To gain a competitive edge over other tenants, bring the following information (you'll need this to complete a rental application):
- Names, phone numbers, and email addresses for references from landlords, employers, friends, and colleagues. It’s always a good idea to alert references to expect a call from prospective landlords. And make sure they’ll speak well of you (and your pet, if you have one).
- A recent pay stub showing your current income.
- Account numbers for your checking, savings, and other financial accounts.
- A blank check in case you need to provide a holding deposit for the rental.
It's also a good idea to bring a current copy of your credit report (although the landlord may still want to order one--and charge you a fee for doing so). You can order your credit report from any of the major credit bureaus, or get a free copy from annualcreditreport.com. Be sure to correct any problems in your credit report (or explain any damaging entries).
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. Realize that landlords hate dealing with overly demanding or fussy tenants who constantly complain about trivial things, so don’t start off asking for a long list of improvements and special favors before you’re even offered the place.
To clinch the deal on a great place, you may need to sweeten the pot—for example, by offering to pay more rent, prepay rent, pay more security deposit, or do maintenance chores. Tenants have been known to barter all kinds of deals, including the offer of airline or sports tickets and attractive merchandise. If you engage in creative bribery, be aware of some realities:
- 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—she’ll figure that 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 once wooed, he may continue to expect “deal sweeteners.” This could get expensive.
- Choosing tenants based on the quality of their gifts is no way to run a business. The best landlords are the ones who choose the best tenants—those who are responsible, considerate, and law-abiding. If you live in a multiunit building, these are the best neighbors for you, too. Chances are you’d rather live next door to someone who got the place because she came with great references and not because she could come up with six months’ prepaid rent. Beware a landlord who hasn’t learned this lesson.