What to Expect in the Rental Application Process

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Point2.

Like when applying for a job, you also need to apply as a tenant when you want to move into a new apartment.

In the U.S. and Canada, potential tenants are often required to submit a rental application form to the landlord or property management company when they wish to rent a unit. The form basically provides the owner with all the information they need to determine whether a candidate can reliably pay the rent.

As well as being able to fulfill financial obligations, the application process is also used to filter out candidates that don’t match other criteria. This can include pet owners in a pet-free apartment building or smokers in a non-smoking home, for example.

Therefore, understanding the entire rental application process is essential if you want to be approved for the unit of your choice. Here’s what it entails.

When and Where Do You Fill It Out?

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Nowadays, many landlords and property management companies allow you to fill out your application form online. This is a fantastic time-saver and is often used by leasing firms that offer online tours. The option to apply will be readily available once the tour has been completed.

Other companies will require you to fill out the form in person, often at the leasing office. This usually follows a tour, viewing or open house. If you’re prepared in advance, it shouldn’t take too long to complete the application form. This leads us to the next point.

What Paperwork and Information Do You Need to Provide?

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The most important information a landlord is looking for is your credit score and proof of income. This enables them to figure out whether you will have any problems paying the rent each month while also seeing if you have any outstanding debts that could cause problems. The following documents are typically accepted as proof of income:

  • Recent pay stubs (previous three months)
  • Bank statements
  • Tax returns
  • W-2s / T4 slips
  • Employment history and resume

You must give consent and provide all the necessary information for the landlord to run a credit check on you. You’ll generally need to supply the following:

  • Full legal name
  • Addresses for at least the past two years
  • Social Security number / Social insurance number
  • Date of birth
  • Current employer
  • Current landlord

In addition to this, you’ll also need to prove your identity and supply contact details such as phone number and email. A copy of your driver’s license or passport is ideal for proof of ID. Character references from employers, colleagues, previous landlords, and even professors or your doctor are also a good idea.

Is There an Application Fee?

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This depends on where you’re applying. In the U.S., application fees are applied to fund processing costs such as running credit checks. In some U.S. states, this fee is regulated not to exceed the actual charges the landlord pays to carry out these checks. In others, there are no limits. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay between $25 and $100 when applying for a rental in the U.S.

In Canada, application fees are prohibited by law in some provinces, such as Ontario and British Columbia. However, some landlords may still ask for a fee though this must be refunded either by the end of your lease if your application is successful or straight away if not. Such fees can cost around $150.

How Long Does It Take and What Happens Next?

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Your application will typically be processed within one to three business days. In the best-case scenario, you can view and apply for an apartment and sign the lease agreement on the same day. Other times, it can take up to a week to verify certain information.

If you’re not accepted, the landlord is under no obligation to let you know. But if you are approved, you’ll be contacted and asked to sign the lease agreement. But, of course, you’re not obliged to sign just because you were approved, so you can still say no if you’ve changed your mind.

However, if you’re happy with the rental, you can sign the lease agreement. Just bear in mind that it’s a legally binding contract.

How Can I Improve the Chances of My Application Being Accepted?

Excited woman checking out her credit score
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There are three major things you can do to improve your chances of being approved:

  1. Improve your credit score: Most landlords are looking for a score of at least 600. Also, be sure to pay off any outstanding bills and debts.
  2. Check you’re earning enough: Your gross income should be at least three times more than the monthly rent for most landlords to consider your application.
  3. Be honest: Background checks will be made, so be upfront about anything that might cause you issues. A cover letter is a great idea.

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