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What Can Disqualify You From Renting an Apartment?

June 1, 2022

There's more to the process of apartment hunting than finding the perfect place and moving in. You also need to tackle the application process and everything from proof of income to a background check. Unfortunately, some parts of the process could disqualify you from renting an apartment.

The more you know about what to look out for, the easier it is to address and try to resolve the problem before applying for an apartment. Here's what can disqualify you from renting an apartment and ideas to help fix the issues.


Renters need a reliable source of income to rent an apartment. However, there are also other things to consider with income that could disqualify you from signing your next lease.

Inadequate Income

Some landlords require renters to earn a specific income to rent an apartment. For example, they may require that you follow the 30% rule, which allows for comfortable living. The rule stipulates you spend no more than 30% of your take-home pay on rent. For example, if you rent a $1,8000 apartment, your take-home pay should be around $6,000 a month, or $72,000 a year.

In competitive rental markets like New York City, that amount could be as high as 40x your annual salary. However, most landlords will waive that requirement once you have a proven rental history and a healthy income.

Every landlord is different. Find out the income requirements before spending money on application fees or touring apartments.

Incorrect Income

Don't guess your income or stretch the truth about how much you earn. Then, when a landlord starts verifying your income, they'll notice the discrepancy and disqualify you.

If the issue is an honest mistake, like your letter of employment accidentally states something different than your pay stubs, you might be able to correct the problem and resubmit your documentation.

What if you don't know your income?

It's common for income to fluctuate if you're self-employed, but you should still know the range you'll earn in a given month or year. Provide 1099s, contracts, and past tax returns to prove you make a reliable living.

Unverified Income

Renters need verifiable proof of income to rent an apartment, including pay stubs, employer letters, tax returns, bank statements, or 1099s. Landlords usually ask for a combination of documentation to verify income, so the more you can pull together, the better your chances.

There are some situations where a landlord may okay a tenant with no income. For example, a college student may be able to rent an apartment with their parents as a guarantor. In other words, the parent guarantees the rent will get paid, but the landlord will also need to verify their income.


Landlords will review a potential renter's credit before offering a lease.

Landlords charge fees to process your application, run a credit check, and look into your background. Here are some of the ways your credit impacts your ability to rent an apartment.

Bad Credit

Bad credit makes it challenging to secure an apartment, as landlords don't want to assume the financial risk and get stuck with non-paying tenants.

However, the landlord may reconsider if your credit is poor because of a previous mistake that you've resolved. Provide peace of mind, like an excellent rental history, or explain how medical bills for an emergency left you to repair your credit.

No Credit History

No credit history at all is a dealbreaker for many landlords. Without a clear understanding of how financially responsible you are, they may disqualify you from their tenant pool. If you have no credit, a landlord may approve a lease if you have a guarantor or co-signer who assumes legal responsibilities for the payments.


Bankruptcies are red flags for property managers looking for good tenants. However, there are some exceptions where landlords will look the other way at bankruptcy.

For example, if you can show you lost your job due to the pandemic or dealt with an issue out of your control like medical bills, landlords are usually more understanding.

Make sure to bring documentation of how the issue was resolved, like a reference letter from a new job or several bank statements proving your current financial health.


References allow property managers to assess your character and track record. References usually come from previous landlords or a job but must be positive to move forward with renting an apartment.

Bad References

Bad references are enormous deterrents. If the reference mentions late rental payments, you can try to explain the situation. Showing you lost your job during the pandemic but are now gainfully employed could help your cause.

No References

Having no references at all can be a significant problem. Landlords who have no way to verify if you paid rent on time or what other property managers thought of you. If you have no rental history, ask a supervisor where you've previously volunteered to write one for you.

Rental History

Your rental history speaks volumes about how responsible you are or the condition you left your last apartment. Here are some of the things landlords will look for when investigating your rental history.


Evictions usually disqualify tenants from renting apartments. Instead, you may be able to find a month-to-month lease to rebuild an excellent rental history.

You might be able to sway your landlord to reconsider if you were evicted through no fault of your own. For example, if you can prove your landlord stopped paying the mortgage and your apartment was foreclosed upon, a property manager may still add your application to the tenant pool.

Damage to Property

Tenants who trash previous rentals will have difficulty renting their next apartment. Depending on the extent of the damage and its reason, you may be able to offer a higher security deposit during the application process.

Late Payments

No landlords want to see late payments on someone's rental history. They may not feel comfortable with the potential income gap and not being able to cover their bills on time. There’s not much to do to resolve this mistake except offer to pay more rent upfront or a higher security deposit.

Unexplained Rental Gaps

Significant gaps in between rentals may give a property manager pause and reconsider your application. However, if you were living in the dorms, traveling abroad, or moved into the home of a significant other, you could explain that to them.

Application Terms

The application terms could disqualify you from renting an apartment. Here's what to consider before you move forward.

Too Many Applicants

Sometimes prospective renters do absolutely nothing wrong and still get rejected. It's common for there to be too many apartment applications in competitive rental markets. Renting during spring and summer is also a highly competitive time to search for an apartment.


Not all apartments accept pets, and others that are welcoming won't say yes to all your furry and feathered friends. Your property managers may have breed or weight restrictions for dogs. Other landlords may not want birds or bunnies in the house that could damage floors.

Learn more about how to rent with pets!


Many apartment complexes are non-smoking and consider it a health hazard for the building. If you smoke, make sure to disclose it when asked or include it on your application. You'll inevitably get caught and may lose your security deposit to clean and deodorize your apartment.

Disagreement Over Rental Terms

The terms of an application may not be suitable for the renter or the landlord. For example, if you want a nine-month lease to coincide with your college schedule but move out during the summer, the landlord may say no if they prefer a twelve-month lease.

Not Filling Out the Entire Application

Failing to fill out all the information on an apartment application will disqualify tenants. But, in a competitive rental season with enough tenants to go around, landlords don't want to chase down the information.

Background Check

Landlords and property managers usually require a background check before a tenant signs a lease. Here's what to expect during the process.

Criminal Record

Landlords will search for criminal activity or legal issues on your background check. In addition, some states require the tenant to give consent before a background check.

Fortunately, not all offenses will disqualify you from renting an apartment. For example, if you received a single DUI many years ago that was cleared from your record, the landlord may consider it a non-issue.

Not Providing Social Security Number

Some landlords require a social security number as part of the application process. It's usually legal to ask for it. But your area may require confirmation and proof that the number will be kept secure and only used for the apartment rental process.

False Information Provided

Providing false information is a dealbreaker during the apartment renting process. Landlords will assume you're hiding something or are not a trustworthy tenant. Being upfront and as straightforward as possible is the best way to secure an apartment.

Using Apartment List to Help You Find the Perfect Apartment

There are many reasons you could be disqualified from renting an apartment, but fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. Whether you want a month-to-month lease to rebuild your rental history or are looking for a traditional lease, we can help. Sign up with Apartment List to start your search.

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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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