How to Impress a Prospective Landlord

Tips on getting a potential landlord's attention and making your rental application stand out.

Not all rentals are created equal, and sometimes applying for an apartment can seem as competitive as getting into an Ivy League college. Landlords with rentals that are located in trendy areas, accept pets, or are subject to rent control often receive dozens of applications.

So, how do you distinguish yourself from everyone else who’s vying for the same rental? Although being able to pay rent is important, landlords who can be choosy look for other characteristics in prospective tenants. Here’s some advice on how to impress a potential landlord.

Be Prepared

Most landlords with hot properties will require you to fill out a written rental application. Being able to submit it quickly will give you a competitive advantage. Bring the following information to your meeting with the landlord or property manager so you can fill out your application on the spot:

  • References. Have a written list of at least three references. Prospective landlords will want to see past landlords listed as references, but if that’s not possible, use employers, colleagues, and friends. Be ready to provide their full names, phone numbers, and email addresses. It’s always a good idea to alert references to expect a call—and make sure they’ll speak well of you.
  • Past rental or residence information. Many applications ask for the addresses of where you’ve lived for the past five years or so. Have the full address, the dates you lived there, and the reason why you left each residence at your fingertips.
  • Proof of ability to pay. Landlords will often accept a recent pay stub showing your current income, the prior year’s tax return, or a current bank statement as proof of your ability to pay the rent. If you’re about to start a new job, bring a copy of your offer letter reflecting your anticipated start date and income.
  • Financial information. Be prepared to provide account numbers for your checking, savings, and other financial accounts—the prospective landlord might ask for your permission to run a check on your deposits. Know your social security number in case you have to provide it for a credit check.
  • Pet data. If you’re going to be moving in with a pet, bring a vet’s letter showing the pet is up to date with all its vaccinations. Know your pet’s breed, size, and weight. If you have a pet reference—someone who can vouch for the fact your pet is house-trained, friendly, and has been a good resident in the past—bring that person’s contact information.
  • Liquid funds. Arrive at the meeting with your checkbook (and the funds in the bank to back it up). This way, you’re prepared to pay any application fees and put down a deposit. (Make sure you ask for a receipt.)

It's also a good idea to bring a current copy of your credit report (although the landlord might still want to order one—and will charge you a fee for doing so). You can order your credit report from any of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), or get a free copy at AnnualCreditReport.com. Be sure to review the report before you go apartment hunting—dispute and correct any incomplete or inaccurate information you find.

If you’re renting with roommates, it’s best to have everyone who will be living in the unit attend (and be prepared for) the meeting with the potential landlord. If that’s not possible, bring the information listed above for the absent roommate.

Demonstrate You’ll Be an Ideal Tenant

Be on your best “good tenant” behavior when you go to see a rental. Show up on time, dress neatly, and present yourself as someone who is both conscientious and agreeable. If you’re attending an open house, arrive at the start (but not too early), if possible.

Because landlords hate dealing with overly demanding or fussy tenants who complain about trivial things, don’t start off asking for a long list of improvements and special favors before you’re even offered the place. You can—and should—ask questions, but realize that the landlord might interpret pointed or negative-sounding questions as signs you’re going to be a difficult tenant.

Offer Something Extra

To stand out from other applicants, consider offering something extra to show that you have what it takes to be an ideal tenant—one who pays rent on time, stays for the long term, and treats the property with respect. For example, you can offer to prepay rent, put down a larger security deposit, carry renters’ insurance, have the rental professionally cleaned when you move out, or sign a long-term lease. If you have the financial means, you could even offer to pay a higher monthly rent. Be realistic, though, and don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep.

Tenants have been known to barter all kinds of deals, including the offer of airline or sports tickets and attractive merchandise. Engaging in this type of creative bribery can backfire, though:

  • Waiving your rights might set the stage for having them trampled in the future. If you offer a higher security deposit than the law allows or agree to under-the-table rent in violation of a rent control ordinance, you’ve sent a signal that you are willing to overlook the law. If you later want to assert other rights (such as your right to basic repairs and maintenance), don’t be surprised if your landlord ignores your wishes—if you were willing to waive legal protections once, you can be talked out of these, too.
  • Offering carrots now might make the landlord expect more. You obviously don’t want to continue to bribe the landlord every time you make a reasonable request. But by sweetening the deal, you’ve set a precedent.
  • Choosing tenants based on the quality of their gifts is no way to run a business. Be wary of a landlord who chooses tenants for personal gain instead of legitimate business reasons.

In other words, be sincere and smart about what you offer. Legitimate landlords will appreciate applicants who offer to make their job easier, but will be turned off by applicants who try to game the system.

Don’t Give Up

If you find out you didn’t get the apartment, ask the landlord why. Use any constructive feedback you receive to improve your next rental application.

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