It can be more than a little nerve-wracking to submit an application for an apartment, then have to wait around to find out if the powers-that-be deem you worthy enough to live there. This tense period is known as the apartment approval process.
Fortunately, most people have nothing to worry about. If you've lived a clean, relatively scandal-free life, you're probably going to get the unit (provided there isn't a ton of competition). Still, it helps relieve some of the waiting-related tension to know what's going down during the all-important apartment approval process.
What's the point of the apartment approval process?
The whole point of the apartment approval process is for the landlord or property manager to determine if the applicant is reliable, able to pay bills on time and otherwise just a good neighbor. You know, someone Mr. Rogers would like to live near.
How to start the apartment approval process
The first step in renting the unit of your dreams (or the next best thing) is to fill out a renters application. There's usually a non-refundable application fee per person associated with this (an average of $30), so make sure you and any roommates love the place and stand a chance at getting it before you fork over any cash. This is how they cover the cost of using staff time to check references, credit and so on.
The application submission process varies depending on the property. Many modern communities do the whole thing online, from application completion to the upload of necessary files. However, some places do still prefer the whole in-person, pen and paper thing, so be prepared to follow whatever steps are necessary.
Come armed with all necessary documentation, or else the process could get delayed. The requirements vary depending on the property, but here's a pretty standard list:
- Photo identification
- Vehicle information
- Pet information (if applicable – they're looking for type, age, breed, weight and vaccine records/health information)
- Letter of current employment
- Two most recent pay stubs
- Three most recent bank statements
- Two most recent tax returns
- Two most recent W-2 forms
- Any other documents that state asset information
- Reference contact information for any previous landlords, as well as personal/professional acquaintances (this may be optional)
You can also choose to include a cover letter to explain any extenuating circumstances that might result in a rejection. This can include details about a criminal past and how you've made reparations, information on your projected career path if you're still relatively new to the professional game and don't have much credit history or info about credit issues stemming from special circumstances, like medical bills, divorce, etc.
How long does the apartment approval process take?
It's a multi-step process, so it can take a few days to complete. Try not to cry into your latte or craft beer or whatever if you don't hear anything by the time you get back home. Take steps to facilitate the process upfront and quickly provide detailed, accurate information and all requested documentation. The longer you take to supply the deets, the longer it'll take to get that lease in your name. The time frame varies by property, so go ahead and ask upfront when you can hopefully expect an answer.
What the application approval process looks like
A few phone calls need to be made and internet searches must be run. Fortunately, it's usually a pretty cut-and-dried process.
They check your income
The ability to make rent is a pretty important tenant quality. Clearly, the landlord or property wants to know that you'll be able to do this, so it's customary for a prospective renter to provide recent pay stubs, bank statements and other financial documents. Ideally, the property wants to see that your monthly take-home pay is three times as much as the monthly rent.
If you're relatively new to the workforce or recently accepted a new position, the employer can provide a proof of employment letter to satisfy the property's needs. Just request one from human resources. It's also not unusual for properties to call your place of business, just to make sure everything's on the up and up. People try to pull some pretty crazy stuff.
They check your credit
Once they know that you make enough money to afford the place, the landlord needs to know that you'll actually pay rent when it's due. This is accomplished by checking your credit history. When you fill out the apartment application, you give them permission to do so.
In a nutshell, a person's credit score is figured out by various credit bureaus. This is based on a number of factors, like whether you pay your bills on time, how many credit cards are in your name and so on. The credit score range is a dismal 300 all the way up to a picture-perfect 850. A good credit score for renters is 670 or above, which is higher than the national average. However, a score that falls between 600 and 650 usually does the trick, as well.
Most people, even young professionals, have some sort of credit history. If you're new to the workforce and don't yet have much to show for it, many rentals will look the other way on this as long as you have proof of employment and income. However, if you have bad or low credit you might want to head it off at the pass by offering to co-sign on the lease with a person who has good credit, like a parent. That way, if you default on payments, the property can get the payment from the co-signer. They don't care where the rent comes from, as long as they get it.
They check your background
The potential landlord will also conduct a background check to make sure you don't have any prior convictions. They also want to know if there are any pending issues to be concerned about. So, if that's the case, it's best to disclose the information upfront because it will end up coming out anyway. If you're 45 and you had a DUI in college, but nothing dicey since then, your app is probably not going to be denied.
They check your references
Not all properties do this, but in case they decide to, it's good to have the information pulled together. If you've rented before, provide the name and contact information of all previous landlords. If not, consider providing a reference who can speak to your character. Someone like a previous employer, teacher or professor fits the bill there. Give each person a heads up that someone might be getting in touch so that they make sure to return the call or email in a timely fashion.
When they speak to a previous landlord they're trying to find out if you've ever committed any violations of your lease agreement, garnered noise complaints or done damage to property. They also want to know if any previous neighbors filed complaints against you, or if there are any reports of illegal activities on the property.
Probably more than anything, they want to know if you have ever been evicted. Those proceedings cost a lot of money for a property to pull off — and can take ages — so landlords want to avoid evictions at all costs.
If approved, get ready to move!
Be ready to sign quickly on the dotted line once your approval comes in. No sense letting someone else swoop in and steal that perfect unit from you! Remember to keep up your stellar reputation, so that the process is every bit as smooth the next time.