Apartment Application Process 101
Getting ready to rent your first apartment?
Then you’re probably wondering how long the whole process takes. Aside from the apartment hunt, the length of this is largely determined by the apartment application process. And this could take anywhere from a day to a month(s), depending on the landlord or apartment complex.
Although it may vary from one apartment to another—for example, furnished apartments in Atlanta could differ from those in Boston—there are things you can do to speed up the process, starting with being prepared and well-educated about what’s to come. To that end, let’s review how the apartment application process works and what factors impact the timeline.
The rental application process
In most cases, the rental application process is relatively straightforward. It should take somewhere from 24 to 72 hours. But sometimes it’s longer; it’s all based on the property manager’s and landlord’s ability to verify your (and possibly others’) screening information.
After you’ve decided that you want to live in the apartment, you must apply. Typically this is done in one of four ways:
- At the open house
- By visiting the building’s rental office
- Directly through the landlord
- Online on the apartment complex’ website
Should you choose to apply online, you could also email the finished version to the leasing office just to be sure that they get eyes on it.
If it’s a nice apartment, then there may be competition from other people who also like the location, community, budget, etc. There’s a good chance that they too will apply.
If this is the case, keep in mind that some places operate on a first come first serve policy, while others weigh their options by comparing the prospect tenant applications. So, be sure to get your application in as soon as possible and that all of the information is accurate and up to date.
What will you need for the renter application?
Again, forms vary, but there are some materials and documents that you should have on hand just in case for almost any apartment application. In most cases, you will likely need to fill out or show proof of the following:
- Contact information – Landlords will need ways to identify and contact you, including:
- Social Security Number
- Email address
- Phone number
- Current address
- Contact information of previous landlords and current employer
- Proof of identity – A photo ID will be required. That could either be your driver’s license, state ID, or passport.
- Proof of income – Ways to show employment verification could include copies of previous pay stubs, W-2s, or tax returns.
- Vehicle information – Particularly if you’re applying for an apartment with a designated parking spot, you’ll need to provide all of the relevant details about your car and its insurance, including:
- License plate number
- Pet information – Certain apartments don’t allow pets or certain types of pets. You’ll likely need to include information on:
- Type of pet
- Proof of vaccination
- Personal or professional references – This is optional, but wise, especially if you have a bad credit history or are a first-time renter.
In addition to showing proof and filling out your application honestly and accurately, you’ll probably be asked to pay an application fee.
The rental application fee
Many apartments have an application fee where tenant screening is conducted. For this, landlords must provide a written notice that informs:
- What type of information will be conducted in screening
- That the results could lead to an application denial
- The contact information of the consumer reporting agency, and the notification that you have the right to have a free copy of the report and challenge the results if you’re denied.
According to Tenants Union, landlords can’t simply rip you off by charging an outrageous fee:
Landlords can only charge prospective tenants for the actual cost of screening fees. Additionally, landlords can only charge for screening if they provide written notice to inform you of what the screening will entail and what information could result in the application being denied. Application and screening fees generally cost $35–$75 per person. Landlords cannot profit from application fees.
To expedite the process, be sure to bring your checkbook, particularly if you will be renting from an individual.
What does the application screening process look at?
The screening process looks at several aspects of your personal and professional history, including:
- Proof of income – The most important factor for any landlord is that their tenant is able to make rent payments, and make them on time each month throughout the lease term. Most will stipulate that you show an income that’s three times higher than rent. This is why you’ll likely be asked for proof of employment and pay stubs.
- Credit check – Generally speaking, your credit score is a metric that determines how reliable you are at paying back your debts. This assumes that the higher your score, the less likely you’ll miss rent or make an attempt at getting out of an apartment lease. Credit is one of the primary considerations a landlord must consider, especially if he’s weighing multiple applications.
If you have bad credit or no credit built up at all, you may want to prove that you’ve been working to improve it or write a cover letter explaining your previous financial history. Or you could ask a family member to co-sign it as a guarantor.
- Rental history – Landlords want to know that you’ll not only pay rent but also treat their property and neighbors with respect. Some landlords will contact your previous landlord to ensure that you’re trustworthy. So, if you’re a first-timer, you may need to provide professional references who can back your character.
- Evictions – Previous evictions are a huge red flag on your rental record. Should you ever have a lawsuit filed to evict you—whether rightfully or wrongfully—it’ll show up. If you have been evicted, be upfront about it, especially if you won the eviction.
- Criminal record – Some landlords accept renters who have a criminal past while others don’t. If you have a record, that’s another thing you should be upfront about. It could save you from wasting money on an application fee for an apartment that doesn’t accept applications from individuals with previous criminal behavior.
Most of this can be conducted quickly. So, you should expect to receive word of your application approval or rejection within the next day or two.
Be ready to pay a security deposit
Let’s say you get approved for the apartment. What then?
In all likelihood, your landlord or leasing office will ask that you pay a security deposit or rental bond as a sign of good faith and proof of intent. This money is usually equal to one or two month’s worth of rent.
As the name suggests, it ensures that the renter is locked into the contract and has placed a financial stake in order to claim their space. Typically, this can be used to pay damages on repairs or lost property. According to Investopedia:
In some states, landlords might apply security deposits as rent from tenants who cannot otherwise pay or use the deposits to repair damage caused by tenants. Each state may stipulate whether or not a security deposit can be used to pay the final month’s rent when occupancy of a property comes to an end.
Because it varies by place, do your research and check out your local and state rent and security deposit laws.
Be ready to sign your lease
In addition to paying your security deposit, you’ll also be required to sign on the dotted line.
Everyone living in the apartment will have to add their name and signature to the list to complete the lease signing process. This legal document is evidence that you’ve made a compact with your landlord and agreed to both the cost of rent and the expectations of the term, whether it be a long term contract or month to month leasing.
Be sure to thoroughly read through all of the documents to ensure that you aren’t surprised down the road.
Try Landing for a simplified rental application process
Applying for one apartment can be a painstaking process, but when you’re applying for several spots, it becomes even more difficult.
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Even the fastest apartment applications will take somewhere between 24 and 72 hours. Some take even longer than that as they review and then weigh your application against other applicants.
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