Getting ready to rent an apartment?

Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned renter, we’re here to walk you through every step of the rental process. Below, we’ll break it down step-by-step with everything you need to get out, get searching and get in to your next place.

Step 1: Know your budget

Before you search for a rental, you need to have a clear understanding of how much you can afford to spend each month. Make sure to consider funds you’ll need to have at hand for a security deposit and any other fees required to secure your new rental even before you start paying rent.

How much can you afford to pay for rent each month?

If you are renting now, you probably have a good sense of what you can pay monthly. But if your financial situation recently changed or you are making a change in your living arrangements, you’ll need to sit down and put together a solid budget. Do this BEFORE you get too far into your apartment search. You don’t want to get your heart set on an apartment or home you can’t actually afford or worse, sign a lease only to realize you can’t afford to pay the rent.

Use our calculator to determine how much you can afford to pay for rent each month.

Step 2: Find the perfect rental

Once you have your target budget, it’s time to start looking for the right rental. You’ll want to think about a few things as you begin your search:

  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  • Where do you want to live? Is there a specific neighborhood you want to live in?
  • What type of rental do you want? Would you prefer a house or an apartment?
  • What amenities are the most important to you? Do you need a yard? Do you have pets? Are you dead set on a pool or workout facilities?

As you go through this exercise, make sure to prioritize your preferences.

Search on Apartment Guide for rentals that match your needs. You can save listings you’re interested in and use the contact form to reach out to the property manager or landlord directly.

You should also schedule a tour to get a closer look at the rental. You can make an appointment to tour the property in person with a leasing agent or landlord. If you’re concerned about going in person, many Apartment Guide properties offer virtual tours.

Step 3: Send in your application

Now that you’ve found a place you live, it’s time to apply and make yourself look good to the property manager or landlord. If you are renting in a highly competitive market, you may want to bring the necessary documents to your apartment tour so you can apply on the spot.

Here’s what you’ll need for the standard rental application at a minimum:

  • Identification – Some landlords may even ask for two forms of ID. Items you can use include your driver's license, passport, Social Security card, birth certificate or permanent resident card.
  • Proof of Income – This would probably be your most recent pay stub. Even if you are paid with direct deposit, you can usually find a pay stub online from your employer. You could also provide a bank statement or tax returns that show your income.
  • Form of Payment – Although the landlord may take payments via Venmo or CashApp, you may want to bring your checkbook or debit card with you to pay the application fee.  Most are around $25, but yours may be more or less depending on the property.
  • Supplemental items you may want to include:

If you’re renting with pets:

First things first, make sure the rental is pet-friendly and that your particular type of pet is allowed. If it’s not, don’t try to sneak in a pet. You would violate  your lease agreement and could get evicted or fined.

If you have a dog, check to see if there are any breed restrictions. Fair or unfair, some landlords and property managers do have strict breed restrictions that you’ll need to follow.

You can present your pet in the best possible light by giving the property manager a pet resume along with your application. Including letters of recommendation from previous landlords so that the property manager can see your pet won’t cause damage to the unit. This could go a long way.

You should also expect to sign a pet agreement contract as part of your lease.

If you’re renting with bad credit or previous eviction:

It is still possible to rent with bad credit or an eviction on your record. Reassure your prospective landlord that you are overcoming previous difficulties and will be a reliable renter moving forward. Some ways to do that include:

  • Having a co-signer
  • Paying several months rent up front
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Honesty

Step 4: Sign your lease

The day has finally come and all your hard work has paid off. It’s time for your final walk-through and lease signing.

Come prepared to sign your lease and pay your security deposit, as well as any other fees like the first month’s rent. You and your landlord should have decided on move-in fees and any possible pet fees in advance of this meeting.

First, your landlord will walk you through your rental and together you will need to note any existing damages or known issues in the unit. Make sure you are vigilant about noting any damage on your lease with your landlord. This guarantees that you won’t have to worry about it coming out of a security deposit when you move out. Use this checklist to make sure your walkthrough is thorough and comprehensive.

Next, you’ll need to look over your lease and any other supplemental agreements (such as a pet agreement). Make sure you understand the rules set out in your lease. Failure to abide by them could result in your lease being terminated. Check out the rental glossary below for common terms and what they mean for you.

Once everything is signed and agreed upon, your landlord will give you the keys to your new rental and you’re ready to get moving!

Step 5: Moving day!

Depending on your rental, choosing a move-in day may be as easy as figuring out when your friends will help you move. But for many, it won’t be quite that simple. Use this moving checklist to ensure you’re prepared.

  • Moving into a large apartment complex: Many communities have days where moving is allowed and others where they do not permit any moving activities. So you’ll need to schedule your moving day based on those restrictions.
  • Using a moving company: If you’re using a moving company, you’ll need to schedule your moving day in advance. As you can imagine, moving on a weekend will be more expensive than moving on a weekday and you’ll need to schedule further in advance.

Hopefully, you were somewhat organized in your packing process and can move your furniture and boxes into the appropriate rooms for unpacking.

Forms and Downloads

Printable/Download Sample Letters

Renter Cover Letter Template

Renter Resume Template

Sample Letter of Recommendation

Sample Letter of Credit

Sample Letter Requesting to Have a Pet

Printable/Download Checklists

Apartment Walkthrough Checklist

Apartment Moving Checklist

Change of address checklist

Post Move Checklist

Printable/Download Sample Contracts

Sample Security Deposit Agreement

Sample Co-Signer Contract

Sample Pet Agreement Contract

Renting Glossary

Apartment Terms

Accessible Apartment: An accessible apartment is one that is designed to accommodate renters with disabilities.

Amenity: An amenity is any feature or perk that an apartment community provides to their residents. These would include things like a pool, gym, media center or game room. Amenities for particular units could include things such as a fireplace, balcony or washer and dryer.

Garden Apartment: This is a ground floor apartment that includes an outdoor patio or greenspace.

Kitchenette: A kitchenette is a small kitchen area that includes only the most basic appliances. It may or may not be in a separate room and usually consists of at least a sink, fridge and microwave or hotplate.

Pied-a-Terre: A pied-a-terre is an apartment that is rented for occasional use rather than full-time living. They are commonly found in big cities.

Penthouse Apartment: The penthouse unit is typically the top floor of an apartment building. This unit is usually more spacious and expensive than the others in the building.

Renovated Unit: A renovated unit is one that has been recently updated. This means it usually has newer appliances and may be cleaner and sleeker than an older unit. They may also be more expensive than the older units in a community.

Walk-up Apartment: This is an apartment that is located above the ground floor and is not accessible via elevator. Hence, residents must walk up stairs to access it. These apartments are often found in small apartment buildings and can be cheaper than other units.

Rental Search and Applications

Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits landlords or property managers from discriminating against certain prospective tenants based on factors like race, gender or religion.

Proof of Income: Proof of income is the information you will need to show your prospective landlord that you have a steady income. This could include pay stubs, tax returns or a signed letter from your employer.

The Lease

Abatement: The abatement is a clause in your lease or rental agreement indicating that the unit must be habitable for the landlord to demand rent. If the unit becomes inhospitable, the abatement clause states that the tenant won’t have to pay rent or will pay prorated rent. This is commonly caused by things like floods, fires or storm damage and must not be the fault of the tenant.

Apartment Walkthrough: The walkthrough always includes both the tenant and landlord. It is done before signing a lease so the tenant and landlord can both inspect the rental and make sure it is in good condition. Ideally, it prevents the tenant from getting charged for pre-existing damage or condition issues.

Co-Signer: A co-signer is someone who provides their credit and finances to help a tenant who may have bad or nonexistent credit. Co-signers reduce the risk for the landlord, allowing them to rent to a riskier tenant with the reassurance that the co-signer will cover payments if the tenant fails to pay.

Cotenant: A cotenant is a roommate or partner who signs the lease with another individual. In this situation, each roommate is responsible for paying rent directly to the landlord and shares all the responsibilities of the primary tenant.

Covenant: A covenant is a written agreement between the tenant and landlord. It’s the part of your lease agreement where you both agree to certain basic conditions. For example, you might have a Covenant of Possession which states that the tenant has possession of the rental and the landlord cannot enter without permission except in the case of maintenance or emergency.

Estoppel Certificate: An estoppel certificate is one of the most important sections of your lease. It’s the language that lays out the tenant and landlord rights under the lease agreement. It usually contains the details of your lease like start and end dates, renewal and non-renewal deadlines and your monthly rent. Make sure you read and understand this section fully before signing.

Getting set-up and apartment living

Hookup Fees: They can also be called installation fees and they are the fees you will have to pay to get utilities and internet hooked up for a new rental.

Noise Violation: A noise violation is any occasion when the noise level in an apartment goes beyond what is specified as acceptable in the lease. This may vary between apartment communities and the general type of rental you are living in. But typical noise violations are things like loud music (especially late at night), barking dogs or band practice. A noise violation is probably also a lease violation.

Renters Insurance: Renters insurance protects your belongings while you live in an apartment or rental home. In the case of a theft, natural disaster or maintenance issue, the landlord is not responsible for any damage to your belongings. Renters insurance will cover your possessions.

Wear and Tear: The deterioration of a rental unit that is expected over time. This includes things like scuffs, small carpet or floor stains, etc. It should be differentiated from major damage like broken windows, extensive floor damage, holes in the walls or broken fixtures.