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How to Rent an Apartment: Application Process

March 26, 2021

Ready to move out, but not sure exactly how to rent an apartment? After touring apartments, you'll want to act quickly. That same apartment you've fallen in love with can be gone the next day!

If you're interetested in renting an apartment, you'll need to formally apply. When it comes to your apartment application, there's certain information the landlord will need from you. The apartment application process can be stressful for anyone. For those renting their first apartment, it's even more daunting!

But we've got you covered. Here's how to rent an apartment, what information you need to apply, and how to have your apartment application approved.

What is an Apartment Application?

If you're renting an apartment, you'll need to submit an application. An apartment application is a form and supporting documents used by landlords to screen potential tenants. Oftentimes, applicants are required to pay non-refundable fees for their application to be processed. This is called an application fee and is usually between $30-$50.

Where Can You Find an Apartment Application?

Almost all rental apartments require you to submit a screening application. The rental you're interested in 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.

If you are touring the apartment in person, stop by the leasing office and pick up an application. Fill it out as soon as you can as apartment units can go quick!

What Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?

Found the apartment you want to make home? The next step towards renting an apartment is getting your information together for your application. If you don't have much rental history, providing sufficient information is crucial to show that you're a trustworthy tenant who can pay rent on time. Here's what you need for your apartment application.

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. The property manager may 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. The landlord may also 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.

Additional Information For Your Apartment Application

In some cases, you may need to provide additional information for your landlord. For example, you may need a cosigner if you don't have any history renting an apartment. You may also need a pet resume if you plan on renting with a pet.

Here are some additional documents you may want to consider for your apartment application.

  • Cosigner Application: If you have a cosigner, make sure that they fill out their part of the application, too.
  • Pet Resume: If you have a pet, you might want to provide a pet resume to showcase your furry friend. These aren't often required, but could be a nice addition to your application if you want to boost your chances.
  • 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.

Apartment Application Process

You've gathered all of the documents need to rent an apartment, now what? Here are the next steps of the 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 the Apartment Application Fees

Most applications have an application and processing fee. The average processing fees for an application are around $50-74. 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 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 that you can pay for the apartment rent in full promptly.

You may have to demonstrate that your verifiable monthly income is at least 3x the monthly rent. If you're looking for a month to month rental where the rent price is much higher, the income requirements may differ. Be sure to clarify!

You can use pay stubs and bank statements to prove your income. If you are moving to a new city for a new job and don't have paystubs yet, you can use your offer letter for your proof of income.

Typically, landlords ask to provide 2 or 3 of your most recent pay stubs.

4. Approve a Credit Check

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

They conduct a credit score check to make sure that you are a financially responsible person. A landlord may see a low credit score as an implication of poor dependability. Typically, ~650 is the minimum credit score needed to rent an apartment.

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 explain ahead of time.

6. Find a Cosigner (If Needed)

In case your credit score or income is 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 guide 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.

Don’t fret if you can’t get in touch with your prior landlords, because personal references can also be helpful. 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 information.

8. Pay a Security Deposit

Once you’ve been approved for the apartment, your road to a new home is just beginning. Paying a security deposit usually comes next. Prepare to pay between 1-3 month's rent for your deposit. Take great care of your apartment and you'll get your security deposit refunded when moving out.

9. Be Prepared to Wait

So how long does it take to get approved for an apartment? Typically, the 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 before 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.

Now that you know how to rent an apartment and have submitted a thorough application, you'll be approved in no time!

Additional Resources

Need some extra help applying for an apartment? Check out our other resources for beginner renters.

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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Angelina is a Marketing Specialist at Apartment List where she writes content on rental lifestyle. Angelina previously worked as a Russian and German language specialist at Facebook and Google, and has a BA in Applied Linguistics from UCLA. Read More
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