Your credit score may play a major role in your ability to rent an apartment. Some landlords might deny your rental application if you have bad credit even if you have a spotless rental history and a sizable salary. Others may only check to see if you have a previous eviction or other rental-related blemish on your credit report.
If you’re concerned a less-than-stellar credit report will keep you from finding a place to live, you can take one or more of these actions to increase your chances of getting the rental unit you want.
1. Know What's in Your Credit Report
Check your credit report before you start apartment hunting so you know what's in your credit history. The three major credit bureaus all have created credit reports on you, and you should check all three since the landlord could access any of them.
If you spot any inaccurate information, now's the time to use the credit report dispute process to have the errors removed. The less negative information you have on your credit report, the better your chance at getting approved for an apartment.
2. Look for Property Owners Who Don't Check Credit
The best way to get an apartment when you have bad credit is to find a landlord who doesn’t do credit checks. Apartment complexes that are owned by large property management companies typically require a credit check on all applications. These property managers will most likely turn you down if you have bad credit.
Instead, aim for properties owned by individual landlords, who often don't check credit or who may be more willing to take a risk on a tenant who doesn't have the best credit history but has good rental history and solid income.
There are a few ways to find rental units owned by an individual.
1) Check out Craigslist, an online classified marketplace. In the Housing section of Craigslist, owners advertise rentals (apartments, condos, townhouses, and houses) they have available.
Years ago, very few management-owned apartment complexes listed rentals on Craigslist.org, and it was easier to find individual landlords. You'll now find all types of rentals in the mix. Landlords still advertise here, but you'll have to sift through lots of listings to find them.
Make sure you're looking in the right location; you can change the metropolitan area by clicking on the bar at the center of the top of the Craigslist page.
2) The classified section of your local newspaper (or that of the area you’re interested in moving to) is another place where property owners advertise for rentals. Sunday's paper usually has the most advertisements. Many newspapers have their classified ads listed online, too, so explore this option, especially if you're moving out of town.
3) Ask a real estate agent in your area to find you an apartment to rent. Many homeowners, especially those who live outside the area, use real estate agents to rent their homes and will pay the agent a commission on your rental.
Once you've contacted a property owner, ask them what criteria they use to approve tenants for the rental. If a credit check isn't one of them, then you have one less thing to worry about. However, if there is a credit check involved, you have some additional options for getting approved.
3. Get a Recommendation
Getting someone to vouch for your financial responsibility can help offset a bad credit report. Contact people with whom you have or have had a financial relationship—current or previous landlords, your bank, current or previous employers—and ask for a reference letter.
You're more likely to be denied a rental opportunity if you have unpaid past-due balances, especially to other landlords or utility companies. If you have past-due accounts on your credit report, pay them in full and get the business to write a letter or print a statement showing the account has been fully paid.
You might also try writing a letter that explains the situation that caused your financial problems. Divorce, medical bills, and job loss are common situations that lead to bad credit. Make sure your letter describes how you've cleaned up your finances and why you can handle a rental.
Be careful about the situations in which you use letters of recommendation. If a landlord hasn't checked your credit and isn't aware of your credit history, he may become unnecessarily suspicious when you hand him a letter explaining your past financial problems. Landlords may get your permission before checking your credit, so it won't be a surprise when they do.
4. Demonstrate Provable Income
Sufficient income can sometimes offset a negative credit history. First, you need to make about three to four times the monthly rent, not just to meet the landlord's requirements, but also to ensure you can afford the payments. Second, you need solid proof of your income. Two or three months of pay stubs proving your stable income is often sufficient.
5. Be Prepared to Pay More Upfront
Whether you're able to get around the credit check altogether or you get approved for an apartment despite your credit history, expect to pay more money upfront. You might be required to pay a higher security deposit or between one and three months worth of rent to move into your new apartment.
If you don’t have the best credit and expect to move in the near future, start setting some money aside now so you can cover the higher upfront costs.
6. Ask a Co-Signer to Help You
Getting someone to co-sign your lease is another, last-resort option. Your co-signer will need to meet the necessary credit qualifications, so they'll have to have a solid credit report.
Keep in mind that if you don't keep up with your payments or get evicted for any reason, the landlord can legally go after the co-signer for the value of the lease. It's therefore wise to use other people's credit sparingly and be even more careful with it than your own.