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The Apartment Application Process: What You Need to Know

By: Angelina Bader
December 12, 2018

You found an apartment that checks off all the necessary points on your apartment checklist. In other words, you fell in love with the place! Now it’s time to tackle the apartment application process, but don’t worry, we’re here to help. Below is everything you need to know about apartment rental applications.

What is an Apartment Application?

An apartment application is a form and supporting documents used by landlords and property management companies to screen potential tenants. Oftentimes, applicants are required to pay non-refundable fees in order for your application to be processed.

Where Can You Find an Apartment Application?

Almost all rental apartments require you to submit a screening application. The rental you're interested may have the application posted online, so be sure to check their website first. In this case, you can fill it out and email it to the management. Otherwise, stop by the leasing office and pick one up. Fill it out as soon as you can, to make sure you get that apartment you have your eyes on.

Information You Need For An Apartment Application

The key to a successful apartment application is to provide enough information to proof your potential landlord that you are trustworthy and able pay rent on time. So here is what you need to rent an apartment:

1. Personal contact information

The landlord will need to communicate with you, so make sure you are responsive and provide the easiest way to reach you, be it your phone number, email, or another method.

2. Social security number

Usually, you will need to provide your social security number. The landlord may also ask for a copy of your social security card. This information is necessary for a background check.

3. Vehicle information

If you are looking to apply for a parking spot, you will need to provide details about your car. Have the make and model, year, and license plate number information all on hand. It is possible that the property manager will also ask for the car’s insurance information.

4. Driver’s license number or state ID

This information is proof of your identity and may also be needed for that parking spot you’re after.

5. Current and previous address/rental information

This information is also needed for your background check. In addition, the landlord may want to check in with your previous landlords for referrals.

6. Current and previous employment information

Again, this information is necessary for your criminal background check. Note your occupation, company name, and phone number in the paperwork so that your landlord may verify your employment.

7. Proof of income

Pay stubs, tax returns, or some other proof of income is going to be required for your application.

8. Past landlords and personal references

A potential landlord will likely want to speak with your previous landlords to verify your rental history and demeanor as a tenant. They may also ask for personal references, such as your boss, to confirm your employment and character.

Make sure to check out our article on who to select as a rental reference for your apartment application for tips. It explores different options as well as their pros and cons. If you already know who is going to be your reference, you can go ahead and send them one of our rental reference letter templates.

9. Emergency contacts

In case the landlord is unable to reach you or a medical emergency takes place, they may need to contact someone close to you, so choose wisely.

10. Cover letter

Think of your apartment application as a job interview process. To better represent yourself and answer any questions that may arise, you can put together a cover letter. Other people get to talk for you in your personal references, but this is where you can be your own advocate.

11. Cosigner application

If you have a cosigner, make sure that they fill out their part of the application, too.

12. Any additional documents the landlord may request

Landlords may want to see some additional paperwork. Check with the leasing office early to know what else you need to complete your apartment application. For example, if you have a pet, you might want to provide a pet resume to predispose your potential landlord to your best bud. 

Apartment Application Process

1. Fill Out the Application

First thing’s first, you are going to have to fill out the apartment rental application. Your application will include much of the information we listed above, so if you’ve gathered it all beforehand you should be able to fill out the application quickly.

2. Pay Apartment Application and Processing Fees

Most applications have an application and processing fee. The average processing fees for an application are around $100. This fee could be a single fee for the application, or a fee for each person applying to live in the unit.

Apartment application fees are non-refundable and are required in order for your application to be processed. An application fee may cover background and credit checks, and rental history verification. These fees may also be separate, so make sure to ask.

3. Provide Proof of Income

One of the key components of a completed rental application is your proof of income. Your potential landlord will want assurance in that you can pay for the apartment next month and the month after that.

You may have to demonstrate that your verifiable monthly income is at least 3 times the monthly rent. For this, you can use your pay stubs, bank statements, or possibly your tax returns. Be ready to present your employment history and possibly be able to provide validation for it.

You might be wondering how many pay stubs you need for an apartment application. Typically, landlords ask to provide three of your recent pay stubs. If you recently started a new job after a long break, ask your employer to write a rental reference letter stating your income.

4. Approve a Credit Check

The property management company or landlord will require you to authorize a credit check in order for them to proceed with your rental application.

They conduct a credit score check to make sure that you are a fiscally responsible person, as well as to determine how timely you are likely to be with your rent payments. A landlord may see a low credit score as an implication of poor dependability.

Make sure you don’t have open bankruptcy cases on your file, as this too can lower your chances of success in getting the rental property you’ve applied for. In case this applies to you, consider finding a cosigner or talk to your roommate about using their credit score.

5. Approve a Background Check

The landlord will conduct a background check for the same reason as a credit check. They want to know how dependable you are. Previous convictions or pending charges may interfere with your ability to get ahold of the apartment you’re after. If you have anything in your past that may raise questions, you might want to provide an explanation ahead of time.

6. Find a Cosigner (If Needed)

In case your credit score or income are not high enough for you to secure the apartment, consider asking a trusted person to be your cosigner. A cosigner is someone who signs the lease with you and agrees to pay your rent and fees in case you fail to do so. Having a cosigner is a legal way to increase your landlord’s trust in you. Check out our recent article to figure out if you need an apartment cosigner.

7. Provide Past Landlords and Personal References

You may need to provide proof of good standing with your previous landlords. This is especially true if you have low credit, an issue with your background check, or limited rental history.

Your potential landlord might ask you to deliver eviction judgment from the last five years, documentation of your rental history, or landlord references. In this case you’d have to provide proof that no previous landlords have evicted you in that period of time. More more information check out our article on how to rent an apartment with bad credit.

Don’t fret if you can’t get in touch with your prior landlords, because personal references can also be helpful. In this case, it would be best to provide recommendations from people other than your family members. Try asking your employers, professors, or fellow volunteers for letters that describe your work ethic and other important character traits. Check out our article on rental reference letters for more details.

8. Pay a Hold Fee

Once you’ve been approved for the apartment, your road to a new home is just beginning. A hold fee is your reservation deposit for the apartment. Your landlord will deduct it from the move-in costs and will hold the place for two weeks, allowing you to deliver signed papers before freeing it up for someone else.

9. Prepare to Wait

So how long does it take to get approved for an apartment? Typically, waiting time for an apartment application approval is 24 to 72 hours. In some cases, you can be approved the same day you applied.

Keep in mind, at the end of the day it will depend on the individual landlord or property management company.

Make sure to ask this question prior to submitting your application, especially if you are in a hurry to move out of your current apartment.

You can try to speed things up by providing copies of your credit report and rental reference letters from your employer and previous landlords.


There is a lot of information you need to collect for your apartment rental application. Plus, the process has several steps.

You will most likely have to pay a non-refundable fee, allow your potential landlord to run a background and credit check, and provide evidence of your rental history.

Be persistent and disciplined. Make sure to gather all the information you will likely need to provide ahead of time, and you'll be approved in no time.

Additional Resources

12 Questions To Ask When Renting An Apartment
Rental Inspection Checklist – What to Look For
Rental References for Your Apartment Application. Who to Select?
How to Write a Rental Reference Letter (Templates)
True Cost of Renting: What Can You Actually Afford?
Do You Need an Apartment Cosigner?
7 Tips to Renting an Apartment with Bad Credit

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