Lindsay Smith

If it’s your first time renting an apartment , though, the rental application process may be different than you imagined. Applying for the apartment can take a long time and requires you and your landlord to do a lot of work. For first-time renters, here’s what you can expect the rental application process to look like:

Filling out the application

At risk of being too obvious, you need to fill out the application. You can usually find the form online and email a completed version to management or do it in person at the leasing office. Either way, once you’ve decided you want this apartment, get an application in as soon as you can, since every day you don’t apply is another day for someone else to show interest in it.

Don’t let your first choice apartment get swept out from under you ! On the application you should expect to include all of your personal information , including either a social security or driver’s license number, along with employment information and references. There’s a lot of information they need, the most common of which are listed below.

Related:  Why do they need so much info?!


Application fee

Applying for an apartment also generally comes along with a few different fees, some refundable and some not.

Depending on the landlord and building, you’ll have to pay an application fee, a processing fee and sometimes a security deposit. Expect to pay as much as $100 or more per person just to apply for an apartment in some areas. The security deposit may come after the application, but it can be a large expense, costing some fraction of the monthly rent.

Proof of income

You need to have money to pay for an apartment, so you’re going to need to prove that you make enough money. 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, or a W-2 if you’ve had the 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. We’ll talk a bit more about this later.

Credit check

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 will be an indicator of how well you’ll pay your rent on time. If you have bad or new credit , it’s harder for them to get a feel for your dependability, but don’t try to cover this up. Talk about it when you apply, so you know if you need a co-signer or to depend on your roommate’s credit.

Video: Can you rent an apartment with bad credit?
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Background check

Like the credit check, this shows your personality and dependability. The application will include both a line authorizing them to do a background check, and somewhere to explain anything on your record. If you have anything in your past, you’ll want to explain this there, rather than letting them find out without context.

Landlord references

The best indicator if you’ll be a good tenant now is that you were a good tenant in the past. For this reason, you should have your rental history handy to make the application go easier. If you don’t have any past landlords and they’ll have to rely only on your personal references.

Provide references outside of your family, like college professors and employers, so that they’ll be able to give the landlord an idea of your work ethic, responsibility and other important character traits.

Co-signer application

Co-signers or guarantors are people who sign the lease with you, saying they take legal responsibility for covering your rent if you can’t. Providing a co-signer is a good idea if you’re a first-time renter for a lot of reasons.

For one, if you don’t have a rental history, landlords won’t have any information about how dependable you are with rent or if you’ve caused damage before.

Landlords may also request a co-signer if you have poor credit or if your income isn’t more than three times the cost of the rent – that’s a typical income rule that landlords use.

Cover letter

If your situation is particularly complicated or you might not normally qualify for the apartment, a good cover letter sent with the application can help make your case. Is your credit bad because of medical bills? Do you have a felony in your past, but have improved yourself since those days? Do you have low income now, but a clear career progression? Your words alone won’t get the apartment, but including more information will give them a better idea of who you are, and if you’re on the edge, might tip you over to acceptance.

Be responsive and on top of things

If management needs more information, get it to them as soon as possible. If you have questions or information that’s useful, offer it before they ask for it. The more responsive you are, the better an argument you make for your good character.

Why does this take so long?

You’re probably getting impatient, especially if you haven’t heard back after a few days. For the most part, applications will take 24 to 72 hours, but check with your management company for the best estimate of the time this usually takes.

To understand why it takes so long, . As mentioned above, they need to get credit checks and background checks, while also verifying your employment and rental history. Those last two tend to be the ones that take the most time. They have to call your employer or prior landlord, which are generally only available during business hours, and then might not actually pick up the phone, or might not answer the questions they’re asked. Sometimes this is for legal reasons, such as companies not wanting to talk about their employees, other times it’s just bad luck. Regardless of why, there’s a lot of back and forth and trying to reach people before a decision can be made.


If your rental application gets approved, you'll then be able to sign the lease!

See Also: Seven Deadly Sins of a First-Time Renter

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 for the term (typically apartments are rented out for 12 months at a time), rent, pets, maintenance, subleasing and a variety of other aspects of renting.

Expect the lease-signing process to take a while, since you’ll be covering so much ground. You’ll also most likely have to pay the first month’s rent and any move-in fees or security deposits required by your landlord and the building.



About The Author

Lindsay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer who uses her deadline-oriented writing skills for clients like Apartment Guide,, Womensforum Media Group and Brafton.