How to Rent a House: 9 Key Steps to Landing Your Dream Rental

Landing your perfect rental house is an exciting process that requires you to clarify your financial boundaries and must-have features and amenities. This article walks you through finding and vetting listings that match your criteria, managing the application process, and reviewing legal agreements.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
May 23, 2024
How to Rent a House: 9 Key Steps to Landing Your Dream Rental

Dreaming of having a place to call your own, with ample living space and the freedom to make it truly yours? Renting a house is an attractive option for those craving that independence. While the idea of having your own place may be appealing, the process requires some planning. From determining an appropriate budget to finding the right property and successfully renting, there are many factors to juggle.

This guide covers preparing and setting a realistic budget, identifying desired amenities, and leveraging search resources. You'll learn strategies for evaluating properties and handling the various phases of the rental process, and we'll give you all the steps you need to rent long-term housing tailored to your needs.

Renting a house is an exciting milestone if you want more room to grow or simply your own private space. With our guidance, you can take all the right steps to find your perfect rental fit!

Renting a house

Finding a house in today's rental market requires strategy and attention to detail. Here are the key steps to tackle the process and find the best rental property tailored to your needs and preferences:

1. Establish your budget

You'll need to set a budget based on the rent prices you can afford. To figure this out, calculate:

  • Total monthly income: Sum up all sources of income, including salary, freelance work, and other earnings.
  • Subtract fixed monthly expenses: Deduct expenses like car payments, student loans, credit card payments, and other recurring obligations.
  • Allocate for variable expenses: From the remaining income, allocate funds for groceries, transportation, utilities, and entertainment, and set aside money for savings and emergency funds.

After accounting for these expenses, determine how much you can spend on rent payments. A widely accepted guideline is to allocate no more than 30% of your gross monthly income to housing. This percentage can vary depending on your location, and you might need to adjust if you live in a high-cost area.

Finally, consider potential future changes in your financial situation that might affect your ability to afford the monthly rent price over time. This will help you choose a house that remains affordable relative to your financial outlook.

2. Check your credit score

Before you begin searching for rental properties, check your credit score. Landlords often ask for a credit check and use this score to decide whether to accept your rental application. A higher score can make you a more appealing candidate and potentially give you more negotiating power on lease terms.

Start by getting a free credit report from one of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Review your report for any inaccuracies or outdated information that could negatively impact your score. If you find any errors, take steps to dispute them with the credit bureau.

Knowing your score also helps you anticipate what landlords might expect or require. If your score is lower than ideal, you might need to provide additional references or consider a larger security deposit to reassure potential landlords of your reliability.

3. Search online

Starting your search for a rental house online is an efficient way to view multiple properties that fit your criteria without having to leave your house. Here’s how you can make the most of your search:

  • Choose the right platforms: Use popular real estate apps like Zillow,,, and local classifieds like Craigslist. These platforms provide detailed listings with photos, pricing, and often virtual tours from various property owners.
  • Set search filters: To streamline your search, set filters for your specific needs. This can include budget limits, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, location preferences, pet policies, and other amenities that are important to you.
  • Create alerts: Most real estate websites allow you to set up alerts that notify you when new listings that meet your criteria become available. This feature helps you stay ahead in competitive markets by being one of the first to view new properties.
  • Research neighborhoods: While searching online, take the time to research the neighborhoods of the properties. Look for information on safety, schools, local amenities, public transportation options, and community activities.
  • Read reviews: Find reviews or feedback about the property management company or private landlord if possible. Previous tenants’ experiences can give you an idea of what to expect and help you avoid potential problems.

Watch out for potential rental scams during this process. Be on high alert if a listing seems too good to be true with an unusually low rental rate or conveys a sense of urgency. Legitimate listings will not ask you to send money upfront simply to view a property in person.

4. Visit in person

After narrowing down your choices online, the next step is to visit each potential rental home in person. This visit allows you to verify the details provided online and check out aspects of the home and neighborhood. Here’s how to get the most out of an in-person visit:

  • Schedule appointments: Contact the landlords or property managers to schedule a convenient time for viewing. Try to arrange back-to-back appointments to make efficient use of your time, especially if you're considering multiple properties.
  • Assess the space: As you walk through the property, imagine your daily life in the space. Consider the layout, storage options, and whether your furniture will fit in the rooms.
  • Explore the neighborhood: Take some time to explore the neighborhood. Look for convenience to services and observe the condition of surrounding properties and the general safety of the area. Also, make note of any local laws that could impact your living situation, like noise ordinances or parking restrictions.
  • Ask questions: During your visit, talk to the landlord or real estate agent about any concerns you have. Inquire about the lease terms and policies on pets or visitors. It's also good to ask about average utility costs and maintenance request procedures.
  • Trust your instincts: Pay attention to how you feel during the visit. Consider these potential red flags if something seems off or the landlord seems difficult to communicate with.

5. Complete an application

Once you've found a rental house that meets your needs and you've decided to proceed, the next step is to complete a rental application. This tenant screening process typically involves providing detailed information to the landlord or property management company to verify your eligibility as a tenant.

Most applications ask for the following:

  • Personal information: Your full name, current address, social security number, and contact details. To demonstrate financial stability and your ability to pay rent, include employment information such as your employer's name, your job title, and salary.
  • References: Submit references as part of your application. These can include previous landlords who can vouch for your reliability or employers and personal references who can attest to your character and responsibility.
  • Credit and background checks: Authorize a credit and background check. These checks help landlords assess if you have a history of responsible financial behavior and identify any legal issues that might affect your tenancy.

Some applications may also require a fee to cover the cost of processing the application and running these checks. Be sure to ask about this cost upfront.

6. Sign a lease agreement

Once your application is approved, you will need to sign a lease agreement. This legal contract outlines the terms and conditions of your tenancy, so it's important to understand everything it contains before signing.

It's a good idea to research your local landlord-tenant laws to identify any lease provisions that may violate your tenant rights and negotiate adjustments if necessary.

When reviewing the lease:

  • Confirm you understand the rental rate, security deposit details, lease duration, and any rules about pets or subletting.
  • Discuss any unclear sections with the landlord.
  • Bring up any terms you would like to negotiate before signing.

The lease also specifies your responsibilities as a tenant, including maintenance duties and rules for using common areas. Make sure you're comfortable with these before agreeing to them.

Once all parties agree on the terms, sign the lease. Both you and the landlord should have a copy of the signed agreement for your records.

7. Move-in inspection

Participate in a move-in inspection before you officially settle into your new rental home. This process allows you to document the condition of the property before you occupy it. An inspection helps protect you from being held responsible for pre-existing damages when you move out.

Arrange a walk-through with your landlord or property manager on or before your move-in day. This confirms that both parties are aware of the property's condition from the start.

During the inspection, examine each part of the house. Look for:

  • Any damages, such as scratches on floors or issues with appliances.
  • Use your phone to take photos or videos of any damage you find. This visual evidence can be very helpful if disputes arise later.
  • Test the functionality of faucets, toilets, and heating/cooling systems to make sure everything works properly.
  • If anything is not functioning as it should, note this on the inspection report and notify the landlord immediately.

Make sure that the inspection findings are in a move-in inspection report. You and the landlord should sign this document and keep a copy for your records.

8. Plan for utilities and services

You'll also need to plan for the setup and transfer of various utilities and services so that everything is functional from day one.

Start by asking your landlord which utilities and services you'll need for the property that are not included in the lease. Common utilities include electricity, gas, water, and sewage. Other paid services can include trash collection, internet, and cable TV.

  • Initiate services: Contact utility companies and service providers at least two weeks before your move. This timeline allows you to either transfer services from your previous address or set up new accounts.
  • Understand billing details: Ask about the billing cycles, monthly costs, and any initial deposits the utility companies require.

9. Get renters insurance

Your landlord may require you to get renters insurance when moving into a new rental home. Even if not required, renters insurance is a wise investment. This type of insurance protects your personal belongings from unexpected events like theft, fire, and other potential damages or losses.

Renter's insurance typically provides coverage for:

  • Personal property coverage for belongings like furniture, electronics, and clothing.
  • Personal liability protection if someone is injured on the property.
  • Additional living expenses if you need to temporarily relocate due to an incident.

Make sure the policy you choose includes sufficient personal property coverage for the value of your belongings and adequate personal liability limits.

How to rent houses

Renting a house is more than just finding a place to live — it's about creating a home environment that matches your lifestyle needs and wants. To start, determine your budgetary limitations and your must-have features such as the location, desired amenities, and amount of space. Once you know exactly what you're looking for, leverage online rental listings to sort through available properties that potentially meet your criteria.

The rental application and approval process takes effort, but try not to get discouraged. Sticking firmly to the priorities you outlined helps filter out options that don't truly meet your needs. When you find a property that checks all your boxes, the work put into getting it right will feel worth it.

How do I rent a house? FAQs

How does renting work?

Renting involves a property owner or landlord allowing a tenant to live in their property in exchange for regular rental payments. The landlord is responsible for the maintenance of the property, while the tenant has the right to live there as long as they follow the terms of the lease agreement. 

Which credit score do landlords use?

Most landlords evaluate rental applications using a prospective tenant's FICO credit score, which ranges from 300 to 850. This widely used model helps assess the tenant's creditworthiness and financial responsibility.

What are the cons of renting my house?

Some potential cons of renting out your house include dealing with problematic tenants and covering maintenance costs. Additionally, you may face rental income loss during vacancies and face the risk of property damage. There are also legal responsibilities and liabilities involved in being a landlord. Implementing a solid property management plan can help reduce many of these risks but requires time and possibly additional costs.

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.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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