How to Rent a Place: From Start to Finish

So you're ready to rent a new place. Whether you're looking for an apartment, a house, or somewhere in between, there are certain steps that you can follow to make the process a whole lot easier.

This post is made in conjunction with our financial readiness post, "How to Put More Money Back in Your Pocket".

1. Get a lead on an apartment/home/etc.

The first step in looking to rent a new place is to get a lead on a property that looks good to you. This step can be the most time consuming, as you have to perform a significant amount of research to find a place that works for you. There are a few different ways that you can go about this:


This first way can be good for connecting with private landlords and looking for individual rooms to rent. Keep an eye out for scams though, as sometimes they can slip through this platform's filter. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Newspaper Ads:

This can be another good way to find private landlords and individual rooms, but the selection here is usually a bit more sparse. It's something to keep an eye on though, because sometimes you can find some really good deals.

Online Services (Zillow,,

There are a huge number of different online services you can go to when searching for a place. Dealer's choice on whichever one you'd like to start with. You can look up all kinds of properties around your area, and with the different filters that you can apply to the searches, it makes it easier for you to find exactly what you're looking for. The downside with these services is that you might not always get a reply to a viewing request, and it can be a pretty competitive market at times. This can make getting your ideal place more difficult than it is with other methods.

2. Arrange to see the property

After you've found a place that you'd like to get more information on, the next step is to arrange to see the property. Sometimes, like with apartment complexes, you can just drop by and view during regular business hours. But with private landlords and house viewings it's probably best to set up an appointment to come by with the landlord.

This is the point where you can usually tell if it's for you or if it isn't. Make sure to ask as many relevant questions as you can think of. Once you sign the lease you're stuck with the place as it is, so make sure to get the info you need beforehand.

A few relevant questions to bring up could be:

  • Are utilities included in rent?

  • Is the heating gas or electric?

  • What's the cost of the deposit and application fee?

  • How old is the building?

  • What kind of maintenance would be the renter's responsibility?

You'll know what information you're going to need for your individual family, so use your best judgement during this step.

3. Fill out an application and pay the application fee

Congratulations! You've found a place that you viewed and really like. The next step in the process is to fill out an application and pay the application fee.

Before you do anything else, take a look at their approval requirements. Most leasing agencies have their guidelines posted on the website to help you make the right decision before submitting an application. The last thing you want is to pay the application fee and submit, and then get declined because of something they had already stated would not be allowed.

What info will you need to apply?

  • Government issued I.D

  • Social Security Number

  • Proof of Income (Pay stubs, bank statements, W2's, letter of employment)

  • Current and previous employment information

  • Current and previous address information

  • Emergency Contact Info

  • More might be needed if credit, rental, or criminal history are an issue

For proof of income, most places will require at least 2 months of your most recent pay stubs, if you just started a new job though that's where the letter of employment would come in. Basically just a letter from your employer stating when you started working for them, how many hours a week you will be working, and what hourly/salaried wage you would be making.

What is the application fee for?

The application fee covers the cost of the tenant screening, which checks:

  • Rental history

  • Credit history

  • Employment history

  • Criminal record (Most of the time)

The fee is usually $35-75 per person on the application and is non-refundable

4. Wait for response

The typical response time is between 24-72 hours. During this time, the application is sent off for screening and they check all the information you provided to make sure it is valid.

If you are not approved, the company you applied through is required by law to show you why you weren't approved.

5. Pay deposits and sign the lease

Awesome! So now you've gotten approved for that place you really liked. The next step in the process is to pay your deposits and sign the lease. To start off this phase, we'll go into some common questions surrounding lease agreements.

What is the difference between a lease and a rental agreement?


  • Contract between the owner and the renter

  • Owner allows the use of a space or property for an agreed upon amount of money

  • Usually between 6 and 12 months in length

  • Terms cannot be changed unless both parties agree

Rental agreement:

  • Same general description as a lease

  • Usually only month-month agreement though

  • Terms are more easily changed as the agreement length is much shorter

How much money do I need to make in order to rent a place?

  • Usually 2 to 3 times the rent amount (can vary from place to place)

  • Income can come from employment, self-employment, SSI, child support, alimony, etc.

  • You can only count documented income, no off-the-books money

  • Ways to prove your income can be in the form of pay stubs, tax returns, W2's, and SSI/child support/bank letters

How much do I need to pay to move in?


  • First and last month's rent

  • Security deposit (part refundable and part non-refundable)

  • Pet deposit(s) and pet rent (when applicable)

Note: Security deposit can vary depending on rental and credit history

Sub-topic: Do I need to show where my deposit money comes from?


Deposit funds can come from:

  • Friends/Family

  • Government program

  • "Mattress Money"

What do I do if I have bad rental history/criminal record/eviction(s)?

It can be harder to rent if you experience any of these barriers, but not impossible. I'll go through some things you can do to help your case in these situations.

  • Make a rental resume:

  • Write a short paragraph on what happened (bad rental history, criminal record, eviction, etc.), and the steps you have taken since then to change your life for the better. Be as descriptive as possible on the things you have done to move forward.

  • Focus on the positive.

  • Get a few reputable people in your life to write a character letter for you. (You can even write the letter for them and then have them look over it and sign.)

These things can help a potential owner/landlord see the positives that you bring to the table, and give them more confidence in renting to you.

What if I don't have any rental history?

That's okay! No rental history is better than bad rental history. Your landlord will use your income and credit history to qualify you. With no rental history there is a chance that your deposit might be higher, so the landlord can cover themselves.

What things can I get evicted for?

There are a number of things you can get evicted for, so it's a good idea to read your lease agreement in its entirety before signing, to make sure you know what you're getting into. Below are some examples of reasons you could get evicted:

  • Non-payment of rent

  • Lease violation

  • Unauthorized pet

  • Unauthorized occupant(s)

  • Unauthorized subletting

  • Improper use

  • Nuisance complaint

  • Property damage (intentional or unintentional)

  • Illegal activity, including drug activity

  • Expiration of lease

Again, this isn't a complete list, so make sure to read the entire lease agreement carefully. This way you have a good idea of what your specific property does and doesn't allow.

6. Take possession on move-in day

You've made it all the way to the end, now's the time to take possession of the property on move-in day! You'll go in to meet with the leasing agent/owner, collect your keys, perform a walk-through, and then move in.

The most important part of this step is the walk-through. A walk-through is where you go through your entire property before you move in and make notes of any dents/scratches/etc. that you can see. Make sure to take this part seriously because if you miss noting something on the paperwork, you could be charged for fixing it after you move out. This is also a good time to check to make sure all appliances, fixtures, doors, locks, etc. are in working order. After you're finished, bring a copy of this pre move-in checklist to your leasing agent/owner so that they know those things were there when you moved in.

Once you've finished with that, it's time to move in! Get some help from friends or family to move your furniture, and then enjoy your new place.

If you have any suggestions that could help others in their search for a new place, feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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