What Can Disqualify You From Renting an Apartment? 12 Red Flags

Avoid renting mishaps. Learn what can disqualify you from renting an apartment, and how to overcome it to secure your dream home.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
September 1, 2023
What Can Disqualify You From Renting an Apartment? 12 Red Flags

Learn the factors affecting your chance of renting an apartment and the red flags that could disqualify you.

Embarking on the search for your perfect apartment comes with its own set of challenges. Among them, understanding what can potentially disqualify you from renting a unit is crucial. Landlords have specific criteria that guide their decisions, and knowing these factors can save you time and disappointment.

In this article, we'll unravel the essential insights into rental application disqualifications. From financial aspects to personal history, we'll shed light on the reasons applications might face rejection, ensuring you're better prepared for your next step in finding the right apartment.

Understanding rental application disqualifications

Landlords review rental applications to determine suitability, financial stability, and ability to adhere to the lease agreement's terms. Property managers or landlords only accept applications that meet their criteria.

Valid reasons to deny a rental application

Just as prospective tenants shop around for the best apartment and rule out the ones they don't think are up to snuff, landlords review and assess rental applications to ensure they choose a reliable and responsible tenant. 

Here are some common reasons why an application might get denied:

Inadequate, inaccurate, or unverified income

A tenant's income is an important factor that landlords consider. General guidelines are that your rent should be no more than 30% of your earnings. If you're applying for a rental unit with a monthly rent higher than your income allows, the landlord may disqualify your application out of concern that you might not be able to make your monthly payments.

Providing inaccurate income details on a rental application can also lead to disqualification from renting an apartment. Landlords usually verify income with pay stubs, bank statements, or by contacting employers.

If you falsify income information, the landlord can instantly reject your application and reserves the right to take legal action. To avoid complications, be honest and accurate when filling out rental applications.

The landlord will verify that you have a steady and dependable income to afford the monthly rent and other rental-associated costs. If the landlord cannot confirm your income, this also could disqualify your application.

Poor credit report

A good credit report increases your chances of approval when applying for a rental property. Landlords may see a low credit score as a warning sign that you haven't paid bills on time or have struggled to manage money in the past. They might worry that you won't pay rent or meet other responsibilities, and your rental application may get denied.

Credit score minimums preferred by landlords will depend on your location and competition for rental units. If a landlord has several applications for a property, the credit score criteria will be higher, as the pool of tenants to choose from is more competitive. A general guideline is to have a credit score of at least 600.

If you think your credit report might be an issue, take steps to improve your credit. Make your rent payments on time, keep your credit card balances low, and avoid maxing them out. We know it's easier said than done, but taking these steps when possible will gradually build a positive credit history.

Bad references

When tenants apply for an apartment, it's normal for landlords to ask for references from previous landlords or employers. These references help landlords learn about the tenant's character and dependability. Negative feedback or a lack of positive references may cause landlords to disqualify the application.

Previous landlords mentioning events involving unpaid rent, property damage, or behavioral problems might persuade a landlord to reject a rental application.

To remedy a bad landlord reference and improve your chances of renting an apartment, consider the following actions:

  • Address any outstanding issues with your previous landlord, such as unpaid balances.
  • Seek positive references from other sources.
  • Offer a co-signer or guarantor to vouch for your reliability.
  • Write a letter of explanation emphasizing your commitment to responsible tenancy.
  • Demonstrate financial stability with proof of income and a larger security deposit.
  • Be flexible with lease terms to accommodate the landlord's concerns.
  • Seek legal advice if the reference's complaint involves disputes or unfair treatment.

Eviction on rental history

A history of previous evictions can affect the chances of securing an apartment. Landlords often do background checks and will see any prior evictions.

Eviction records raise concerns regarding the dependability and ability to comply with lease agreements, leading landlords to unfortunately deny rental applications.

If you have an eviction on your rental history, be upfront about it. If there were extenuating circumstances like job loss, medical issues, or unexpected life events, explain it to the new landlord. This shows that the eviction was isolated and not reflective of your overall character, helping to build trust.

References from previous landlords, employers, or reputable individuals who can vouch for your reliability can be helpful. Consider offering a larger security deposit or a financially stable co-signer to address payment concerns. Provide the landlord with evidence of steady income through pay stubs, contracts, or bank statements.

You can also offer advanced rent payments or schedule automatic payments to show your commitment. Or, consider a rental guarantor service for added reassurance to the new landlord.

Bankruptcy filing

If you've ever filed for bankruptcy, this may negatively impact your ability to get a rental application approved. Bankruptcy is a legal process where individuals or businesses declare their inability to repay their debts and seek relief from their financial obligations.

Bankruptcy can impact a person's credit report for ten years, depending on its type.

Even if you have improved your credit score, landlords might still choose to decline your application if you have filed for bankruptcy. With time, as you develop a positive repayment history, your chances of getting a rental application approved will increase.


Owning a pet or certain kind of animal may be prohibited in some rental properties. If you have a pet that goes against these rules, it could lead to disqualification.

However, it is worth mentioning that there is an exemption for service or assistance animals. These animals provide vital support and are not subject to the same restrictions as pets.

To save yourself time and money, be sure to check the pet policies of your prospective apartment before applying.

Evidence of illegal activity

Most landlords do not approve applications if there is evidence of illegal activity on your record or during the screening process.

Landlords seek to avoid the risk from tenants involved in illegal activities. These risks include breaching legal and safety obligations, jeopardizing the safety of other tenants, causing damage to the property, and violating lease terms.

Landlords evaluate evidence of illegal activity and make decisions prioritizing the safety and well-being of the property, other tenants, and the community.

If you have illegal activity in your history, be honest with the landlord and explain any steps taken towards rehabilitation. Provide character references and emphasize your commitment to following the law and being a responsible tenant.


Apartments with strict policies against smoking are likely to reject prospective tenants who currently smoke or have a history of smoking-related incidents. These policies are typically in the rental agreement and aim to maintain a healthy living environment and prevent potential conflicts or nuisances caused by smoking.

If you are a smoker, be honest about your smoking habits during the application process. Hiding this information may lead to conflicts in the future. Explain that you understand and respect the non-smoking policy of the apartment and are committed to abiding by the rules.

Discuss alternatives with the landlord, such as using designated smoking areas outside the property or finding nearby areas where smoking is permitted. Having references from previous landlords or neighbors who confirm your adherence to non-smoking policies can help build trust with the new landlord.

Suppose the landlord has concerns about potential damage or lingering odors. In that case, you can propose additional security measures, such as an increased security deposit or agreeing to professional cleaning at the end of the lease to ensure the property is in its original condition.

Number of occupants

Landlords can reject rental applications if the number of occupants exceeds the legal limit set by local, state, or federal housing departments. Typically, national occupancy standards permit two people per bedroom. Additionally, landlords can deny applications if the number of occupants violates the terms of the lease or rental agreement.

However, landlords may establish alternative occupancy rules based on valid reasons.

High debt-to-income ratio

The debt-to-income ratio (DTI) measures your monthly debt payments compared to your monthly income. A high DTI can be a red flag, as it suggests that debt payments eat a significant portion of your income, potentially indicating financial instability and raising concerns about your ability to consistently pay rent on time.

Landlords should establish reasonable DTI thresholds to prevent discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from setting disproportionately high DTI thresholds that may exclude low-income renters, potentially violating fair housing laws. Applying consistent and fair DTI thresholds to all tenants, regardless of factors like race or disability, helps ensure compliance and equal treatment for all.

Frequent moving

Landlords typically look for tenants to show stability and a long-term commitment to their rental property. Frequent moves raise concerns about financial instability, potential disruptions to the property, and increased turnover costs.

To overcome these concerns and improve your chances of being approved, you can take steps to demonstrate your reliability and commitment. One way is to provide references from previous landlords who can vouch for your responsible behavior and reliability in paying rent and taking care of the property. Additionally, offering a higher security deposit or providing proof of stable employment and income may help alleviate concerns about your history of moving.

Criminal record

If you have a criminal record, it can affect your ability to rent an apartment. Landlords review criminal history as part of their application process. However, arrest records alone cannot fairly be used as a basis for rental denial. An arrest doesn't automatically mean you're guilty, and it would be unjust to reject innocent individuals based solely on this.

While landlords can still consider applicants' criminal backgrounds, they must exercise caution. The courts may view a blanket policy rejecting anyone with any criminal conviction as discriminatory. Instead, it is more reasonable for landlords to assess each applicant individually. They should consider the offender's nature, relevance to being a responsible tenant, and the time since the conviction.

The goal is to strike a balance between ensuring the safety of current tenants and providing individuals with previous criminal records a fair opportunity to find housing. Landlords should familiarize themselves with local laws and regulations on tenant screening to comply with the law and treat everyone equitably.

Invalid reasons to reject a prospective tenant 

Landlords cannot reject rental applications for reasons violating the Fair Housing Act. Here is a list of invalid or discriminatory reasons for rejecting applications:

  • Race, color, or national origin: The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against individuals based on race, color, or national origin. This ensures everyone has equal access to housing opportunities, regardless of background.
  • Religion: Landlords cannot discriminate against individuals based on religious beliefs or practices. This protects the right to fair housing for people of all religious backgrounds.
  • Gender or Gender Identity: Landlords cannot discriminate based on gender or gender identity under the Fair Housing Act.
  • Marital status: Landlords cannot discriminate against individuals based on their marital status. Whether someone is single, married, divorced, or widowed should not affect their ability to rent a property.
  • Familial status: Discrimination against individuals with children or those who are pregnant is prohibited. Landlords cannot deny housing or impose different terms and conditions based on familial status.
  • Disability: Landlords must make reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to housing for people with disabilities.
  • Sexual orientation: Landlords cannot deny housing or treat individuals differently based on their sexual orientation.
  • Age: While there are some exceptions for senior housing, landlords, in most cases, cannot discriminate against individuals based on age. This ensures equal housing opportunities for people of all ages.
  • Source of income: Landlords cannot discriminate against individuals based on their source of income. This means they cannot refuse to rent to someone solely because their income comes from government assistance programs or other non-traditional sources.
  • Citizenship or immigration status: Discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status is prohibited. Landlords cannot deny housing or treat individuals differently based on their citizenship or immigration status.

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords legally cannot ask questions about protected classes during the application process.

Things prospective tenants should know

To increase your chances of rental application approval, maintain a positive rental history, demonstrate responsible financial management, and consistently provide accurate information throughout the application process.

A solid rental history showcases your reliability and proves that you're trustworthy. Handling your finances responsibly demonstrates your ability to manage resources and make timely payments. Finally, providing accurate information throughout the application process ensures transparency and builds trust with potential landlords.

Pay attention to these details, and you will improve your chances of finding the perfect rental apartment that meets your needs and preferences.

What can disqualify you from renting an apartment? FAQs

What credit score is typically required to rent an apartment?

The minimum credit score to rent an apartment typically ranges from 620 to 650. However, this can vary depending on the property manager and location.

What could be considered insufficient income for renting an apartment?

Experts recommend that monthly income be at least three times the monthly rent amount. This guideline helps ensure that renters have a comfortable financial cushion to cover their rental expenses while allowing for other necessary expenses and savings.

What can stop me from renting?

Several factors can potentially prevent someone from renting a property. Common reasons include:

  • Poor credit history or low credit score.
  • Insufficient income.
  • An adverse rental history or eviction record.

Additionally, landlords may have specific criteria such as employment verification, background checks, or restrictions on pets or smoking that could impact the rental decision.

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 NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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