Get familiar with your finances and your credit. Once you’ve determined how much you can spend on housing you can start looking with confidence. Don’t forget to account for upfront costs like moving and leave room in your budget for unexpected expenses.
Write down everything you want in your ideal rental. Where do you want to live – the city, the suburbs or a more rural area? Determine the type of home you want for your lifestyle and budget – single-family home, townhome, apartment or condo? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Do you need a pet friendly building? Prioritize your list so you’re ready should you need to make trade-offs.
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.
Once you’ve narrowed down the neighborhoods you are interested in, you can start touring homes that fit your needs. 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 like in-unit laundry, storage space, and covered parking. Be sure to ask which amenities are included in the lease and which involve additional costs.
Submit your applications
When you find that perfect rental, be prepared to fill out a loan application and pay 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.
Settle the lease
- Do a walk-through. Inspect the rental with the landlord and make sure to document any damage or wear and tear that you see in the unit.
- Negotiate 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 thoroughly. Take time to read the lease carefully as 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.
As part of your rental application process, you’ll need to provide documentation that 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 sort 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 and correct any mistakes.
Rental history. You may be asked to provide your previous rental addresses and landlord’s contact information.
References. Have a list of a few personal and professional references and their contact information. Be sure to let your references know ahead of time that landlords may contact them.
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, line-by-line. Ask the landlord about any questions you may 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 homes, 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.
Tools and Resources
Get a sense of how and where you’re spending your money so you can build a realistic monthly budget.
Calculator: Rent vs. Buy
Understand the financial differences between renting and owning a home.