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When you apply to rent an apartment, the landlord or property manager will try to size you up as a renter before handing over the keys and taking you on as a tenant. Landlords want to make sure that their new tenant is likely to pay their rent as agreed, so they'll often use specialized reports that provide information on your rental history, credit, eviction record, criminal background, employment and income.
One of the tools they may use to help decide whether you're likely to pay your rent on time is a rental history report. Reports from services such as Experian RentBureau show your rent payment history and may also include information on leases you've signed, bad checks, outstanding balances and rental debts you may have left behind. Positive rent payment data from Experian RentBureau may also become part of your regular Experian credit report, which would allow your credit scores to factor in your timely rent payments—something that's not automatically done. You can check your rental history report for free directly from a reporting agency once every 12 months.
How to Check Your Rental History
Checking your rental history report gives you the opportunity to review what landlords are likely to see when they check your file. It could also help you spot any inaccuracies that may appear and have them corrected. There are multiple companies that provide this type of report, so you may want to find out which reporting agency your prospective landlord uses if you think it's important to see the exact report they're accessing.
You can request a copy of your Experian RentBureau report by completing a request form and mailing it in, or by calling 877-704-4519. The other major companies that provide tenant history reports are LexisNexis, CoreLogic and Tenant Data.
How to Get Your Rental Payments on Your Credit Reports
Not all landlords share payment data with Experian RentBureau. But having your on-time rent payments reported to RentBureau can serve as a real benefit in several ways. A positive rent payment history on a rental history or tenant screening report can help future landlords get a picture of how likely you are to pay your rent on time—and how you've avoided skipped payments or collections. This could make it easier to be approved for a rental unit, and may have other benefits such as a lower security deposit requirement. Timely rent payments can also become part of your regular Experian credit report, adding to payment history and contributing positively to your credit score.
How can you get your current rent payments reported to RentBureau? There are two main ways to approach it.
- Contact your landlord or property manager. Ask if they would be willing to report your rental payment history to RentBureau. Your lease will appear in the "accounts" section of your Experian credit report, showing the date the lease started, your monthly payment amount and your payment history for the past 25 months.
- Enroll in a rent-paying service. If your landlord won't report your payment data to Experian RentBureau, you may want to look into a fee-based rent payment service that reports to credit bureaus at your request. Companies like Cozy and RentTrack collect rent money from you and pay it to your landlord. They'll report your payment history to Experian if you opt in.
What Else Do Landlords Check When You Apply to Rent?
Different landlords handle tenant applications differently. Some do relatively little screening; others may download multiple reports themselves or work with a consumer reporting agency that offers tenant screenings.
Here are a few things a landlord is likely to check as part of the application process:
Your Income and Employment
There are multiple ways for landlords to check your income and employment. They may contact your employer directly or request proof of income from you in the form of pay stubs, tax forms or bank account statements. If it's clear based on income information that you can't afford the unit you're applying for, you can be denied regardless of other factors.
Landlords may vary on the credit scores they want to see from a rental applicant, but many do check credit scores. They may also check your credit report for past bankruptcies, past-due payments and other negative information. Your credit report also reveals information about your monthly debt load, which can be important if it impacts your ability to meet your rent every month.
Your Criminal Background
Past felonies and misdemeanors, pending cases, outstanding warrants—these may all affect your ability to be approved for a rental. If you know your criminal background may contain concerning information, tell your prospective landlord about it. It might also help to explain why you believe your past mistakes won't prevent you from being a good tenant now.
Can I Rent an Apartment With Bad Credit?
You don't need perfect credit to rent an apartment. Although a credit score of 700 or above is helpful—especially if you're looking to rent in a competitive city like San Francisco or Boston, or you have your eye on a high-end building—the average credit score for renters in 2020 was 638, according to listing site RENTCafé.
If your credit score seems to be an issue when you submit rental applications, consider these tips for getting an apartment with less-than-perfect credit:
- Set your sights lower. Choose a more modest location or a building that isn't as posh. Credit requirements are likely to be more forgiving.
- Consider a less expensive unit. A lower rent will take up less of your available income and your credit score won't be as much of a factor to landlords.
- Highlight your strengths. If you have a good income—say, three to four times rent or more—be sure to emphasize it.
- Look for a landlord who doesn't check credit. Alternatively, you may find a landlord who's open to a credit score in your range.
- Find a cosigner with good credit. Be mindful, however, that your cosigner may be on the hook for any rent you fail to pay.
- Offer more money upfront. Paying a larger security deposit or multiple months of rent upfront might convince a landlord to approve your application.
- Pause your search and work on your credit. Good credit habits plus a little time may bring your score into a better range.
Check Now to Avoid Surprises
Screening potential tenants can be a stress point for landlords, but it can also be a stressful process for applicants. Getting this much scrutiny can leave you worrying what will come to light. Checking your rental history report, along with other relevant information like your credit report and score or criminal background, can at least take away some of the surprise. With your report in hand, you can see what landlords are likely to find out and prepare yourself—and your application—accordingly.