Rents rose by an average of 4 to 5 percent in 2018.
In addition to pricier rents, if you're targeting hot rental markets like San Francisco or New York City, you'll need to be prepared for a rigorous search and fierce competition.
Applying for an apartment can take a long time but there are ways to speed up the process by being prepared and well-educated about the process. The typical rental process requires you to have your financial information and proper documentation, such as your credit score and most recent pay stubs.
Here's what you can expect if you're renting for the first time.
Every apartment has an application that's required for tenants to fill out.
Every building operates differently, but you can typically expect the application process to be:
You can usually find the form online and email a completed version to management or do it in person at the leasing office.
Once you've decided you want to move forward with an apartment, get an application in as soon as you can.
Don't let your first choice apartment get swept out from under you. On the application, you should include all of your personal information, such as your social security number, driver's license number and previous addresses of residence, along with employment information and monthly income.
The rental application is the first step for the landlord or management company to assess whether they think you'll be a good tenant. Along with the application, you'll most likely need to pay a non-refundable application fee. This fee covers a background and credit check.
Depending on the landlord and building, you'll have to pay an application fee, a processing fee and sometimes a security deposit. Application and screening fees generally cost $35 to $75 per person.
The security deposit may come after the application, but it can be a large expense, costing some fraction of the monthly rent.
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 or forms you need to bring. This will help speed up the process. Here's what you can expect to prepare:
Although your renters application form will be slightly different with each apartment to which you apply, they will generally involve these steps.
Your future landlord wants assurance that you'll be able to make rent payments on time each month. Generally, you should be making 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. Checking on how financially responsible you are 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, you'll need to agree that it's OK for the landlord to do a background check. Like the credit check, a background check shows your personality and dependability.
Previous convictions or pending charges may be cause 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 shouldn't be a problem.
Have your rental history handy to make the application go easier. If you don't have any past landlords, you can provide personal references.
References can include your network 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 your situation is complicated 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 cover letter could be the push that tips you over to acceptance.
For the most part, applications will take 24 to 72 hours, 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.
If your rental application gets approved, then you'll sign the lease.
Everyone living in the apartment will have to be present to sign the lease, and the co-signer will need to sign their own agreement, as well. 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 security deposits required by your landlord and the building.
It may sound like a lot of work to gather and organize all of this information, but once you have it ready, you can bring it with you to each apartment showing. It's also a good idea to have your documents in electronic form so you can easily email them if needed.