If you have a credit score below 600—or no credit or rental history at all—then it's not going to be easy for you to get a traditional apartment lease. From negotiating upfront payments to preparing a more detailed rental application, these six steps will make it easier to get a lease even with poor credit.
1. Look for rentals posted by small, independent landlords
Half of all rental housing in the U.S. is owned by an individual, and less professionalized landlords tend to have more malleable criteria for new tenants. Look around for these smaller, single-property landlords, and make your case for why they should place more weight on your income and assets.
You may be able to find these types of landlords either on Craigslist or in real life. You can drive or walk around your ideal neighborhoods, looking for "For Rent" signs and calling the numbers on the signs. We know—it's a little old-school—but these smaller landlords are often older, and less likely to advertise their apartments online.
2. Prepare your application ahead of time
The more detail you give a potential landlord about your current financial status, the more confident they'll be in your ability to reliably make rent payments. Put together as much information as possible about your employment status, income, savings, and other assets.
Employment and income documentation
You need to demonstrate that you have more than enough steady income to cover bills. Any landlord will ask you to provide your most recent tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements—but you can take it a step further by having these documents going back as far as six months. Also, ask your employer to write a letter on company letterhead confirming your income. What may seem excessive to you now could convince a landlord who's on the fence about approving your application.
Savings and assets
If your income isn’t regular or reliable, but you have a lot of money in savings, proving this can't hurt. Have evidence of any assets or savings you have readily available in the form of bank statements. Keep in mind that most landlords don't care much about non-cash assets, or even large, cash-filled bank accounts—they're focused on credit scores and income.
Professional or personal reference letter
Let your landlord know about your credit history and why it’s not a reflection of your current financial responsibility. If you’re actively taking steps to improve your credit, explain them. The transparency and initiative you’re showing may encourage your landlord to trust you more.
The best way to do this is by writing a letter or asking a reference to write one for you. In your letter, you can even describe your whole credit history and break down each account. For example, you might demonstrate that your credit is low is because of a single late payment rather than a major loan default or persistent late payments.
3. Add a guarantor to your application
A guarantor is someone in good financial standing who signs the lease with you and is held liable for rent payments if you’re not able to make them. Getting a guarantor can be difficult, but if you can make it happen, then it's a great way to get your dream apartment.
4. Bring in a co-signer
A co-signer is different from a guarantor because they'll sign the lease with you and have the same rights as a tenant that you do. In a roommate situation where you're both on the lease, you and your roommate would be co-signers. If you can find someone that you would like to live with—or grant access to your space—and they have better credit than you, then apply with them.
5. Try to negotiate
If you’re trying to get your name on a lease with bad or no credit you will need to be prepared to cut a deal with your potential landlord. It’s very common for renters to pay more of a security deposit or more rent money upfront when they don’t have great credit. Keep in mind, though, that your jurisdiction might cap the amount of rent you can pay upfront as a deposit in order to keep tenants safer.
It may seem like a small thing, but offering to set up direct deposit for your rent payments can also assuage a landlord’s concerns about getting rent on time. It’s easy to set up through your bank. You’ll need to sign a form authorizing that the payments be withdrawn from your account and provide your account and routing number.
6. Consider subletting
Renting in big and popular cities is a competitive game, and a bad credit score or no credit score at all can make it hard to get an edge over other applicants. If your income is too low and you don't want to pay a lot of money upfront or get a guarantor, the chances are slim that you'll be approved for a traditional lease. In this case, you should consider finding housing that doesn’t necessarily require a credit check, like sublets and room rentals.
7. Build a history of on-time rent payments
Whichever of the above options you choose, you’ll get the opportunity to start paying rent. As soon as you’re paying rent, you should use each on-time payment to bolster your status as a renter. You can report rent payments directly to credit bureaus in an effort to improve your credit score. There are a few services that offer to do this for you, and you can even do it if you live at home with your parents—you'll just have to pay them rent.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.