Unfortunately, having bad credit can affect many different aspects of your life, from job applications to apartment hunting. Apartment communities routinely conduct credit checks on prospective renters. If your credit is bad, you can rent an apartment, but the process will probably be more challenging. Here are some tips for getting an apartment lease on bad credit.
Check your credit
If you think you might have bad credit, the first thing you’ll want to do is look at your credit report. You can order a free copy from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – through AnnualCreditReport. You’ll want to look at all three, as one or more may have an error. If you do see errors on your credit reports, take steps to fix them immediately (see article: Fixing Your Credit Report) and be prepared to explain these to your prospective landlord. Since the formal dispute process for fixing a credit report takes time, you may try and get statements from the bank or credit card company involved explaining the mistake.
Think like a landlord
If your credit reports accurately reflect your credit situation, your challenge will be to convince your prospective landlord that you will be able to pay rent on time. It may be helpful for you to take a moment and role-play a would-be landlord, and think: what would you need to be willing to rent an apartment to a person with your credit profile? This can help you anticipate landlords’ objections and be able to react with less fear.
Repairing your credit
One strategy is to ask the institutions that reported delinquencies on your credit report to send letters stating that you have met, or in the process of meeting, your obligation. (Remember that a mark on your credit can stay for up to seven years.) You can also include letters of recommendation from previous landlords, especially those who have rented to you most recently. And you can write a letter yourself, explaining how you are meeting the debts and how you will be able to pay rent even though you have debts to pay. The more evidence you can amass that shows that you’ve thought hard about this problem and are tackling it, the more convincing your case.
Get a cosigner
Another possible strategy — for renters with very little credit history, as well as those with bad credit — is to find a co-signer on your lease. A parent, relative, or close friend might be willing to do this for you. Keep in mind, though, that if you end up falling behind on this obligation, you’ll be in trouble not only with your apartment community but with the person who put their credit at risk to help you. (Nolo.com has more information on co-signers and guarantors.)
Pay a larger deposit
There’s a third strategy, especially for an apartment you really love: offer a larger initial deposit. Some apartment communities have set rules as to how deposits are set; others can be more flexible. If your larger deposit is accepted, make sure it’s reflected accurately in the lease you sign. If you stay in the apartment for a year, paying rent on time, and choose to renew, you might not need to make as large an upfront payment for the second year’s lease.
If none of those options work well for you, there are apartment communities which don’t conduct credit checks. But even if your credit situation is negative, don’t give up hope on finding an apartment until you’ve used the above strategies!