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How to Get an Apartment with No Rental History

July 12, 2022

Renting an apartment for the first time is a thrill that conjures up visions of independence in the perfect neighborhood. However, it’s also the first time new renters realize it’s tough to get an apartment with no rental history. Now what?

The good news is there are plenty of ways to find an apartment with no retinal history if you come prepared, are persistent, and are willing to get creative. Here’s how to start.

What is Rental History?

Your rental history documents your history as a renter. You'll need to provide a list of previous addresses and the contact information of your landlords or property managers that can verify your information.

Your landlord will also ask about any evictions or late payment history. Renters are responsible for paying an application fee and sometimes a background check fee. Your landlord will also pull a copy of your credit report to check for any financial issues or delinquencies.

How to Get an Apartment with No Rental History

Getting an apartment without rental history can feel like a catch-22. You can't get an apartment without a rental history but need an apartment to build up your rental history. The good news is it’s totally doable with the right approach. Here’s how to get started.

List Reputable Sources as References

Ask a boss, supervisor, or manager to write a personal reference for your next apartment. They can highlight your personal qualities and show that you're responsible, cooperative, good with deadlines, and reliable. It also shows you're gainfully employed by someone who appreciates your work. If you have poor credit, you'll also need rock-solid connections. Consider asking a volunteer supervisor or previous workplaces that valued your work to collect as many contacts as possible to help validate your character.

Some references could actually hurt your chances of getting an apartment without a rental history. Don’t ask friends, family, or anyone you're not confident will give you a glowing reference. Your landlord won't be impressed if your Mom thinks you are an ideal tenant, and it might deter your chances of landing your next apartment.

Offer to Sign with a Guarantor or Co-Signer

If you don’t have any rental history, you may need a cosigner to sign the lease with you. Technically a cosigner is someone who signs the lease with you and is considered a roommate. The best option is a family member who is financially stable and trusts you. Some cities like New York use the term "lease guarantor" instead of a cosigner. In San Francisco, landlords are more likely to use the word "cosigner." They typically mean the same thing, but there are key differences.

Technically, a cosigner could be a tenant added to a lease. A guarantor is legally responsible for your lease. In most cities, they mean the same thing.

A guarantor is responsible for stepping in and paying rent if it's unpaid. However, a cosigner may be added to the lease as another tenant who has the right to occupy an apartment. In most cases, landlords use these terms interchangeably, but you must understand the lease terms thoroughly.

Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the differences between cosigners and guarantors.

Get a Roommate

Roommates offer many benefits to apartment living, from having company around to splitting your costs. Landlords are often more comfortable with multiple income sources and someone else on the lease with an extended rental history.

Teaming up with a friend could be fun but can also cause issues if you're not comfortable discussing money or establishing house rules. Choosing an acquaintance or stranger might feel awkward at first, but it can work well, as you both come into the roommate relationship with a new slate and can establish ground rules together.

Not sure how to interview a potential roommate? Here are 11 questions to ask.

Prepare an Excellent Application

Starting your apartment hunt with no rental history requires being organized, efficient, and determined. It's essential to have everything ready when applying for apartments to put your absolute best foot forward.

Your apartment process will also include an application fee that usually ranges between $30 to $50. The amount you spend on these fees can add up if you're interested in a dozen apartments, even though looking at multiple places can help narrow down your choices. It also keeps people from flooding property managers with applications that aren't serious about renting.

You'll also need essential documents and information for your apartment application, including your social security number, driver's license number, or state ID card. Get a full rundown of what to bring for your apartment application here.

Once you complete your apartment application and submit it to the management office or landlord, they will run a credit check. If you have bad credit, all of the techniques we've discussed can help. But it's also possible to find an apartment with no credit whatsoever.

Offer More than the Listed Rental Price or a Higher Security Deposit

If you've tried everything you can think of and still can't find an apartment, there's another option that should only be used as a last resort. Offer to pay more than the rental price or a higher security deposit to compensate for your lack of rental history. The gesture shows the property management you're serious about finding an apartment and putting your money where your mouth is.

How to Find an Apartment with No Rental History

Coming over-prepared with all your paperwork and finances in order is the first step in securing an apartment with no rental history. However, beyond getting all your references and coming up with innovative ways to compensate for your rental history, you need to find other ways to be industrious.

Start Your Search Early

The earlier you start your apartment hunt, the better. When you take your time looking for an apartment, you'll have more flexibility and options to find the right place. You also might get rejected a few times with no rental history. It's better to give yourself lead time so those rejections don't derail your plans to move.

The time of year you also move matters. The winter months are usually cheaper and less competitive. Spring through Fall are peak apartment hunting seasons and are often harder to compete with other tenants. If you have flexibility, try moving around the holidays or in January to find the best deals and the least competition.

Know What You Are Looking For

Staying flexible with amenities can help if you're looking for an apartment with no rental history. Amenities, layout, square footage, the floor you live on, and views are all part of the apartment hunt. Staying open-minded in your search doesn't mean you have to skip the most important amenities to you, however.

Make a must-have list, a wish list, and a "can do without" list before you head out to look for your next apartment. When you have a clear vision of what you want in your next apartment, you can be more decisive and take action quickly.

Search for Listings Online

Apartment complex hopping is one way to find a place to rent, even though it can be usually inefficient. You don't know if units are available, what they look like, or have a sense of what they offer. Instead, search for listings online to see photos, reviews, amenities, and what to expect in your search.

Keep in mind online listings are often outdated or incomplete. Apartment List offers up-to-date rentals, city guides, and tips to help you find the best apartment possible for your budget and wish list.

Set Up Apartment Tours

Once you have a list of apartments you want to see, it's time to set up apartment tours. Some complexes offer video tours or no-contact visits where you view the apartment yourself. Others will walk you through to show you around.

Tours are exciting but can be a whirlwind, as many feel like they end before they really get started. Don't miss the opportunity to ask plenty of questions and thoroughly assess the apartment.

Understanding future rent increases, lease length, changes you can or cannot make, parking and maintenance requests should be addressed in advance. Come prepared for your next tour with these 20 questions to ask when renting an apartment.

Apply and Sign Your Lease

If you see something you love, apply ASAP. That same unit may not be available tomorrow because fantastic amenities, desirable neighborhoods, and luxury apartments are in high demand.

Final Thoughts

Renting an apartment with no rental history poses a challenge, but it is not impossible! You need a proactive strategy and focused organization to get started. Ready to find your next apartment? Sign-up with Apartment List to get started.

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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