How to Fill Out a Rental Application: A Step-by-Step Guide 

Understand which documents are needed to create a strong rental application, and what to do if your application is denied.

Vivian Tejada
Last Updated
August 24, 2023
How to Fill Out a Rental Application: A Step-by-Step Guide 

Searching for a new rental property can be stressful enough on its own. Once you finally find a place, if you’re not clear on what is needed to complete a rental application, this only makes the process more stressful.

Applicants who submit an apartment rental application properly and pass the necessary checks are much more likely to be approved. A rushed application, on the other hand, could easily be rejected or delayed due to a lack of information. 

When you’re pressed for time to find an apartment or spending large amounts of money on rental application fees, you want to make sure you get things right the first time around -- it'll save you a ton of headaches (and dollars). In this blog, we’ll discuss what you need to know about submitting a rental application as well as what you can do if your application is denied. 

What documentation do I need to submit during the rental application process?

When submitting a rental application, it’s important to fill out all sections accurately. Missing information can be interpreted as a red flag or at the very least, frustrate the landlord in the review process. Rental applications differ from one rental property to another, but most rental applications require the following:

Income verification

A property owner's primary concern is whether or not you’ll be able to make consistent rent payments for the duration of the lease. Property managers can determine whether or not a prospective tenant will be able to afford monthly rent by verifying their monthly income. Tenants are required to submit pay stubs, bank statements, W-2 forms, or 1099 forms. If you’ve recently accepted a new job offer and don’t have income to show, an acceptance letter from your employer should suffice. Property managers are also looking to see if you can afford a security deposit without it negatively impacting your ability to pay rent in the future.

Rental history

Aside from your ability to pay rent, real estate investors want to know if you have previously caused property damage or broken lease agreements. They'll typically ask for your rental history over the last three years including old addresses, reasons for moving, and contact information for previous landlords.

Contact information

When you fill out your rental application, you'll need to provide basic contact information such as your full name, home address, phone number, email address, and photo ID. Property management companies usually need this information to pull your credit report and run a criminal background check.

Social security number

Some rental applications ask for your social security number in addition to the contact information listed above. Having a tenant's SSN makes it easier to run credit and background checks. However, tenants are not legally required to provide this information on their rental application. If you feel uneasy about sharing your SSN, or if you don’t have one to share, ask the landlord what other information you can provide to help them conduct a proper credit and background check.

Personal references

Property owners want to get a sense for who you are and how you conduct yourself. In order to do this, they may ask for personal references either from previous landlords or employers. Choose personal references that will vouch for you and can speak to your financial responsibility.

Cosigner information

If, for some reason, you're unable to provide some of the information listed above, you may decide to enlist a cosigner. A cosigner can help you get approved for an apartment if you have a poor credit history or are unemployed. If you are unable to pay your rent, the cosigner becomes responsible for making monthly rent payments on your behalf.

Additional rental application requirements

If you're moving in with a pet or have a car, you'll need to provide additional information either on your rental application or through a separate form. For your furry friend, vaccination records, pet insurance, and a pet deposit may be necessary before you are approved for the unit. If you own a car, you’ll probably need to provide your license plate number, model and year of the car, and car insurance information.

What to do if your rental application is denied

After putting in all that work to submit a strong application, it can hurt to find out that your application has been denied. Don’t get discouraged! There are a few actions you can take when your rental application is denied.

Common reasons for denial

The first thing you want to do is figure out why your rental application was denied. Don’t be afraid to ask the landlord why they rejected your application. They might give you any one of the following reasons:

  • Your monthly income wasn’t enough.
  • You had a poor credit score.
  • You were previously evicted.
  • Your references were unfavorable.
  • You provided inaccurate information on your application.
  • Another applicant was a better fit for the unit.

Steps to take when your rental application is denied

It’s important to find out why your rental application wasn’t approved to avoid application denials in the future. If your references were poor, choose different personal references the next time around. If your credit score is low, contact the three major credit bureaus to find out how you can raise your score

If nothing is wrong with your application but you’re consistently being beaten out by better applicants, it may be that you’re taking too long to fill out your applications. This is often the case in highly competitive rental markets such as New York. In this case, all you would need to do to improve your rental application would be to simply submit it as soon as you can. Whatever your specific issue may be, make sure to address it before submitting another rental application so you don't lose out again. 

Applicants who are having trouble identifying why their rental applications keep getting denied should consider asking a property owner for a copy of their tenant screening report. Property owners are required to provide previous applicants with the name, address, and phone number of the tenant screening company they used to evaluate their application. Should the landlord be unable or unwilling to provide you with a tenant screening report, this could be cause for concern. 

Denied due to discrimination

If a property owner denied your rental application without allowing you to go through the tenant screening process and before another applicant was approved, they could get in trouble. The Fair Housing Act ensures a fair tenant screening process by prohibiting landlords from denying prospective tenants an opportunity to rent due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. 

If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against in the rental application process, consider filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Although this won’t guarantee you’ll be able to secure the unit, it may help you recover damages incurred during the rental application process.

The bottom line on filling out rental applications

The most important aspect of filling out a rental application is making sure the application is complete, accurate, and submitted in a timely fashion. As a prospective tenant, you should focus your efforts on proving your ability to pay rent and take care of the property while living in it. 

While a denied application can be disheartening, it's important to find out why your rental application wasn't approved. Whether it's insufficient income, a low credit score, or inadequate references, each reason presents an opportunity for prospective tenant to fix their application and increase their chances of approval in the future. 

You should always be aware of your rights as a tenant, even before you become one. In cases where discrimination may be a factor, it's important to take action by first requesting a tenant screening report and then filing a complaint with HUD, if necessary. 

The rental application process may seem complex, but with the right preparation and mindset, you can increase your chances of securing your ideal apartment. By following the steps outlined in this guide and learning from any setbacks you've encountered, you'll be better equipped to navigate the rental landscape and find the perfect place to call home.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Vivian Tejada

Vivian is a freelance real estate writer based in Brooklyn, NYC providing SEO blogging services to real estate companies. Her work focuses on educating first-time real estate investors on investment strategy and explaining proptech tools to new customers.

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