How to Rent an Apartment with Bad Credit

Credit

Having bad credit can come back to haunt you in inconvenient ways. Being denied for a credit card and receiving loan offers with sky-high interest rates are just a few of the unfortunate consequences of a low credit score.

apartment building

But even more alarming is that more and more landlords are performing a credit check before choosing a tenant to lease an apartment.

If you have a bad credit score, you might even have difficulty finding a place to live. But you still need a roof over your head, so what’s the best way to get yourself out of this situation? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can get an apartment with bad credit history.

Find Out What’s On Your Credit Report

Even before you start apartment hunting, it’s a good idea to get a copy of your credit report and see what kind of information is listed there.

You can order a free copy from the three major credit bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com — it’s a fast and easy process and that you can do online.

However, if you’re trying to increase your score quickly, the credit bureau’s allowed response time for disputes increases from 30 days to 45 days when you use the free website.

There are a few important reasons to check your credit report when looking for an apartment. One is to know exactly what your potential landlord sees so you can address any issues or concerns. The second is so you know how to raise your score.

Check for Inaccuracies

Another good reason to look at your credit history? To make sure the information there is accurate!

A 2012 study from the Federal Trade Commission found that 26% of participants reported potential errors on their credit reports. So, there’s a fair chance you might find a mistake on yours, and it could be hurting your credit score.

Check your report to make sure each item is accurate and up-to-date. Furthermore, educate yourself on how long items should remain on your credit report. If you see something older than seven or ten years, it’s probably time to open a dispute with the credit bureau.

Start Improving Your Credit Score

Even if you have a bad credit score now, there are plenty of steps you can take to get it back on the upswing. This will help your ability to get an apartment now and further down the road. Some items take time to correct. However, you can implement a few good habits now that will get your credit scores back on an upward trajectory.

Start by making sure you pay all of your bills on time. Making timely payments is the most significant contributing factor to your credit score.

Once a bill is past 30 days due, your credit score can take a considerable hit. But over time, consistent payments start to have a positive impact. Prevent further damage to your credit score now and help your future score by paying your bills on time and in full.

Removing Negative Items from Your Credit Report

If you have delinquent accounts, work with your creditor or collection agency to get the account back in good standing. You can use several negotiating tactics, such as paying a lump sum in exchange for removing the derogatory item from your report.

If you need help, consider hiring a credit repair agency to figure out the best way to get rid of those negative items. Even if you’re looking for an apartment now, it’s always wise to think about the future as well.

Explain Any Negative Items

Once you’ve fixed any potential errors, you may still have some negative items. When you’re applying for an apartment with bad credit, the best thing to do is directly address these items in a letter to your potential landlord. This is especially true if you were in a one-time situation that caused you to have temporary financial hardship.

Maybe you lost a job or had to take care of a sick relative. Whatever the reason, explain what happened and why you are in a better financial position today.

Even if your situation is due to reckless spending, you could try admitting to a temporary flaw in judgment and point out evidence that shows your changed behavior. The older your negative items, the better case you can make for a change of heart.

Provide a Recommendation

Another piece of supplemental information you can include in your rental application is a letter of recommendation. Ideally, you’d want to use previous landlords who can attest to your rental history of paying your rent on time each month.

Even if someone has the ability to pay rent, that doesn’t mean they have the willingness. A real-life testimonial can go a long way in proving your character to a landlord.

In addition to your timely payments, your reference could also include information on your living habits. Of course, being clean and quiet is a plus to any landlord looking to avoid a headache-inducing tenant.

Get a Leg-up on Your Competition

Despite your credit history, there are a few ways you can make your application shine compared to other parties interested in the same apartment. To start, you could offer the landlord a larger security deposit. That shows the landlord you are unlikely to skip out on rent because you’d lose out on a larger chunk of cash.

The typical requirement is a deposit equal to one month of rent. If you can, offer one and a half or even two months of rent. You’ll get the money back when you move out, and it can indicate that you’re serious about being a responsible tenant.

If the landlord still has concerns, offer to do a trial run with a three or six-month lease and prove that you can pay on time. You could also offer to set up automatic payments, so the landlord won’t have to come looking for you when rent is due.

A final nudge to be selected for the apartment is to offer a fast move-in to reduce the landlord’s vacancy time. An empty apartment equates to a month of lost income, so poise yourself as a solution to that problem.

Stay in the Right Price Range

One of the most significant factors a landlord uses to decide on a tenant is your rent-to-income ratio. This number is determined by the cost of monthly rent divided by your monthly income (before taxes). Ideally, landlords like to see that ratio no higher than 35%.

If it’s any higher, they could be concerned about your ability to pay the monthly rent, even if you know your budget allows you to afford it. If you want to strengthen your rental application even more, find a less expensive apartment to demonstrate that you have a sizeable buffer in your monthly budget. It also helps if you can provide pay stubs or bank statements to the landlord to prove that you have a stable income.

Avoid Property Managers

Many large real estate and property management firms make money from managing rental properties either owned by individuals or by the company itself.

Because property managers tend to have more rigid rules in place, you could benefit from focusing your apartment search on those managed by the actual owner. You’ll be able to make a more emotional connection with the person, and they’ll probably have less of an institutional mindset as a property manager.

Even if the owner has specific criteria for a tenant, they can bend their own rules more easily than an employee can bend their boss’s rules.

Plus, an individual owner has their own money at stake each month. So, if they are eager to fill a vacancy, you have a better chance of appealing to their need to get a paycheck each month.

Get a Cosigner

One final tip for getting an apartment with bad credit history is to enlist the help of a cosigner. This is a friend or relative with a good credit score who signs the lease with you, even though they won’t live in the apartment with you.

You’re both held equally responsible for paying rent, so if neither of you makes the rent payments, the landlord can sue both of you.

Having an eviction can affect your credit score for a long time. That’s why it’s important to choose a cosigner with whom you have a strong and trusting relationship.

It’s not worth ruining a friendship over the rent. However, having someone with good credit history sign the lease with you might be better than crashing on their couch until your credit score improves. Just remember to proceed with caution if you choose to go down this route.

Final Thoughts

Having a poor credit score might feel like a roadblock to many things, and finding an apartment is no exception. However, there are several actionable steps you can take to strengthen your application and be chosen by a landlord. Be sure to play the numbers game and apply for numerous apartments.

It might take a few tries, but if you submit a strong application and aim to be flexible to the landlord’s needs, you should eventually get approved for an apartment. Remember, even after you find the right place, work to improve your credit scores and build your rental history. That way you can enjoy an easier process the next time you’re ready to move.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a Crediful writer whose aim is to give readers the financial tools they need to reach their own goals in life. She has written on personal finance issues for over six years and holds a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.