get the apartment you want.
Money & Finances: How-To
Money & Finances: Tips & Tricks
Finding a great apartment that you can afford is only part of the apartment hunt. To get the keys, you'll also have to be able to prove to the landlord that you can afford the rent. Here is what you will need to show and what you can do if your application isn't as strong as the landlord would like.
The baseline rule throughout much of the country is that your monthly income before taxes must be at least three times the monthly rent. In large cities, this may be even higher. For example, New York City landlords often require that your annual income be at least 40 times the monthly rent or even higher. In roommate situations, strict landlords may require that each roommate's individual income meet their qualifications while others may count combined income. Income can include salary, disability payments, pensions, child support, and any other regular source of income that can be readily proven. Self-employed individuals are often required to provide two years of tax returns or bank records to prove that income isn't falsified or from illegal sources.
Your credit report shows your ability to regularly make payments over time, so most landlords will run a credit check. Usually, the minimum score accepted is very low and they are only looking to see that you don't have a history of late payments or other negative activity. Only very strict landlords will require a high minimum credit score, although having a high credit score is definitely beneficial to showing that you are a responsible tenant.
Many rental applications ask for previous landlords, employers, or personal references. Other than to verify income, these are rarely checked. Personal references are typically only used if you fall behind on rent and the landlord can't contact you. Listing previous landlords helps show your past rental history, but generally only small landlords will go through the trouble of contacting them given that they have your proof of income and credit report and know that a previous landlord might say anything to get rid of a bad tenant.
A background check is standard in rental applications because a landlord might be held liable if a tenant commits a crime against another tenant. The requirements vary by landlord, and landlords might exclude anyone with a felony, anyone with any criminal conviction, or anyone convicted of certain offenses. Local laws may limit what requirements a landlord can set in this regard.
Landlords also routinely check for court cases involving potential tenants. They are primarily interested in whether eviction proceedings have ever been filed against you. However, many landlords also make it a practice to blacklist tenants who have filed a lawsuit against a landlord even if the tenant had every right to do so. This practice is highly criticized but is generally not illegal.
Most landlords require a security deposit of one month's rent, and stricter landlords may require two month's rent. In more competitive markets, the deposit may be even lower or waived. Sometimes, it is replaced with a nonrefundable cleaning fee or similar charge. Offering a higher deposit can help offset other weaknesses in your rental application, so having a large amount of readily accessible cash can be beneficial in an apartment search. In addition to a security deposit, many landlords may require the first and/or last month's rent before move in.
If you are unable to financially qualify for an apartment, a co-signer will often be accepted. However, the income and credit requirements for a co-signer are generally higher because they are accepting responsibility for your rent in addition to their usual expenses. Co-signers are standard for students and recent graduates looking for apartments, but can generally be used by anyone.