You’re excited, and that’s understandable: you’ve found an apartment that’s just what you were looking for.

Now what?

It’s time to fill out a rental application. A rental application is a form that provides the information necessary for a landlord or property owner to determine a tenant’s creditworthiness and their ability to pay their rent reliably. 

Filling out a rental application isn’t difficult, but there are a few steps involved in the process. Here are some common questions prospective tenants have about the rental application process: 

Where do you fill out a renter’s application?

There are a few ways to fill out a rental application, depending on the landlord or property owner’s preference. Applying online is a time-saving solution. Some property managers make it easy for prospective tenants to apply online after a virtual tour, for example. Others may require prospective tenants to complete an in-person or electronic application at the leasing office, oftentimes following a tour or an open house.

A rental application laid out on a desk with a pen and house key laying on top. A quote reads, "Application fees fund background and credit checks. The cost is about $25 to $100, with $35 to $75 being the most common."

How much is the application fee?

Application fees fund background and credit checks. The cost is about $25 to $100, with $35 to $75 being the most common. These fees are usually non-refundable. Some states regulate the application fee so that it cannot exceed the actual costs incurred to do a credit check and get a background report.

What do you need to provide when filling out a renter’s application?

It’s ideal to have the most commonly requested documents ready ahead of time. That way, you’re prepared when you find that ideal apartment. Delays while you search for key documents may give other applicants an edge. Having digital copies of requested documents on hand can help save time and speed up the process for you. 

Common requirements include:
  • Positive identification (driver’s license, non-driver ID or passport)
  • Contact information (email address, personal phone, work phone)
  • Proof of income: W-2s, current pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns
Possible requirements or requests:
  • Letter confirming current employment
  • Personal or professional references
  • Contact information for previous landlords
  • Pet information, when applicable

 A rental application is a form that provides the information necessary for a landlord or property owner to determine a tenant’s creditworthiness and their ability to pay their rent reliably.

What is important in a renters application?

Landlords ask themselves two common-sense questions as they review applications:

  • Does the applicant pay his/her bills on time?
  • Does the applicant have sufficient income to reliably pay the rent?

One way to figure this out is by conducting a credit report. When you fill out a rental application, you’ll grant the landlord permission to check your credit score and to do a background check. Most credit data comes from the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Transunion and Experian. 

Paying bills on time will improve a credit score. So will using a smaller portion of available credit (less than 30 percent is ideal). A longer credit history also improves the score. If your credit score is a little low, consider drafting a letter to explain why. You might reference the impact of past medical bills, for example.

A landlord considers the applicant’s credit history as part of its overall risk assessment. Market demand, cost of rent, and past experience with tenants may also be factors.

Income verification

A landlord will also want to know that the rent will not consume too much of your income. Applicants who are employed submit pay stubs to confirm employment and current pay. W2s and recent tax returns are alternatives when pay stubs are not available. 

If you are an independent contractor or otherwise self-employed, you won’t have W-2s. Instead, a landlord will usually focus on the last two years of your tax returns. Several months of current bank statements will show that you are earning enough to pay the rent.

Sometimes, a good credit score alone is not enough. A high rent-to-income ratio is a red flag. Any surprise expense could quickly derail the applicant’s budget. In general, your rent should be about one-third of your monthly gross income or less. Ratios vary from place to place. For example, average rent in Chicago is 28 percent of income. In New York and Los Angeles, it is 40 percent or more.

Background check

A background check investigates a potential tenant’s character and dependability. Since a background check includes accessing the national criminal database, be forthcoming about any felony conviction or pending legal case you may have. It’s better to be proactive so you can present your side of the story upfront.

Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation may strengthen an application. Such letters may increase the landlord’s confidence in having you as a tenant. Examples include letters from previous landlords, work associates, professors, or other credible individuals.

A first-time renter may face more scrutiny than one with a successful rental history. This type of renter still has the option of adding a co-signer. 

The application process: a timeline

You might be wondering, “How long does it take to get approved for an apartment?” The process is most efficient if you submit the requested documents with the application. Be sure to ask how long approvals usually take at the property you’re applying to.

Most of the time, the application process takes one to three business days. Background checks and employment verification may take some additional time. Sometimes things move more quickly. A prospective tenant might tour an apartment (in-person or virtually), apply, get approved and sign a lease, all on the same day. In other situations, however, the process may take up to a week.

What happens once you’re approved?

If you’re approved, you need to sign the lease. Understand that a lease is a legal contract with binding provisions. The tenant agrees to pay the rent on time for the entire lease term. Although one-year leases are most common, some properties offer shorter lease terms.

Lease signing details

Many properties offer lease signings online. In fact, some complete all lease agreements in this way. You enter into the agreement with an electronic signature.  You may also have the option of signing the lease in-person at the leasing office. If you have a cosigner, he/she will also sign a legal document guaranteeing payment of the rent.

Since both the tenant and the landlord make important commitments in the lease, it is vital to read it with care. Always ask any questions before signing. 

Remit payments due

In most cases, payment of the first month’s rent is due when the lease is signed. Some properties also require payment of a security deposit, often equivalent to one month’s rent. Other properties charge a move-in fee instead. This fee is typically less than a security deposit, although it is nonrefundable. Those moving in with one or more approved pets may also pay a pet fee and/or monthly pet rent. 

Get ready to move in

Once you’ve signed your lease, it’s time to begin moving into your new home. Ask when you’ll get the keys. Make sure you’re aware of any monthly parking fees or pet fees, if applicable. Know what the penalty is for a lost key or electronic key fob. Many properties include all amenities in the rent, but you’ll want to know the cost of optional amenities if there are any. Finally, know the procedures for making maintenance requests.

Be clear about which utilities you are responsible for and budget for them. Plan in advance for utilities like electricity, cable TV, and internet. 

Online rental applications: fast and easy

Register for a fast and easy online rental application to any of Draper and Kramer’s communities. Visit today to learn more. 

A man signs a rental application at the desk of a leasing agent.

A rental application is a form that provides the information necessary for a landlord or property owner to determine a tenant's creditworthiness and their ability to pay their rent reliably.

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