The joys of being a full-time freelancer are many. You can create your own schedule, manage your own income, even work from home in your pajamas eating leftovers all day long. But it can also present some challenges—particularly when trying to find an apartment. You can’t just bust out a W2 whenever a potential landlord wants to see proof of your income. Freelancers have to jump through way more hoops to prove that they’ll be able to afford rent each month. Here’s everything you should do when you’re applying to a rental while self-employed.
Gather up your tax documents
One of the best ways for landlords to see that you make a consistent living is through your tax returns. These are official government documents, so they’ll know you’re actually making what you say, and it’ll also allow them to calculate out whether or not you’ll be able to afford the rent. Pull together two or three years of your personal tax returns—even if you own a business, landlords are more interested in your personal income.
Some landlords will want more official proof that you’ve got work coming in. They may ask to see 1099s from your clients—any who pay you more than $600 in a year are supposed to send one. It won’t parse things out monthly, but it’ll help show that you have actual work coming in from legitimate sources.
Compile three months of account statements
The downside of tax returns, from a landlord’s perspective, is that they don’t show how much you make on a month-by-month basis. (Perhaps you made all your income in two months last year, and you would have struggled to pay rent the other months.) Calm their fears by putting together three months of bank statements showing consistent income and a steady balance.
If you have savings accounts, don’t forget to print out those statements, too. It’ll help assure your potential landlord that if, for some reason, one month’s income doesn’t quite make your rent payment, you’ll still be able to pay because you have money set aside. Again, bring two or three months’ worth of statements.
Have your accountant write an income projection letter
Some landlords, particularly in high-end buildings, will want to see a certified letter from your CPA. It’s called an income projection letter and states what that accountant expects you’ll make over the next year. Many accountants will do this as a one-off service. They’ll need to analyze your bank statements and the past couple years of tax returns to do so. The letter usually takes about two days to prepare, and cost varies based on the level of detail the apartment company is looking for.
Prove that you're currently earning money
Tax documents prove your income from past years, but it's helpful for landlords to see that your business hasn't dropped off in recent months. Print out any long-term client contracts to show the landlord. That way they can be assured of a steady source of income. If you don’t have contracts, ask your clients for letters saying they plan to keep working with you.
You can also show them invoices from the past year, which should have the month listed that you sent them—and show when they were paid.
Put together your application in advance
To make things easier on yourself and your landlord (and any potential roommates), consider gathering all these documents into a folder and carrying it with you to showings. That way, you’ll have it on hand immediately if questions about your income come up, and you won’t need to re-collect everything for every apartment you apply for. It's also a good idea to have electronic copies of all your documents that are organized into a sharable folder, in case the broker would prefer that you send your application by email.
Find a guarantor
Especially if you're new to freelancing, you may not have multiple years of tax returns to hand over to a potential landlord. In this case, you may need to consider finding a guarantor—someone who will agree to cover your portion of rent if you’re unable to make a payment for any reason. Although it's not always easy to find someone who's willing to be your guarantor, it can make a big difference in your application.
Bring some cash
Finally, if you can put down a security deposit or the first month’s rent on the spot, it will make you a more attractive renter. Alternatively, offer to pay a portion of the full annual rent up front (about six months’ worth usually works). The upside for the landlord is obvious—there's no way you'll pay that rent late since it's already in their hands! But keep in mind that, depending on where you live, it might be illegal for landlords to accept more than the first months' rent in advance.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.