The Rental Application Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Finding a new rental apartment is an exciting challenge, but sometimes we all need a little help. After browsing hundreds of apartments online and finally finding the one you want, next comes the task of filling out the application. As with all things legalese, this is where you need to pay close attention to make sure you’re not missing any details that might cost you.

Although not all applications are the same and you should always go through the requirements for each specific rental, many follow a similar pattern. To help, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide for the application process.


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First, prepare everything you’ll need for the application and start filling it out. The form will likely request personal information, such as your name, address, photo ID, contact information, employment and income information, emergency contacts, pets (if applicable), and background information.

Most properties also offer online applications, which makes it easier to access and provide the information. Be sure to read and complete every field carefully. If you’re moving in with roommates, all applicants must submit these forms separately.

Fees & Refunds

When you apply, you’ll have to pay an application fee, which basically covers the cost of your background and credit checks. Be sure to ask about any additional fees beforehand so you plan your budget accordingly. Also, find out whether any of them are refundable. Then, you’ll know the actual costs and be prepared for them.

Background & Credit Checks

As previously mentioned, you’ll be required to go through a screening process that includes credit and background checks. The credit check is necessary to determine how reliable you are as a renter, including whether you pay your rent and other bills on time. During the application process, it’s best to mention your credit score and account for any bad credit, if necessary; if you describe the situation and it’s clear that it was out of your control—such as a past medical bill—then this step will be much smoother.

The same applies for background information. A background check will go back as far as needed, and most landlords check for criminal history. Share any relevant information up front and be transparent to keep the process moving.

Proof of Reliability

All potential tenants need to prove that they can pay the rent. This can be done in different ways, from past references to a co-signer. Past references—either previous landlords or others who can vouch for your reliability—are especially beneficial.

If you don’t have anyone to write a reference for you, consider getting a co-signer. Especially if this is your first apartment, ask a reliable friend or a family member to co-sign on the lease. This should be a person with a good credit score who would take legal responsibility if you didn’t pay your rent.

Signing the Lease

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After completing the application and passing the checks, it’s time to sign the lease. Now is the time to ask all of the questions you have, including lease terms, fees, the security deposit, utilities, maintenance requests, guest policies, and more. Make a list of what you want to know and things that aren’t clear and go through them with your landlord. This is an important step, so make sure you do your research before signing the lease.

Taking everything one step at a time means you’ll be better prepared and more confident during the entire process. Best wishes as you search for the perfect apartment!

About the author: Mihaela Buzec is a passionate reader and writer with an affinity for language and linguistics, as well as the latest technological developments. She discovered her passion for real estate at RENTCafé, and you can read more of her articles on their blog.

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