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Step By Step Rental Application Guide

Jessica Martel

Nov 04, 2022 8 min read

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How to apply to rent an apartment

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Looking to rent an apartment but not sure what to expect from the application process? While completing an application isn’t overly challenging, it does require you to provide a fair amount of information and documentation. Collecting everything you need to successfully finish your application can be time-consuming. If it’s your first time applying for a rental, the process can feel overwhelming. Dividing the application process into steps – filling out the application, paying your application fee, providing documentation, and preparing for the credit check - can help make it feel more manageable. 

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This article provides an overview of the apartment application steps, what you need to complete an application, and tips for how to set your application apart from the rest. 

What is an Apartment Application?

Being asked to fill out an application when you’re interested in an apartment is a standard part of the screening process. The purpose of an apartment application is to provide the landlord with a summary of relevant personal and financial information that they can use to help decide if you’re the right candidate.

Why is it Necessary?

An application is necessary to help the landlord determine if you are eligible for the rental. They can use your application to answer questions like, who are you, where do you work, and can you afford the rent? What is your rental history? Are you a reliable tenant? Will you be applying with a co-applicant? Do you have any pets? Basically, a landlord wants to know who they're dealing with and how risky it is to rent an apartment to you.  

Where Can I Get One?

If you want to apply for a rental, the landlord will usually provide the rental application form. Many companies will send you an online version but you might also get a paper copy to fill out. If you want to see what a rental application looks like, you can easily find examples online by searching “rental application.” 

Rent payments

Apartment Application Steps:

Completing an apartment application is not complicated, but it does take time and involves several steps, including filling out the application, paying any application fees, gathering your documentation, preparing for a credit and background check, and then anxiously awaiting a decision. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in each step:  

1. Fill the Application

The first step to completing the apartment application process is to fill in the application form. You can usually do this online or in person when you’re viewing the rental. Having the necessary information on hand can help to make this part of the process go quickly. While the personal and financial details requested can vary between applications, you typically need to provide the following information: 

  • Name

  • Date of birth

  • Current address

  • Phone number

  • Email address

  • Occupation 

  • Where you work

  • Length of employment

  • Income

  • References

If you are applying with a co-applicant, they will also need to provide these details. 

2. Pay the Application Fee

An application fee is a one-time payment charged by some landlords to cover screening costs – typically credit checks and background checks. Not all landlords charge an application fee. In some provinces, like British Columbia and Ontario, it’s illegal to ask for an application fee. In other provinces like Alberta, landlords are permitted to charge this fee. It’s then up to you to decide if you’re willing to pay the fee as part of the application process. 

New apartment

3. Provide the Requested Documentation

To speed up the rental application process, it helps to have your documentation available and ready to go. Common documents you can expect to provide with your application can include government ID, a job letter, pay stubs, and reference letters.  

4. Prepare for a Credit and Background Check

A credit check is often done as part of the rental application process. It helps the landlord to assess how well you manage credit and how likely you are to pay your bills on time. The landlord can review your credit report to see if there are any red flags, like if you have accounts in collections or a past bankruptcy. If you have bad credit and there’s a reason for it that isn’t as simple as not paying your bills on time, you may want to try and explain to the landlord.

In some situations, your landlord might also ask for a criminal background check. Know that a criminal background check should only be requested if this information is appropriate to the circumstance. For instance, if you are looking to rent an apartment that houses a daycare in the building, then a criminal record check makes sense. If your landlord asks for a criminal background check they must disclose the reason why it is necessary.  

5. Wait for a Response

Once you’ve submitted your application and all of the necessary documentation, all you can do is wait for a response. Best case scenario, the landlord chooses your application and reaches out to offer you the apartment.

Other documents

What Documents Should Be Included in a Rental Application?

As part of the application process, your landlord will likely request some documentation to accompany the information on the application form. Additional documents may include: 

  • Government ID. To confirm your identity, a landlord may ask for a valid piece of government ID. This can include a copy of your license or passport. 

  • Job letter. This is a letter sent from your employer to your landlord to verify the details of your employment. Where you work, what you do, how long you’ve worked there, and how much you make. This letter helps to confirm your income and if you can afford to pay rent. 

  • Pay stubs. A landlord might also request to see a few of your recent pay stubs as another way to verify your income. Paystubs typically include information about where you work, how many hours you work as well as your hourly rate or salary. 

  • Bank statements. A landlord might ask you to provide bank statements as another way to determine if you can afford rent. While it’s legal for a landlord to ask for your statements, it’s up to you to decide if you want to provide them. There are other ways for your landlord to confirm your income. 

  • Reference letters. Most landlords will request references to help get a better understanding of who you are. A character reference provides details about your character while a reference from a previous landlord provides insights into the type of renter you are. 

  • Credit report. While some landlords will ask for your permission to run a hard credit inquiry, some might allow you to include a copy of your credit report. Accessing a copy of your own report through Borrowell is considered a soft credit check which means it won’t affect your credit score. 

What Information Should Not Be Included on a Rental Application?

As a basic rule of thumb, landlords should only collect information and documentation that is necessary for the rental application process. 

As a tenant, if you ever feel unsure about why a landlord has asked for certain information, it’s your right to ask. Landlords must comply with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which states that they must have a reason for collecting personal information and they can only use it for that reason. The landlord has to tell you what information they are collecting and why. 

The Human Rights Code also outlines specific information that should not be included in an application as it can be used to discriminate against certain renters. This includes: 

  • Race

  • Ancestry

  • Place of origin

  • Ethnicity

  • Citizenship

  • Sex

  • Sexual orientation 

  • Gender identity 

  • Marital status

  • Family status

  • Disability 

Credit score

How to Increase My Chances of Getting Approved?

There are a few things you can do during the application process to increase your chances of standing out and getting approved. 

  • Fill out the application in full. A potential landlord doesn’t want to spend their time tracking you down to ask for additional information. If you want to increase your chances of getting approved, carefully fill out all of the information requested on the application form - assuming no “off-limits” information has been requested. 

  • Include all requested documentation. Have your documentation available and ready to go. This way, if you see an apartment you love, you can submit everything on the spot. This makes you look prepared and sends the message to the landlord that you're serious about the rental. 

  • Improve your credit score. Landlords want to know if a tenant can afford the rental and if they are likely to pay rent on time. Your credit score is a good indicator of whether you’re a reliable and trustworthy candidate. If you have a good or excellent credit score, you’re in good shape. If you have a bad credit score, you might want to take some time to try and improve it to increase your chances of getting approved. 

  • Consider a guarantor. If you have poor credit or you’re right out of school and you have limited credit, you can consider adding a guarantor. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay your debt if you miss a rent payment. Typically this is a parent or family member who is willing to provide proof of income and has strong financials. In some cases, adding a guarantor to your application may help improve your chances of getting approved. 

Do Rental Applications Hurt Your Credit Score?

A rental application can impact your credit score if the landlord requests a hard credit inquiry. A hard inquiry is a typical part of the rental application process and can help your landlord evaluate how you handle your finances. Do you pay your bills on time or do you have a history of late and missed payments? 

On the other hand, a soft inquiry will not impact your credit score. When you check your own credit score through a credit bureau or using Borrowell, this is considered a soft check. In some cases, a landlord might allow you to provide your own copy of your credit report. In this case, your credit score won’t be affected. 

The Bottom Line

If you want to rent an apartment, you will likely need to fill out an application. While the process of completing an application and attaching your documentation is not hard, it is time-consuming. Breaking the application process into steps can make the entire process feel more manageable. To increase your chances of getting approved, make sure you answer all of the questions on the application form and provide all of the requested documentation. 

Jessica Martel
Jessica Martel

Jessica Martel is a freelance writer and professional researcher. She specializes in personal finance and financial literacy. Her work has appeared on websites such as Investopedia, The Balance, Money Under 30, Scotiabank, Seeking Alpha, and more. Jessica has a Master of Science degree in Cognitive Research Psychology.

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