How to Get an Apartment With Bad Credit
Like the ghost of apartments past, one of the most sinister consequences of bad credit seems to always appear when you’re on the hunt for a new home. If you’re a renter, you’ll find that most landlords do extensive background checks on prospective tenants, and unfortunately, they’re often looking to see whether you’ve got any dings on your credit report. A bad credit score, shaky rental history, or no credit to speak of can sometimes put you in the “no” pile just as fast as an appearance on Hoarders.
But don't worry. It’s not like landlords only rent to tenants with perfect credit and a spotless record. Those people are one in a million. In general, landlords run credit reports and background checks to look for the following issues:
- Delinquent accounts
- Repossessed cars
- Late or missed rent payments
If you have one or more of these marks on your record, it’s probably going to be difficult to find a landlord willing to rent to you. But no matter how bad your credit is, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of getting approved.
Consider where you’re renting
The more competitive the rental market in your area, the lower your chances of finding a landlord willing to overlook any past financial screw-ups. Think about it: landlords in trendy areas are typically flooded with applications. If they have a choice between renting to someone with rocky credit plus a few evictions under their belt, or someone with stellar credit and a flawless rental record, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out who they’re going to pick.
The lesson here is this: when your credit is shot, your chances of getting approved for an apartment in a super hip ‘hood are not great. Instead, try looking outside of the trendy box.
Check out up-and-coming neighborhoods that are still a little rough around the edges, or if transportation isn’t an issue, consider moving out to the ‘burbs, where apartments are cheaper and finding a place doesn’t require you to volunteer as a tribute in the housing Hunger Games.
In short, look for a place where you will be your landlord’s best option, not their last resort.
Find a co-signer
Moving away from a competitive rental market might be a good option for some people, but it won’t work for everyone. If you need to stay within walking, biking, or public transit distance from your office, you’ll need to find another way to get around the bad credit block. One easy solution? Find a co-signer.
Essentially, a co-signer is someone—typically a trusted friend or family member with solid credit—who is willing to vouch for you and take legal responsibility for your rent if you cannot. Landlords love renting to people with co-signers, as it gives them an extra layer of protection from a missed payment.
If you have someone in your life willing to co-sign on a lease for you, make sure you mention that to your prospective landlord before they have a chance to deny you outright.
And remember, your co-signer is essentially tying their good credit to yours. If you want to have a positive relationship with this person going forward, make sure you make all your payments on time so they don’t have to shell out any cash on your behalf.
Look to individual landlords over big rental companies
In our experience, renting from landlords who own just a few buildings is, in general, a better idea than renting from a giant rental company for a variety of reasons. Not only do big companies often have issues providing timely maintenance for tenants, they also have much less wiggle room when it comes to renting to people with lower credit scores.
While a landlord who owns one building and lives on site may be willing to overlook bad credit for the right kind of neighbor, larger rental companies aren’t going to be interested in negotiation.
If you want to give yourself a better chance of acceptance, do some research on who owns the building you’re eyeing. You could save yourself a lot of time—and application fee money—by avoiding large rental companies.
Put your money where your mouth is
If you have a bad rental history and want to rent without a co-signer, most landlords will be skeptical about renting to you. What is considered a bad rental history? Think multiple missed or late rent payments or a history of eviction.
If this sounds like a page out of your memoir, you might need to pay a little more to prove your worth to your future landlord. You have a few options here:
- Offer to pay a bigger security deposit before move-in
- Offer to pay multiple months in rent upfront
- Offer to pay more per month for rent than the apartment is listed for (and show bank records to prove you can afford the higher monthly payment)
Money talks. If you have the funds to do so, paying a little extra can help turn even the most skeptical landlord into a true believer.
Look for a roommate, not a landlord
Spend any time trawling Craigslist for apartments, and you’ll likely see a lot of posts like this:
“Roommate needed in 2 bed/2 bath apartment! All utilities included!”
People who are looking for short or long-term roommates are often working on a short timeline—unless they find someone to move in ASAP, they’ll be on the hook for paying rent on behalf of the entire apartment. Because of this, they may be less inclined to ask potential roommates to submit a credit check, or even to sign a proper lease.
If you have some serious blemishes on your report, finding a situation like this can be a great option—just make sure the landlord is OK with you living there before you hire that moving truck.
If the pockmarks on your credit report were the result of life situations beyond your control, you have a right to make that known. There’s no harm in sending along a detailed letter with your rental application, explaining in advance what your landlord is likely to find when s/he runs your credit.
Use the letter to detail what happened and why it’s unlikely to happen again, and include a few trusted references your landlord can call to corroborate both your story and your current financial standing and responsibility.
Dispute discrepancies on your report
The FTC estimates that one in four credit reports include at least one error that could negatively impact a person’s credit. We’ve written before about why it’s so important to take a good look at your report as often as possible, and possible errors on your report is a major reason why.
So if it’s been a while since you checked yours out, head over to AnnualCreditReport.com to get free copies of your credit report from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, the three major U.S. credit bureaus. You’re entitled to one free download of each report every year, so you can either grab them all at once or spread them out every four months to get an update three times a year.
If you see anything on your credit report that doesn’t look like you—think mystery credit cards or cash advances, evictions you didn’t experience, or even delinquent utility accounts you never opened—send a dispute letter to the credit bureaus. You can read the sample letter from the FTC.
According to the FTC, this letter should:
“Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report you dispute, state the facts and explain why you dispute the information and request that it be removed or corrected. You may want to enclose a copy of your report with the items in question circled. Send your letter by certified mail, “return receipt requested,” so you can document what the credit reporting company received. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.”
Credit bureaus will typically investigate your dispute and resolve it within 30 days. For more information on how to dispute an item on your credit report, head over to the FTC site.
And if you're considering borrowing money for any other purpose (and your number of questions is higher than your credit score) check out the OppU Guide to Bad Credit Loans.