Rental Report: Apartment Searching With Challenged Credit

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Sometimes an unavoidable life event happens that damages credit such as divorce, illness, or unemployment. Does it mean you are doomed for the dark basement apartment you found on a bulletin board with a landlord who can only be reached by pager?

Not necessarily. The key is communication. Plan ahead and know your rights before you start your search, and you can still find a great place to live.

Start the dialogue early, so there are no surprises after going through the application process. Since you will not have the good credit on hand to show, other items such as landlord references, employment history, and proof of ability to pay are essential. Sometimes landlords will accept co-signers for challenged credit, and sometimes they will not. Just make sure your co-signer has good credit and enough income where they can cover not only their own expenses but your rent as well. Otherwise, they are not likely to be approved.

You should also understand your rights as a renter under Virginia law. You cannot be required to pay more than two months’ rent for a security deposit. Also, if you do have the ability to pre-pay some of your rent, the landlord is required to keep the pre-paid rent in an escrow account, and only distribute the amounts as it becomes due. People with poor credit are not directly protected under Fair Housing laws, but landlords should be up-front with their screening requirements, so you know ahead of time whether or not to pursue a particular place.

It is also a good idea to think of the situation through the eyes of the landlord. What would make you feel comfortable? Someone with no credit and a lot of cash may make a landlord uneasy, and they have an obligation to make sure their tenant is not involved in anything illegal. More information is always better. You are entering into a financial contract with this person, and all parties need to be happy.

Lastly, know where to look. Private landlords are often more likely to work with renters with challenged credit. Managed apartment buildings may not have as much flexibility with screening requirements. Enlisting an agent is also beneficial as they may know who is willing to work with you.

If you have challenged credit, you should go into the search with the understanding not everyone will be able to work with you. Be prepared up front, communicate, and make your case, and you can still come away with a great new home.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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