Rental Application Process: Step by Step Guide for Success

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If you’re looking to rent an apartment, you’ll need to apply formally first. When it comes to rental applications, there’s certain information that the landlord will require you to provide. The apartment application process can be stressful and daunting, especially if you’re not well prepared. 

There are several steps in the rental application process. For starters, you need to fill out the application form. This means providing personal contact information, your social security number, driver’s license number or state ID, current and previous address, and current and previous employment information. You will also need to pay the apartment application fees, provide proof of income, approve a credit and background check, find a cosigner (if necessary) and provide references from past landlords and employers.

What does applying for an apartment mean?

If you intend to rent an apartment, you’ll need to submit an application first. An apartment application requires you to fill out a form and submit supporting documents, which a landlord will then use to screen you. In many cases, applications are required to pay fees to have their application processed.

Where can you find an apartment application?

The unit you want may have the application posted online, so check the provided website first. In this case, you can fill out the application form and email it to the management. 

What forms do you need to rent an apartment?

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1. Personal information

The first information you’ll need to provide on a standard rental application is your personal information. This section is intended to verify your identity and gather key details a landlord will want to keep on file in case they need to contact you. Most rental applications will require the following personal information:

  • Name

You will need to provide your full name. Landlords need your legal name to prevent fraudulent applicants. The correct legal name allows landlords to match and access accurate screening reports. Another important reason to provide your name is so that the landlord can keep it on file in case they choose to rent their property to you. 

  • Social security number

Your social security number is another crucial personal detail you may need to provide during the application process. Although this precious nine-digit identification code should not be given out to just anyone, landlords and property managers may need it to perform background and credit checks to help determine if you’ll be a reliable tenant. For safety reasons, it’s best to memorize your social security number to not have to provide your social security card.

It’s worth noting that even though many standard rental application forms have a field for a social security number, a landlord should not automatically deny you if you don’t provide one.

  • Phone number and/or email

Landlords may also collect your phone number and/or email address if they need to ask any follow-up questions during the screening process. Another reason they may keep your number/email on file is to get in touch with you to let you know if your application was successful.

  • Date of birth

Many rental application forms may also require you to provide your date of birth, which will be used to verify your identity.

  • Government-issued identification

A photo ID will be needed for your rental application, and that could either be your state ID, driver’s license, or passport.  

2. Employment  and income information

Landlords need employment and income information for two main reasons:

  • To check if you make enough monthly income to cover the rent.
  • To check if your source of income is stable and unlikely to change.
  • Employer information

You will likely be required to provide the employer name, address, and supervisor/HR manager’s name. A landlord will know who to contact to verify your employment with this information. Most landlords opt to take it a step further by gathering proof of income to ensure that the employer information you provide matches up. 

  • Income and information about your position

Landlords consider all forms of income when evaluating applicants. By law, it’s illegal to discriminate against any type of income.

3. Current and previous address/rental information

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Residence history is one of the best indicators of what a landlord can expect from a tenant.

  • Addresses and residence types

You’ll need to provide your current and previous addresses in your rental application so that a landlord can verify your rental history. Some application forms may also require you to indicate whether you’re currently living in a rental unit or an owner-occupied unit. 

  • Move-in/move-out dates

You’ll also have to fill in move-in and move-out dates. Landlords use this information for cross-referencing when they contact previous landlords and find gaps in residence. A large, unexplained gap in residence could indicate that you’re concealing a poor rental experience with a previous landlord.

  • Landlord names and contact information

This information allows a potential landlord to contact your previous landlords to learn more about you and verify rental history.

  • Reason for moving out

Many standard rental applications want you to indicate the motivation behind your move. If you’re relocating for work or looking for a bigger place, make sure to include these reasons here. 

4. Recommendations

A recommendation indicates that you were a reliable tenant in your previous apartment community. You don’t necessarily have to get an actual letter – most landlords will accept the contact information of previous landlords so that they can call. That said, having a letter ahead of time can make your application process more manageable. 

5. Pet information 

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If you’re looking at apartments that allow tenants to have pets, the landlords may ask you to provide this information on the rental application. The application form will likely outline rules and regulations on the type and number of pets allowed, their weight, and size. Be ready to show that your pet is a good fit by bringing along references and proof of vaccinations. Some landlords may even go as far as doing a pet screening. If your pet is a service animal or emotional support animal, make sure you indicate this.

6. Vehicle information

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You may need to provide vehicle registration and proof of insurance on your rental application. If you plan to bring a car with you, the landlord has the right to know what cars to expect on the property. Some apartment buildings have a limited number of parking spaces per unit, so landlords need to ensure that only approved vehicles are in the lot. Providing this information can also help determine if a car has been abandoned. 

Additional information you may need

1. Co-signer application

If you have a cosigner, make sure they fill out their application section as well.

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2. Cover letter

It might be a good idea to put together a cover letter to represent yourself better and provide further details on any questions. 

3. Checkbook

When making a rental application, you often need to pay a fee to secure it. Without making a deposit, there is a chance that the landlord may give the apartment to another applicant while your background check is being completed. 

The rental application process

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1. Fill out the rental application

The first step you’ll want to take is to fill out an application. Your application should include much of the information listed above, so if you’ve gathered all you need beforehand, you should be able to breeze through the application form. 

If you have a cosigner or plan on moving in with roommates, they will also need to fill out a rental application. Essentially, every individual that plans to move in has to fill out a separate lease application form. Most properties provide online application forms, but you also have the option to apply in person.

2. Pay the apartment application fees

Most applications have an application and screening fee. On average, application fees cost anywhere between $30 and $75. This fee depends on various factors, such as the building, area, or even the landlord. The fee is usually made up of two main categories:

  • “Out of pocket” expenses that are associated with buying screening reports and accessing them 
  • Cost of labor to collect, analyze, and check the tenant screening kit of an applicant. As part of the application fee, landlords and agents do not charge as much for this category because it can be difficult to calculate.

According to the Tenants Union, it’s illegal for landlords to rip you off by charging an outrageous application fee. They can only charge prospective tenants for the actual cost of the fees. In addition, landlords can only charge for application and screening if they provide prospective tenants a written notice informing them of what the screening entails and what information could result in their application being denied. 

The notice should also include the contact information of the consumer reporting agency and the notification that you have the right to receive a free copy of the report and appeal the results if you happen to be denied.

Keep in mind that apartment application fees are non-refundable.

3. Expect credit and background checks

You’ll likely be asked to agree to credit and background checks during the rental application process.

Landlords conduct a credit score to check if you’re a financially responsible person. A high credit score implies reliability when it comes to paying rent on time, while a low credit score indicates poor dependability. Typically, the minimum credit score required to rent an apartment is 650. However, this number tends to vary based on the market. If you want to rent an apartment in a competitive market, you may need a higher credit score and a higher income.

An apartment background check is conducted for the same reason as a credit check – to prove dependability. Background checks may go as back into your past as a landlord deems necessary and usually focus on an individual’s criminal history. Pending charges or previous convictions may interfere with your ability to consider the apartment you want. If anything in your past may raise questions, it might be a good idea to explain ahead of time.

Related article: 7 things to know before renting an income restricted apartment

4. Provide proof of income

Landlords ask to see proof of income to make sure you’re employed and are honest about the money you’re making. If you don’t make enough money, letting you move in is an unwise financial decision on the landlord’s part. 

You may have to prove that your monthly income is at least 30% of the monthly rent. If you want to move into a month-to-month rental where the rent price is significantly higher, the income requirements may differ. 

Most landlords require potential tenants to provide copies of recent pay stubs (usually your last two or three), tax returns, or other forms of receipts from their employers. Depending on your job, you may also need to provide recent bank statements, copies of one or two W-2 forms, or documents of client contracts. 

If you’re a gig worker or independent contractor, be prepared with 1099s, your most recent bank statements,  or anything else that will show you have some sort of regular income. If you’re moving to a new city and have to switch jobs, consider asking your new employer to provide you with an offer letter on company letterhead for your proof of income. 

Related article: Can My Parents Lease An Apartment For Me?

5. Find out if you need a cosigner

A cosigner signs the lease with you. They vouch that if you cannot keep up with your rent, they will cover rent payments for you. A cosigner doesn’t necessarily have to live in the apartment, but their name will be on the lease.

If you have insufficient income, a low credit score, poor or no rental history, or something else in your application is deemed undesirable; you will need someone else who is willing to help you financially if need be. In such situations, having a cosigner will give the landlord peace of mind about renting their unit to you. 

Agreeing to cosign on a lease is a big responsibility, which is why you need to make sure that the person you choose is someone you trust and is someone who is financially stable and would be willing to take on the burden of paying rent if you’re unable to. If both of you cannot keep up with the rent, you both risk being named in the lawsuit when your landlord inevitably sues for the rent.

Related article: Can I Rent Two Apartments At The Same Time?

6. Prove that you’re an agreeable renter

Usually, landlords want to determine what type of tenant you are from previous landlords. This is especially likely if you have an issue with your background check, low credit, or limited rental history.

Your potential landlord might ask you to provide documentation of your rental history, eviction judgment from the past five years, or landlord references. In this instance, you’d need to deliver proof that none of your previous landlords have evicted you in that period. 

Although a landlord reference is not typically required, you might want to consider attaching one, especially if you need to improve your chances of approval or want to distinguish yourself from other applicants. For some apartments, it might be necessary to do so.

Related article: What Do I Need To Do Before I Move Out?

7. Have personal references

Personal references can also significantly help your chances when applying for an apartment. Much like a landlord reference, a personal reference vouches for your dependability and character. Ideally, you want to provide recommendations from people other than family members. Try asking your employers, colleagues, or professors for letters that detail your work ethic and other desirable character traits.

Related article: Which Is The Best Floor To Live On In An Apartment?

Getting approved

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After submitting your rental application with all the required documentation, you wait. Depending on the requirements, getting approved may take a couple of business days or more. For the most part, application processing will take 24 to 72 hours, but make a point to check with the landlord or property management company to confirm how long it usually takes.

Once you’re approved, the landlord or management company will typically contact you and let you know. The next step is to secure the unit by putting down a security deposit. In many cases, the security deposit amount is usually one month’s worth of rent. However, this amount is up to the landlord to decide, and it can vary from one apartment building to another. 

In addition to the security deposit, you’ll also need to put down your first month’s rent, and in some apartment communities, the last month’s rent, as well. Once you have these costs covered, the next step is to sign a lease for the apartment. A lease is an agreement between a lessee (a tenant) and a lessor (landlord or property owner). The lease agreement outlines details such as:

  • Deposit and fees
  • Rules of the apartment
  • Limits of occupancy
  • Maintenance and repair
  • Pet policy
  • Terms of tenancy
  • Utilities
  • Rent 

Make sure you review all the terms of your lease agreement so that you’re clear with where you stand. Once you’ve signed the lease, you’re legally bound to stick to the outlined terms, including monthly rent payments. With the deposit paid and the lease signed, your landlord will give you a move-in date and hand over the keys to your new home.

Related article: Can You Get an Apartment if You Just Got a Job?

Final thoughts

There are a lot of documents you need to have on hand for your apartment rental application. Furthermore, the process requires the completion of several steps. With this information, you’re ready to submit a thorough application and hopefully be approved in no time.

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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