Application and background checks

The Apartment Application Process: An Easy Guide

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

Whether you’re renting an apartment for the first time or you’re an old hand at the apartment rental game, the application process remains the same. You would search for apartments that fill your requirements, submit all the necessary forms, and hope for good news.

Now, if you’ve applied for apartment rentals before, you’re probably familiar with the process. You might even be familiar with how long it takes to get approved for an apartment, or what you need to do to get approved with a bad credit score.

However, if you’re not sure how the apartment application process works, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered.

This guide will take you through the typical apartment application process, and even give you some tips on how to increase your chances of getting approved.

The Typical Rent Application Process

Every apartment rental application has a process that you need to follow if you want to apply for a vacant unit. While there are buildings that have stricter application processes or additional requirements, here are the basic steps that you can expect:

  1. Fill out the application form (in person or online).
  2. Submit the completed application form as well as any supporting documents.
  3. Pay the application fee.
  4. Wait for approval or disapproval

There are several ways that you can get the application form. In smaller buildings or privately-owned units, you will typically get the form from the landlord. For larger buildings or co-ops, you can get them from the building’s rental office.

If the unit is listed on an apartment rental website, there is a chance that you can download the application form directly from the website and fill it out online.

Once you’ve decided to apply for an apartment, you should move as quickly as possible! Competition for desirable apartments can get pretty stiff, especially if you are renting during peak season.

How Much is the Application Fee?

Typically, application fees will depend on where you are applying for the apartment. In New York, application fees are capped at $20. In California, it can range from $30 to $50, and landlords are required to submit an itemized screening report. In Massachusetts, landlords are not allowed to charge an application fee. Before you apply for an apartment, check the local laws to see if you need to pay the application fee and if there is a cap on the amount.

Landlords use application fees to pay for background and credit checks. These screening procedures are an essential part of any apartment rental application. Take note that application fees are non-refundable.

Essential Elements of Your Application

Now that you know the basic application process, here are the essential parts of your application.

Completed Application Form

Your completed application form will contain all your basic information as well as a copy of any government-issued ID as proof of identity. It will also contain your contact details, Social Security number, and any other details that are deemed necessary by your landlord.

Proof of Income

You will need to submit proof of income as assurance that you will be able to pay the rent on time every month. Your landlord can ask for various documents such as copies of your recent pay slips, tax statements, or bank statements. They may also as for proof of employment to verify that you are lawfully employed.

In New York, landlords require tenants earn an annual income that is equivalent to 40 times the monthly rent of the particular unit that they wish to rent. If you want to rent an apartment that is $2,000 a month in rent, you’ll need to earn $80,000 a year.

It’s a bit easier to rent in Boston since landlords generally only look for annual income that’s equivalent to 30 times the monthly rent.

Credit Check

When you apply for a rental, a credit check is almost always part of the process. Basically, a credit check lets your landlord know your financial history and gives them an idea of how responsible you are.

In general, most landlords will look for a credit score of at least 620.

If you have bad credit, this could hurt your chances of getting approved for a lease. You might either need to get a guarantor or find a way to improve your credit score. However, having a bad credit score isn’t always an automatic disqualification as you can still get approved even with a poor credit score.

Background Check

If a credit check sheds light on your financial history, a background check helps your landlord understand your character and personality. They will be looking for any indication of what kind of tenant you will be.

Obviously, any previous convictions, pending charges, or ongoing cases are a red flag and will cause concern. It’s a good idea to provide context for any issues in your background check that will catch your landlord’s attention. Your best bet is to be as transparent and honest as possible.

Previous References

Having references from past landlords is a great way to push your application forward. If you have a history of being a good tenant, potential landlords will be more likely to approve your rental application.

You can also provide personal references from employers or co-workers. The key here is to show that you are a responsible and trustworthy person.

Are There Any Supporting Documents You Should Prepare?

Now that you know the basic documents that you need to submit with your application, here are some additional documents that may help increase your chances of getting approved:

Letter of Intent

Think of your letter of intent as your introduction letter. You can put a short introduction about yourself as well as your reasons for wanting to rent the apartment. Keep it brief but cover all the interesting points!

For example, if you are a student, you can say that you want a particular apartment because it is close to campus, it is affordable, or you’ve heard that there are affordable amenities nearby. Memorable letters of intent are great because they help you stand out from the crowd of applicants.

Situation Letter

When you apply for an apartment and you know that might be a cause for concern in your application, you can stay a step ahead and submit a situation letter. These letters help potential landlords understand your circumstances better.

For example, if you have a low income at the moment, you can write a situation letter that details your plans to get a better-paying job in the future. While a situation letter might not necessarily get you approved, you are at least demonstrating that you are a transparent and honest person. These qualities might just help convince a potential landlord to give you a shot.

Miscellaneous Information

If you have personal circumstances that need accommodating, you should be clear about them in your application. If you need parking space or if you have pets, mention them in your application. That way, you will avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road.

What can Negatively Affect Your Application?

If you have any of the following in your rental application, they will negatively affect your chances of getting approved:

Poor Rental History

A poor rental history is a huge red flag for landlords. Incidents such as repeatedly not paying rent on time, complaints from neighbors about excessive noise, or not following the rules in your building will make you a less desirable tenant.


If you have been previously evicted from an apartment, these will also show up on your record. Yes, even if you were wrongfully evicted! This is one of the circumstances when sending in a situation letter might be a good idea.

Criminal Records

There are landlords who will deny applicants with a criminal record, while others don’t mind. If you have a criminal record, be honest and upfront about it as soon as you apply.

Final Thoughts

Once you have submitted your application, all you can do is wait. Generally, the approval process is pretty quick; you will get a response in a day or two. However, there are cases that can take longer especially if the landlord needs to conduct a more thorough background or credit check.

For the most part, the application process to rent an apartment is straightforward. Make sure that you have all the necessary documents as well as any supporting documentation. That way, once you get approved, you can immediately sign the lease, pay the deposit, and move into your new apartment!

Ready to take the next step to better credit?