Rents rose by an average of 16.7 and 21.3 percent for one- and two-bedroom apartments, respectively, in 2021.
In addition to pricier rents, if you're targeting hot rental markets like cities in Arizona, California or Florida, be prepared for a rigorous search and fierce competition. A property manager can have their pick of prospective tenants who come prepared with solid credit and background checks, employment verification, proof of income and personal references.
The apartment application process can take a long time but prospective tenants can speed up the process of getting approved for an apartment by being prepared to provide information about their rental history and any requested documents. A potential landlord or property management office will often require prospective tenants to have their financial information and proper documentation, such as your credit score, credit report and most recent pay stubs, as part of their tenant screening or application process.
Here's what you can expect if you're renting for the first time.
Every unit has an apartment application that's required for tenants to fill out. Online rental applications are becoming more common but a leasing office still might ask for the application process to take place at their office location. You can usually find the form online and email a completed version to management or do it in person at the leasing office.
Every building operates differently, but you can typically expect the apartment application process:
Once you've decided you want to move forward with an apartment, get the rental application process started as soon as you can.
Don't let your first choice apartment get swept out from under you. On the apartment application, you should include all of your personal information. Contact information should include details such as your Social Security number, driver's license number and previous residential addresses, along with employment information and monthly income. Some might ask for tax returns. All of these details are an important part of background checks.
If you have prior landlords, positive landlord references can go a long way and show your rental history and ability to pay rent. Past medical bills may affect your credit score and pop up during background and credit checks so it's not a bad idea to let a potential landlord know what they might discover during the screening process if it can affect your chances of getting that lease agreement. A landlord or property manager can't deny you or other applicants based on past criminal history or criminal record.
The rental application process time is the first step for the landlord or management company to assess whether they think you'll be a good tenant. Along with the rental application, you'll most likely need to pay a non-refundable apartment application fee for the rental property. This fee covers background and credit checks.
Depending on the landlord and building, you'll have to pay an application fee, a processing fee and sometimes a security deposit. The application fee and screening fees generally cost $35 to $75 per person and cover the background and credit check.
The security deposit and first month's rent may come after the rental application, but both are a large expense, so be sure to have those funds available.
Every landlord has their own unique form, so be sure to check with the management company or landlord in advance of the viewing to see if there are any unexpected documents, a particular legal document or specific forms you need to bring. This will help speed up the process. Here's what you can expect to prepare as part of the rental application:
Although your renter's application form will be slightly different with each apartment to which you apply, they'll generally involve these steps.
Like past landlords, your future landlord wants assurance that you'll be able to make your monthly rent payments on time each month. Generally, you should make three times the rent to qualify and you'll need to prove that you have this income.
This is where you'll need two or three recent pay stubs, bank statements, tax statements or a W-2 if you've had your job for more than a year. They may also call your employer to get proof of your employment, as well as questions about you and your salary.
When applying for the apartment, you'll also have to give the landlord permission to check your credit score. Your level of financial responsibility is an indicator of how well you'll pay your rent on time.
If you have bad credit, it may hurt your chances of getting approved, as this is an indicator that shows you're not financially dependable.
New credit may be easier to explain to landlords, especially if you've just graduated and now have your first job. You may want to disclose this when you apply. Consider finding a cosigner or ask if the landlord would accept a lump sum of a few months' rent upfront.
Within the application and as part of the application fee, you'll need to agree that it's OK for the landlord to do a background check. As with the credit check, a background check shows your personality and dependability.
Previous convictions or pending charges are possible causes for concern and hinder your ability to rent the apartment.
You may see a line on the application that gives you a place to explain anything of concern that may show up in your background check report. Providing context around anything that might raise red flags for the landlord may go a long way. Explain your side of the story and why it's not a problem.
Have your rental history handy to make the application go easier. If you don't have any previous landlords, you can provide personal references.
References can include your networks outside of your family, like college professors and employers. These references may give the landlord a better idea of your work ethic and how responsible you are.
Providing a co-signer is a good idea if you're a first-time renter or you have bad credit.
Co-signers or guarantors are people with good credit who can sign the lease with you. This means they agree to take legal responsibility for covering your rent if you can't.
Landlords may also request a co-signer if your income isn't more than three times the cost of the rent — that's a typical income rule that landlords use.
If you have a complicated situation or you know you probably won't qualify for the apartment, a cover letter sent with the application may help. You can explain things like:
Your words alone won't get you the apartment, but including more information will give them a better idea of who you are. If they're on the fence about you, a letter could be the push that tips you over to acceptance.
For the most part, applications will take 24 to 72 hours to process but check with the landlord or management company for how long it usually takes. It's always a good idea to ask how long you should expect to wait for a reply.
Depending on the landlord's situation, you could be approved to rent the same day you applied. Sometimes, landlords are more motivated to rent quickly. For example, if the unit was recently renovated and hasn't been generating rent for a few months. Other times, the landlord may be choosy about finding the right tenant, which may prolong the process and timeframe.
After you submit the application, the landlord needs to obtain your credit and background check, while also verifying your employment and rental history. Those last two could take the most time.
When your rental application gets approved, now what happens? If you still want to rent the apartment, you'll sign the lease.
Everyone living in the apartment, including a co-signer, will need to sign the lease. The lease covers expectations of the term, which is usually a year. Read over the lease carefully and talk to your landlord about anything that concerns you before you move in.
You'll also have to pay the first month's rent and any move-in fees or the security deposit required by your landlord and the building.
It may sound like a lot of work to gather and organize everything for the apartment application process, but once you have it ready, you can bring it with you to each showing. It's also a good idea to have your documents in electronic form so you can easily email them if needed.