Finding a rental apartment can be an intimidating process. Once you’ve found a potential unit to lease, the landlord will screen for many things such as: credit history, past rental history, criminal history and income. This checklist document is intended to be a helpful guide to prepare for passing those background checks and qualifying for a lease. Think of this document also as a checklist the landlord will follow when screening.
Landlords check a potential tenant’s credit report because it reveals how much debt an applicant owes and how punctual he/she is in repaying those debts. A poor credit report may indicate the applicant cannot pay their portion of the rent on time and in full. Not sure what your credit report looks like? You can run a free credit report by accessing websites such as www.creditkarma.com or by phone at 877-322-8228.
Do you need help repairing your credit? Local resources are available.
- Call the United Way hotline at 2-1-1 for other resources in the area.
It is important to settle these past due debts immediately. An applicant family is immediately disqualified from the Section 8 program if they owe the Public Housing Authority money. Another example of past debts that could be owed is to utility companies for past due bills or service fees. Make sure you can get the utilities turned on in your name before signing a lease. Many Section 8 rental units require the utilities to be in the head of household’s name.
Do you need help with past due debts? Local resources may be available:
- Township trustees may help with past rental debts.
- Local social service providers may help with utility payments.
Good Landlord Reference
Potential landlords will call your past landlords to determine what kind of tenant you were. They will ask if you damaged the previous unit, had unreported persons living there, caused noise complaints, paid the rent on time and in full and kept the unit safe and sanitary. One bad recent tenancy history can affect you for many years.
If you can get a letter from a previous landlord stating you paid the rent on time, kept the unit safe and sanitary and respected the rights of your neighbors, this could be very helpful in proving good tenancy history.
A felony charge on one’s criminal background can be hard to overcome. A reference letter of good standing with a probation or parole officer could help.
Save for a Deposit
The deposit can be up to a full month’s rent in addition to pet deposits or other fees. It is important to start saving for this as soon as possible.
Searching in Person: Tips for Putting your Best Face Forward
There’s a saying that first impressions are everything. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When going to first meet a potential landlord, consider these tips:
- Dress nicely. A conservative dress shirt with dress pants is appropriate.
- Have letters of reference in hand to give to landlord. Make copies so you can keep the originals.
- Let the landlord get to know you. If you have a Housing Choice Voucher, don’t start the conversation asking about Section 8.
Participating in poverty-alleviating programs can signal to a landlord that one is working towards raising their income to become fiscally responsible. A reference letter from the program coordinator may be helpful to demonstrate one is working to overcome any of the above barriers.
Right to Fair Housing
Federal law prohibits housing discrimination based on your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability. If you have been trying to buy or rent a home or apartment and you believe your rights have been violated, you can file a fair housing complaint.
If you think your rights have been violated, the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form is available for you to download, complete and return, or complete online and submit, or you may write HUD a letter, or telephone the HUD Office nearest you. You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but you should file it as soon as possible.
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