5 tips to get your rental application approved, even if you have bad credit and pets

Guest post by Jessica Carrillo
Rental Sweet Rental pillow from Etsy seller Plum Perfection.
Rental Sweet Rental pillow from Etsy seller Plum Perfection.

In a competitive rental market, you want your application to be approved. I’ve been a property manager for over 10 years, so I have five important tips to help get that rental application for sure approved. These tips are especially helpful if you don’t have the best credit, or if you have an animal…

1. Get organized before you go on the apartment hunt

When I’m reviewing rental applicants, if an application is organized and thorough, the cards will already be in your favor. Most landlords will require you to fill out an application, provide a copy of your photo ID, submit documented proof of income, and they will charge you an application processing fee to run your credit.

If you are moving for a new job, make sure to have the signed offer letter from your new employer. If you are self-employed, get a copy of your tax return and copy a few bank statements to show current consistent income.

The more organized you are the less work the landlord will need to do. This will automatically enhance your application and put you ahead of the pack.

2. Write an introduction cover letter

Write a few paragraphs sharing a little history about who you are, the reason for your move, your financial background, and a few sentences to personalize why you are interested in that particular apartment. You should also include an explanation of any negative credit marks, so there are no surprises when they run your credit. Ask your current landlord to write a short recommendation to show your rental record of paying on time.

3. Secure a financial Guarantor if you have poor credit

Applicants with poor credit may need to ask a friend or family member with good credit and ample income to act as their financial Guarantor/co-signer. That person is guaranteeing that they will pay your rent if you don’t. As landlords we sometimes think, why should we trust this person with a bad track record to pay rent on-time each month, if their friends and family won’t vouch for them?

The guarantor will also need to submit the same application documents as the applicant. If you get these documents ready ahead of time it could save you a few days of scrambling. If you cannot secure a guarantor, try offering to pay a double security deposit or pay a few months of rent in advance.

4. Offer more rent per month — especially if you have a pet

Money talks, so if you really love a place try offering more rent per month, even if it is just $25 or $50 more than the listed price.

If you have a pet, offering additional “pet rent” will give the landlord an incentive to choose you over an applicant with no pets. You should also expect to pay a pet deposit, provide pet references, and purchase renter’s insurance to cover your pet’s liability.

5. Have a good attitude

I think this might be the most important tip! Searching and applying for apartments can be a stressful time for a prospective renter. Running around looking at multiple places and providing personal financial documents can create anxiety which sometimes manifests in a bad attitude. Make sure to be polite and friendly to the leasing agent, landlord, or owner. Your pleasant attitude will have a direct impact on the success of your application. This one seems like a no-brainer, but from my experience, sometimes ya really do need this reminder.

Rental managers and dwellers: Dish the goodies! What are your secrets for nailing the rental application?

Comments on 5 tips to get your rental application approved, even if you have bad credit and pets

  1. Proof, proof, proof. Just as you stated. My credit isn’t worth writing home about, but my rental payment history and upkeep history is spotless. And, as you said, being upbeat helps as well!

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  2. This is great, I might be moving in a few months to be closer to where I work and this advice is brilliant to put me and my fur-ball babies in a good position. I am wondering though, what about those of us in our late 20s that don’t have anything to offer in the way of landlord references or payment history. Basically those of us who have lived in our parents house and only ever paid digs rather than proper rent.

    • You might need to have a co-signer. When my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I got our first apartment, we had only lived at home and in the dorms on campus. We had a letter of recommendation from our housing director at the dorms and had his mom as a co-signer for the first year. When we renewed our lease for the second year, we didn’t need the co-signer because we built up history with the company for the first year.

      But even though we had awesome credit, no pets, no kids, and really good paying jobs, we couldn’t get an apartment without the co-signer.

    • Hi MelRuth,

      I would rather see no rental history than a bad rental record (the same generally goes for credit). This is where your cover letter comes in handy. You can write why you love the apartment so much and give some information about your current housing situation which would explain your lack of rental history.

      Good luck!

  3. If you are looking for a place to live with bad credit and pets, I’d also recommend looking for properties that don’t have a formal rental application process. My husband, my cat, and I moved to a new town with our cat, no jobs, and his bad credit, but were able to score an apartment with the landlord of a friend, who took us on our friend’s recommendation.

    • Second this and add looking for landlords of small, few, or individual properties (like people who are renting out their old house waiting for the market to improve before selling it, or my current landlord who owns four duplexes) – situations where a good “interview”/first impression can have a lot more impact than a potentially crappy credit score. If the landlord likes you, she’s much more likely/able to overlook poor credit than the property manager of a giant complex.

    • I do love referrals from my current tenants (that are in good standing). I will credit my current tenants $100 if they refer a friend and the application is approved. It may also help get you in the door if you have a pet or bad credit.

    • Those can be a good way to get a foot in the door in the rental market, but often the places that have no application process also have pretty low standards for how they care for their property and how they treat their tenants. Usually if a place is not at all selective about their tenants (and don’t keep problematic tenants that can cause disruptions and property damage out) it is a warning sign that it might not be a place you want to live. Such complexes are usually not good about following up on maintenance requests or noise complaints.

      If you can’t find a place elsewhere, it can be okay to try one of these places, at least as a temporary measure while you build up a rental history. Just try to check into the local reputation of the complex before you sign a lease to make sure you’re not signing a lease with the local slumlord.

  4. I totally agree with the sort-of theme to this article, which is ‘money talks’. If you have poor credit AND you barely make enough to pay rent, it’s gonna be hard to convince anyone to take you. But if you find somewhere within your means and have a decent savings before you apply (that you can show proof of), you’d be surprised who will approve you.

    I also agree with the looking for smaller properties at first. Subleting is a good way to build history when you have none.

  5. As far as renting with pets goes, it can also help to create a pet “resume” if the landlord is on the fence about allowing pets but hasn’t outright said no. I have one made for my dog it it’s been super helpful in scoring apartments with a pitbull. On it I include a picture, age/sex/neutered status, show that he has all his shots and sees a vet regularly, that he’s been through obedience classes (and what levels), as well as references from former landlords as well as tenants who lived above/below us and could attest to the lack of barking all day long and his friendliness. I’ve also found it helpful to have a crate-trained dog. Landlords are much more willing to say yes if they know the dog is contained whenever you’re not at home to supervise!

    • When we went to interview for our current place, my partner printed out a pic of our cat and copies of her vet records. They were so charmed by the picture that they had us sign the lease on the spot. (Sorta.)

    • Totally agree on having pictures and a fact sheet about your pets. I once got into an argument with our landlord (before she was our landlord) about how an English Bulldog (my dog) and Pitbulls are not the same. I absolutely love pitbulls and think they make wonderful fur-babies, but my dog isn’t even related to them so the conversation we were having was totally unnecessary. (We had just moved all our stuff halfway across the country only to be told by her that we couldn’t move in! I was freaking out!) I sent her some links explaining the difference, pictures of my pup, and offered to let her meet her. She finally calmed down, but looking back I would have handled the situation differently had I known how to avoid it.

    • I’ve been doing this for each move (on average once a year – ick) and it TOTALLY helps! I use a cute picture of them being extremely lazy, with a clutter-free background. I’ve had landlords tell me it made them feel better, not just about the pets but about me too. It shows you take care of details and can be trusted. Fantastic for first impressions!

  6. If you want to try to avoid a Management Company, drive up and down the streets in the areas you like and look for homemade “For Rent” signs. Try to avoid any management company properties. If you see the homemade signs, you have a better chance of getting in direct contact with the owner; rather than a management company who has to apply a formal uniform rental policy.

  7. When my fiancee and I applied for our townhouse two weeks ago, I thought of it like a job interview. I dressed how I do for work (business casual), with make-up and hair done. My fiancee wore his normal clothing, which is always casual but, depending on the overshot, can look more dressy than it really is. We had copies of everything with us, had just about all the paperwork they needed, and we were honest and upfront about anything that they might find in the credit and rental history.

    We filled out the application on a Saturday and were approved that Monday.

  8. This is great information, thank you!

    We are renewed for another year at our current place, but we had a really hard time finding an apartment last year. In our area, it seems to be mainly large, corporate, apartment complexes, with strict rules. We have 2 rabbits and even places that accept dogs and cats, will NOT allow rabbits. They are considered “exotic” or “livestock”. Bunnies have such a bad reputation for being smelly (they clean themselves, use a litter box, and don’t even need baths!) and destructive (I suppose they can be, but that’s where being a good pet owner comes into play, as with any animal). They aren’t allowed anywhere in our area. I’m nervous when we relocate next year that we will have a hard time finding a place that will be ok with them. Any recommendations for bunnies?

    • Hi MalPal,

      My concern when renting to animals is property damage, smell, and noise. If you can give an owner any information which will alleviate these concerns, you will be better off. “Bunnies…. clean themselves, use a litter box, and don’t even need baths!”

      Right there, you just told me information I did not know about bunnies. That is why a cover letter is so important. You can write a few fun facts about bunnies, include an adorable picture of them, offer a bunny pet deposit, and include a “bunny reference” from your current landlord.

      Some landlords might say no without giving it thought (per policy). But another landlord could easily be pro-bunny after learning something they didn’t know about a rather harmless animal.

      Good Luck!

      • Thanks so much Jessica! I had no idea that a cover letter for an apartment rental application was even a THING! I will definitely be writing a cover letter next time I move. Thank you!!! 😀

  9. This is fantastic, thank you so much! My girlfriend and I were summarily given the “you’re out or we’re all out” for the coming year by our current roommates, which has left us in a bit of a strained place both emotionally and financially. I work for a non-profit and she’s a grad student, and we’ve lived with friends for the past couple of years. These tips will definitely be put to good use.

  10. When my fiancee & I were looking for a rental house a little over 2 years ago, we started out going through an agent & lost a dream house because of a low credit score. The owner didn’t care when we offered double the deposit ($3200!) & references. Devastated, we then tried our luck on Craigslist, filtering out any corporate/management company properties, & found a fabulous duplex that was up for rent by a private owner. The woman owns several historic houses/duplexes & is very picky about to whom she chooses to rent her properties. She definitely goes more by interviews with perspective renters than the actual application & credit score. We were one of 4 couples to look at the house that day. The landlady & I hit it off so well that she told me right then & there that she thought we were the perfect people to rent her house. We told her up front we had a 1 year old puppy & even though her normal weight limit for dogs is 30 pounds, after seeing our 45 lb. dog’s photo, learning she was crate-trained & hearing us talk about her, she said she was fine & rented us the house immediately. The house had only been listed on Craigslist for about 5 hours! 2 years later, we are now her favorite tenants, saying she wished all of her renters were like us. She even asked me last week if I knew anyone interested in 2 of her other properties because she figures any friends of ours would very likely be great tenants as well.

    • Hi dear
      My name is Bonita and Im struggling to find a nice place to live due to a bad rental reference. I stayed in a place for 4 years and they filed papers 3 times and I paid before the court date so i thought I was fine. I have not picked up a second job since i received my certification as a nursing assistant. This has given me the income level that i needed. But now they have asked me to leave and I cant find a decent place for me and my girls in the winterville/greenville area. I found private owners with no luck. Can you help

    • Hello,

      I felt so in touch with your experience whie reading your story. I am looking to rent from a private owner but not having luck finding any listed properties. I know your landlord would love me and my daughter. What city/state are the properties in and does she still need tenants?

      I hope I don’t come off as being weird but I am so ready to get back into my own place. Thanks for any help you can provide. Just so you know I am a real person, I can be reached at [email protected]. I am also okay with providing you with a phone number via emai.

      Darlah V

  11. I move aaround a lot and have been renting most of my life. I also always had at least one large dog (currently two Pit Bulls). Someone without pets surely has more properties to choose from, and I had to make compromises (e.g. living a little further from my workplace than I originally wanted), but in the end I never had big troubles finding a place.
    I have always had better luck with private owners than with management companies. I found that what it really came down to was making a likeable and responsible impression, and providing good references from previous landlords. I never found that private owners take less good care of their properties thn management companies, my landlords have always reacted very promptly to concerns. I found that most private landlords were grateful for someone who was respectful of their property and made sure it stayed in good order, which was precisely my interest as a renter. The one management company that I lived under was more concerned about maximizing revenue and fixed things as cheply as possible, but that might have been a black sheep.

    I always took my dog(s) to the appointments, but left them in the car. If the landlord wanted to meet them, I could bring them in and could demonstrate that they are well behaved. I also offered a pet deposit and showed that I carry liability insurance for my dos that include rental properties.

  12. I have a question about after you actually get approval. I was approved recently to rent a place which I was genuinely excited about. I received the lease to review and when I got to the property to sign off and hand the checks, I was told that someone else handed in the lease and checks already. Can you clarify the process? I might have been confused. 1) you apply, submit an application fee, and they check your background 2) they like you and give you the lease to sign 3) you sign it, done deal. Do they send the lease to multiple people they like and it’s a race to see who hands it in first?

  13. Thank you so much for this!

    I’m new to the US so I don’t have a credit file. Finding a place that will approve me has been very difficult. I’m not a bad person, I’m just an immigrant. :/

  14. 5. Have a good attitude
    Yes in theory that is a good idea

    But in reality all of you real estate agents are lying snakes in the grass.
    All you care about is the Commission you make.
    If there is a real estate agents out there who isnt on the SAME LEVEL AS A CRACK DEALER.


    eg: The House needs Renovating, Fixing
    Real Estate Says “Its Old Rustic Feel in Tranquil Location right next to the Railway LINE.”


  15. hi.
    I have a question.
    I have a year leas am already live there for 5 months. im planning to get married next week. my fiancé apply in my office building to live with me, of course we going to get married we need to leave together but she was denied because she have in her record, she get cot on shoplifting in atlanta Georgia she do some service, etc. that happened around 6-8 years ago.
    Now I don’t know what to do.
    we going to get married but she can live with me?
    her place is very small.
    my lease is for a year.
    can you please help me. WHAT CAN I DOOOOOO?

  16. Yes, offering higher rental price works good for tenants with questionable credit history. Nowadays, renters even have the possibility to submit their prices online using such services as rentberry.com.
    However, there are also some other methods that applicant can use when rent an apartment with a questionable credit history. For example, tenant can offer landlord to start with a short-term lease to prove their reliability. If landlord sees that renter pays on time, he could renew a contract for a longer period.
    Also tenants can try to look for property with low demand. Even if the apartment is empty landlords need to pay utilities. When the property is on lease the rent coves this expenses. It can play in tenan’s favor, they can offer landlord to move in immediately.

  17. As the owner of a property management company that deals with strict tenant screening on a daily basis, I think these tips are really great. However, there is a lot more that goes into officially accepting a tenant’s application, especially if the decision is up to a professional management company such as mine. That being said, I agree with your first tip the most – that getting organized is the way to go. Any quality tenant screening process will require income verification, references, prior eviction history, and creditworthiness for you to move forward. Having all of these documents and information readily available will not hurt.

  18. This is great! We were just discussing helping landlords become more compassionate about bad credit, especially for those who were affected by the recession (we work at a tech company specializing in landlording.) We recommend that landlords also take into consideration when their credit tanked – if it was during the recession it’s a good idea to really think about just how many people were negatively impacted. We’re also heading into another recession, which is terrifying! Hopefully it doesn’t get as bad as it did ten years ago!

  19. The deal is one should know how negotiating works. It’s not about how of liar you are but how you handle the situation because at the end of the day honesty is still the best policy just be sure you’re surrounded with the right kind of people and be granted with that for rent condo.

  20. An actual real tip about finding private owners. They dont exist much in the PNW but at least that is better. Also how does one find the “cash for keys slumlord”? Same way?
    It is truly sad that one cannot reinvent themselves anymore in this country

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