Requirements to Rent an Apartment: Everything You Need

When you apply to rent an apartment, landlords will ask for a number of documents, ranging from W-2s and paystubs to the rental application itself. They also look for certain requirements in the prospective tenant, such as a credit score north of 620 and proof of annual income forty times the monthly rent.

But the specifics vary quite a bit depending on the landlord. Read on to learn about everything you’ll need to rent an apartment.

Completed Rental Application

The rental application process isn’t as challenging to handle as it may seem. Usually, you’ll need to provide specific kinds of information and give the landlord or property manager certain permissions in regards to your application.

When it comes to the information, you’ll need to provide personally identifiable information, such as your full name, birth date, Social Security number, address, email, and phone number. Additionally, you’ll need to cover your employment history and income sources. That way, they can calculate your rent-to-income ratio and assess whether the apartment is affordable.

Providing a list of past residences is another common step. Usually, this information helps property managers perform certain check,  and it may serve as the basis for reference checks.

If references are requested in another part of the application, you’ll need to provide contact information for people that fit the criteria. In most cases, past landlords are preferred. However, other people may also work, including managers or coworkers at your job, long-term friends, and similar individuals. However, family members aren’t usually allowed.

If you have a pet, you’ll likely have to include details on your rental application. You may need to discuss the type of pet, specific breed, pet’s size, and other details, particularly if the landlord has pet-related restrictions or requirements. Some properties don’t allow pets, or only allow certain types of pets.

Many landlords also request details for an emergency contact, ensuring they know who to reach out to if an unexpected event occurs. Exactly what that entails may vary depending on state regulations, so review local law to determine precisely when they can reach out.

It’s also common to see a list of yes/no questions that you’ll need to answer. This could include questions about your financial situation or history, criminal history, or certain habits, like whether you smoke.

Credit Checks

Landlords will also check your credit when renting an apartment. As a rule of thumb, landlords look for a minimum credit score of 620 or above. But that number can vary depending on the landlord and the property in question, and a strong application can sometimes help convince a landlord to approve a rental application despite a low credit score.

When you fill out a rental application, you’ll typically need to sign forms giving the landlord or property manager permission to run background and credit checks. That way, they can review your credit history and score, and criminal record.

There are ways to get an apartment even with bad credit, so don’t assume that a poor history means that you’ll never qualify for a place. For example, you may be able to add a cosigner, provide multiple months of rent upfront, to take other steps.

It’s also crucial to note that there are laws that outline how a landlord or property manager can use the information they discover during either of these checks. While the exact regulations may vary by state, some rules are universal. For example, discriminating against tenants when it comes to requiring the checks – such as by only having members of a specific demographic group complete them – is illegal.

Still, it’s best to familiarize yourself with state and federal laws in advance. That way, you’ll know how these checks impact your chances of securing a property.

Proof of Income

Landlords also look for proof of sufficient income to afford the apartment. As a rule of thumb, they’ll often look for enough income to cover three times the rent. When comparing your annual income to the apartment’s monthly income, they often use the 40x principle: if your annual income is forty times the monthly rent, you’re good t ogo.

While the rental application usually has a spot for you to list your income, you typically have to back up that figure with formal documentation. That way, the landlord or property manager knows that you can reasonably afford the apartment.

There are many kinds of proof of income that can work in this scenario. While paystubs or W-2s are the most common, bank statements, tax returns, 1099s, Social Security benefits letters, and other options may also work.

In most cases, landlords and property managers can’t reject a rental application based on the type of income you list as long as it’s lawful and reliable. However, there are some exceptions. For instance, while unemployment benefits are legal and consistent, they only last for a short period of time. As a result, unemployment income alone may be insufficient if you’re trying to find a new rental.

Proof of Identity

During the application process, you’ll need to provide proof of your identity. Typically, this involves providing the landlord or property manager with a picture ID. Your driver’s license, state ID, military ID, or passport is the easiest way to satisfy this requirement, as they’re considered legal forms of identification. However, some landlords may be open to alternatives.

When you provide your identification, the property manager typically makes a copy. That information is kept with your application and, later, your tenant file if you’re approved for the apartment.

Animal-Related Records

If you’re bringing a pet or service animal into a rental unit, the landlord or property owner may request certain information. For example, they might ask for vet records to confirm your pet is in good health and has any mandatory vaccinations. Asking for copies of a license may also be part of the equation if one is required legally in your local area.

With service animals, they may ask for documentation that shows the service animal is “prescribed” by a licensed medical professional. However, the exact kind of information they can request regarding the service animal itself may vary by state, so it’s important to review local laws if you have a service animal.

It’s critical to note that property managers and landlords can’t ask about the nature of a person’s disability when inquiring about a service animal. Medical information is protected by law, so while you might have to show proof that the service animal is legitimate, they can’t dig into your health history, the nature of your condition, or similar details.

Vehicle Information

If you’re using a parking spot associated with the apartment or the property at large, you may need to provide certain details about your vehicle. Usually, the make, model, year, and license plate number are requested, allowing the landlord or property manager to know what vehicle should be in a particular space. Some may also ask for insurance details, though that isn’t always the case.

Application Processing Fee

When you want to rent an apartment, you’ll need to submit an application, go through an application review, and undergo certain checks, such as the background and credit check mentioned above. Since all of those steps take time and energy for the landlord – and the checks involve paid-for services – aspiring tenants usually have to pay a non-refundable application processing fee.

Typically, application fees are modest, designed specifically to cover any associated costs of processing your application and nothing more. Exactly how much an application fee is depends on several factors, including your location, local law, and the checks involved. However, in most cases, it falls somewhere in the $25 to $100 range.

Other Upfront Costs

Along with an application processing fee, you’ll need to prepare for specific upfront costs. Commonly, this involves what’s referred to as “first, last, and deposit.”

In most cases, you’ll need to pay the first month’s rent, as well as provide enough money to cover the last month’s rent and any security deposits. However, some properties may only require the first month’s rent and the security deposits, so keep that in mind.

Usually, all tenants have to deal with a base security deposit. However, you may also need to provide additional funds for circumstantial deposits. For example, if you’re bringing a pet into the property, a pet deposit might be required.

Generally, security deposits are refundable, either in whole or in part. The condition you leave the unit in when moving out plays the biggest role in that equation, though other factors could be involved. Security deposit laws vary by state, so you’ll want to check regulations in your area in advance to estimate what you’ll need to pay.

There are also some additional fees that you might see when renting an apartment. For example, in some states and cities, landlords can charge cleaning fees if they’re outlined in the lease and align with local law. If you opt into supplemental services, like a monthly fee-based parking spot, you may need to pay the first and last months of that, as well.

Move-In Inspection

Depending on local laws in your area, you may need to conduct a move-in inspection along with your landlord before moving in or officially signing a lease. You’ll walk through the property to identify pre-existing issues, ensuring they’re noted on a report before you formally lease the property.

Move-in inspections protect the landlord and tenant from certain issues. It ensures that both parties know the condition of the property before you take residency. That way, you and the landlord are fully aware of any damage that was present prior to your move-in and what changes during your tenancy.

It’s important to note that some states allow this to occur after the fact. In this case, you’ll be given a form to complete where you document any issues you notice as you prepare to move into the property. Typically, it’s best to complete this document when the apartment is empty, ensuring you can review the space without personal property obstructing your visibility.

If no move-in inspection is required, conduct one anyway on your own. Go through the property and document issues, preferably with photographs. Keep a copy for yourself and send another to the landlord, using certified mail if possible. That way, there’s a formal record of the property’s condition.

Proof of Renter’s Insurance

If the landlord or property manager requires renter’s insurance, you may need to submit proof showing you have a policy that meets the requirement. Usually, this happens after you are approved for the apartment and doesn’t have to take effect until your move-in date.

Most insurance companies can set the policies up in advance and provide you with the necessary documentation either by email or through an app. In either case, the landlord or property owner might need a copy or pertinent details, such as the effective date and policy number.

Signing the Lease

Once you complete the entire application process and have the funds to handle the upfront costs beyond the processing fee, you’ll need to sign the lease. This is the moment you formally agree to the terms contained therein, pledging to abide by all lawful rules and requirements in the paperwork.

In some cases, you’ll actually be signing multiple documents and initialing some in several places. Exactly what this involves could depend on where you live, the age of the property, and more. For example, you might have to sign a lead paint disclosure if the building is older and might contain lead paint.

Once you complete the paperwork, you’ll either receive your key or arrange to get it once your official move-in date arrives.