Preparing to rent

Learn the six steps involved in the rental process and what documents you’ll need to complete your rental application.

number 1

Assess your finances

Once you understand what you can afford and your credit, you can start looking for housing with confidence. Don’t forget to account for upfront costs like moving, and leave room in your budget for unexpected expenses.

number 2

Determine your priorities

Write down everything you want in your ideal rental. Where do you want to live — the city, the suburbs or a more rural area? What type of property do you want for your lifestyle and budget? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Do you need a pet-friendly building? Prioritize your list so that you’re ready if you need to make trade-offs.

number 3

Research locations

Before touring properties, research local neighborhoods to find areas that fit your needs. Take this time to get a sense of the average rental rates in the area, as well as the location of amenities such as grocery stores, restaurants and parks. Don’t rely solely on the information you find online. If possible, visit your desired neighborhoods in person. Walk the streets, talk to neighbors and test drive your daily commute.

number 4

Visit properties

Once you’ve narrowed down the neighborhoods you are interested in, you can start touring rental properties. Have a list of questions ready to ask each landlord: Are utilities included? When will the property be available? Who is responsible for minor repairs or maintenance? Are pets allowed?

Take notes on the pros and cons of each rental home you look at. Look for amenities such as in-unit laundry, storage space and covered parking. Be sure to ask which amenities are included in the lease and which involve additional costs.

number 5

Submit your applications

When you find that perfect rental, be prepared to fill out a rental application, which may include paying an application fee. As part of your application, you’ll need to provide documentation to verify your income and employment. If you have a co-signer or plan on having roommates, they will need to do the same.

number 6

Settle the lease

Once your application has been accepted, there are still several steps for you to take before you move in:

  • Complete a walk-through inspection. Inspect the rental property with the landlord and make sure to document any damage or wear and tear you see in the unit.

  • Negotiate any special terms. In addition to negotiating the rent, you may be able to arrange for the security deposit to be paid over a few months instead of all at once. Make sure terms are captured in writing and signed by both parties.

  • Read the lease agreement thoroughly. Take time to read the lease carefully, because it is a legally binding contract. If you have questions, ask the landlord or a trusted advisor.

The documents involved in renting

When it comes to paperwork, it pays to be organized. During the rental application process, you will need to bring several documents for your landlord to review and you will receive documents to evaluate and sign. Coming prepared can save you time, energy and could make the difference between landing the rental and missing out to another tenant.

  • letter A

    Application documents

    As part of your rental application process, you’ll need to provide documentation the landlord will use to help determine whether you will be a good tenant.

    • Identification. You'll need to verify who you are with some form of identification, such as a driver’s license or a passport. In many cases, the landlord will use your driver’s license to run a credit check — and possibly a background check.

    • Income verification. To confirm your ability to pay rent, be prepared to provide copies of your pay stubs, tax returns or bank statements. Some landlords may also want to contact your employer to verify your employment.

    • Credit check. Your landlord may want to pull your credit report themselves — as opposed to you providing it. Ask your landlord if they will charge you a fee to cover these costs or if they will accept a recent copy of your credit report. Be sure to run your credit report ahead of time so that you can correct any mistakes.

    • Rental history. You may be asked to provide your previous rental addresses and landlord’s contact information.

    • References. You should have a list of a few personal and professional references and their contact information at the ready. Be sure to let your references know ahead of time that landlords may contact them.

  • letter B

    Leasing documents

    If you are approved as a tenant, your landlord will prepare leasing documents for you to evaluate and sign before moving in. Review these documents carefully, because once both parties have signed, the contract is considered binding.

    • Walk-through inspection report. Be sure to do a walk-through inspection of the property with the landlord before you sign a lease. Request an inspection report that documents any damage or wear and tear before you move in to protect yourself from being held responsible in the future.

    • Lease. The lease is a legally binding contract that spells out all the terms of your rental. Be sure to read it carefully. Ask the landlord about any questions you have and, if needed, ask to modify the language. Be sure you are clear on what happens if you must break the lease early and what happens at the end of the lease term.

Before looking at rental units, make sure you have all your paperwork ready to complete a typical rental apartment application. If you plan on having roommates, they will need to provide the same paperwork.

Finding the right rental