The landlord will ask you to fill out a Rental Application, which allows a landlord to obtain information from a prospective tenant. You may be charged an application processing fee, which ranges from $30 to $50, usually, and which also covers the cost of the credit/background check the landlord will run on you. Basic information includes:
- Employment, income and credit history
- Social Security and driver's license numbers
- Past evictions or bankruptcies
- References (not always)
The landlord will also want to perform a credit and background check on the prospective tenant and for this the tenant will have to give his/her written consent. You will have to declare that the information provided is true and correct to the tenant's knowledge. The information gathered through this application, will be used by the Landlord to make a decision as to whether to rent the premises to the prospective Tenant or not.
It is always a very good idea to order your own credit report. It will only cost you between $5 and $13 and it will be well worth it. There are three major national credit bureaus, which you can access on line:
Remember, the landlord cannot discriminate against you, if you are a member of a protected class. In Philadelphia, the protected classes of Title VIII of the Federal Housing Act are complemented by the requirements of the PA Human Relations Act and the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance. The Fair Practices ordinance prohibits discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on the following:
- sexual orientation
- national origin
- marital status
- presence of children
- source of income
- physical disability (including HIV)
Landlords are legally free to choose among prospective tenants as long as their decisions comply with these fair housing laws and are based on legitimate business criteria. Some of the grounds for not approving an application can be:
- Insufficient income - as a general guideline, rent should not be more than 33% of gross monthly income;
- Poor credit history - make sure you know what your credit report contains.
- In cases of insufficient income, the landlord can ask for a co-signer or a guarantor.
Many undergraduate students will have to obtain guarantor's letters from their parents. International students have often encountered difficulties in applying for apartments, especially in some of the very popular high rises in Center City, due to the requirement of providing a co-signer to the lease or a guarantor.
The landlord will have to apply the same procedure for all applicants to avoid claims of alleged discrimination.
NOTE: Please read the application carefully, including the small print. The application fee is non-refundable, but the deposit you put down with the application, which can be as much as one month of rent, may also be non-refundable if you change your mind. Some applications state that you have three business days to cancel and get your money back, some others do not. Always get a copy of the application you have submitted. Always get copies of all the documents you sign.
You can also check out this website for more information: Fair Housing Guide.