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How to Rent an Apartment [2024 Rental Application Guide]

March 9, 2024
Learning how to rent an apartment can be overwhelming. Continue reading to learn the basics of renting an apartment and renter tips to help you get approved.

Despite being up against an average of 2,654 new renters daily, getting an apartment doesn’t have to be difficult when you understand the approval process and the specific apartment requirements for your desired unit. However, before you can sign a lease agreement and move in, you’ll also need to complete the steps for an apartment rental application.

Don’t worry. It’s something every renter goes through, so we want to guide you on how to get approved for an apartment. Here’s a look at everything you need to apply for an apartment, the forms required for the application process, and tips to help ensure you'll get approved.

1. Complete the Rental Application

How to Rent an Apartment Step-by-Step Checklist 2

The apartment application is the first step. Once you apply for an apartment, waiting for apartment application approval usually takes 24 to 72 hours.

Here is a list of some of the required information needed when applying for apartments:

  • Name
  • Social security number (for background checks)
  • Proof of ID
  • Current address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Income verification
  • Previous addresses
  • Emergency contacts
  • Pets (if applicable)
  • References

Of course, your next question might be, what should you write in an apartment application?

Luckily, the paperwork will often guide you through the process with questions and prompts. Answer everything as thoroughly as possible and submit supporting documents, such as references.

2. Pay the Application Fee

To rent an apartment, you’ll also have to pay a non-refundable application fee of about $30 to $50. The landlord charges this apartment application fee to cover the costs of screening renters, sometimes including background and credit checks.

3. Prepare for Credit and Background Checks

The next part of the process includes credit and background checks.

Credit checks are usually part of the application fee and require your authorization. The landlord also conducts a background check to assess your criminal history and determine your reliability.

4. Send Over Proof of Income

Proof of income is critical when applying for an apartment, as it shows that you have a reliable source of income to pay rent. Bring your tax returns, two to three pay stubs, and two to three months' worth of bank statements to include in your application to speed up the apartment rental process.

One of the steps to renting an apartment requires proof of income through:

  • Pay Stubs
  • Tax Returns
  • Bank Statements
  • Income Letter From an Employer
  • Court-Ordered Payments
  • Social Security Documents
  • Unemployment Documents
  • Pension
  • Severance Statement
  • Disability Insurance
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • W-2 Income Statement
  • 1099 Form
  • Annuity Statement
  • Interest and Dividend Income
  • Bonus and Incentive Payment Statement

5. Determine If You Need a Guarantor or Co-Signer

Rental Application Process Timeline

If your income (or credit score) isn’t high enough to secure the apartment or you have an unstable income, consider asking a trusted person to be your co-signer, such as a family member. A guarantor or co-signer is someone who signs the lease with you and is legally required to pay your rent if you fail to do so.

6. Provide Rental References

Prospective landlords want references from previous landlords to verify your rental history and trustworthiness as a prospective tenant. In addition, they are trying to establish how responsible you are and may call your previous landlord to ask about your reliability and ability to pay rent on time.

7. Consider Including Personal References

If you are renting your first apartment and don’t have previous rental history, bring personal references from a boss or superior that speak to your trustworthiness and reliability. Make the process easier with these rental reference letters as an example.

8. Provide Your Security Deposit

A security deposit is one of the many requirements for renting an apartment. It’s a sum that a new tenant pays to a landlord or property management company before moving in. Security deposits provide landlords insurance for tenant damage beyond normal wear and tear, usually equating to one to three months of rent.

9. Sign the Lease

Your landlord or property manager will send an email or call to let you know about your apartment approval and arrange a time to sign the lease. Make sure you read through everything and understand every detail. Remember, a lease is a legally binding document, so make sure you note any existing damage or issues in the apartment so you’re not held liable when you move out.

Look out for any holes in the walls, scuffs on the floors, damage to the windows or major appliances, and any noticeable exterior wear. Document everything carefully with a camera and let your landlord know as soon as possible.

10. Move Into Your New Apartment

While moving into your new apartment may seem overwhelming, it’s also exciting! Many of the first apartment checklist items you likely already have handy. If you don’t, buying brand new is not your only option.

7 Tips to Get Approved for an Apartment

Apartment Rental Approval Tips

A few things to know about the rental process that could impact approval include on-time rent payment history, reliable income, and good communication. Here are seven tips to help move the renting process along:

  1. Come Prepared: Speed up the rental application process by providing copies of your credit report and rental reference letters from your employer and previous landlords.
  2. Budgets for Application Fees: The property management company won’t proceed with apartment applications if you decline the application fee.
  3. Know Your Credit Score: Typically, 650 is the minimum credit score needed when figuring out how to apply for an apartment.
  4. Be Transparent: Disclose if there’s anything noteworthy, like a previous arrest, before landlords run your background check during the apartment rental process.
  5. Gather Pay Stubs and/or Offer Letters: If you don’t have pay stubs due to a new job, provide an offer letter from your new employer when applying for apartments.
  6. Call Ahead: Ask which payment method landlords prefer: cash, checks, or credit cards.
  7. Explore Move-In Specials: If you’re on a budget, look for move-in specials that waive the application fee to entice more renters to apply.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a better idea of the requirements to rent an apartment and the application process, you'll be approved in no time! But if you’re having trouble finding the right place, we can help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Find your next apartment on Apartment List today!


What Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?

Here’s a roundup of what you need during the apartment application process:

  • Social security number for a background check
  • Proof of ID
  • Current address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Income verification and relevant forms
  • Previous addresses
  • Emergency contacts
  • Pet information (if applicable)
  • References

How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for an Apartment?

Depending on the landlord or property management, waiting for apartment application approval should only take up to 72 hours.

How Do You Know If Your Rental Application Is Approved?

Once you’ve fulfilled all of your apartment rental requirements, you will hear if you’re approved by email or phone. Your landlord will also schedule a time to sign the lease and review any questions or next steps.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Rent an Apartment?

Because leases are legally binding contracts, you must be 18 when renting an apartment. In some situations, a landlord may rent to an underage tenant, although this is rare and usually requires a guarantor or co-signer.

What Happens After You Get Approved for an Apartment?

When your apartment application is approved, you can decide whether or not you still want to sign the lease or decide to pursue a different option. If you choose to move forward, you will need to:

  • Do a walk-through of the unit
  • Review and sign a lease and note any existing damage in the unit
  • Pay the first month’s rent and security deposit (in some cases, you will also need to pay the last month’s rent in advance)
  • Put any necessary utilities in your name, such as heat and electricity
  • Set a date and time you can move into the unit (your apartment building may have rules about using the freight elevator during specific times for moving)
  • Hire movers and arrange for moving boxes and other materials

Can You Apply for Multiple Apartments?

Yes, you can apply for multiple apartments, and it’s encouraged in competitive rental markets like New York City. However, you should ask if applying to more than one apartment in the same building will impact the rental application process time or if you must pay additional application fees.

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Tristian Brown
Tristian Brown is a Senior Content Marketing Associate at Apartment List, where he manages high-quality content that helps modern renters find the perfect home. He brings an immense wealth of knowledge to the team, having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and European Management from the University of San Diego and EM Strasbourg Business School. Read More
Emily Kho
Emily is a professionally trained writer who covers a wide range of topics associated with the rental market and real estate industry. With over a decade of professional writing experience, Emily comes from a strong background in the field backed with a Bachelor of Science from the world-renowned William F. Read More

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