How to Make Your Rental Application Stand Out [A Landlord Spills the Beans]

If you are hunting for a rental property, but are worried that your application may be rejected (or have already been rejected in the past and want to improve your chances), you are in the right place.

I am going to cover 9 strategies that you can use to make your application stand out from the crowd and get you approved for that coveted rental.

Let me start by telling you some inside baseball on how a landlord thinks.

I have been a landlord for well over a decade and have processed hundreds of applications during that time. I also self-manage my properties, so I know what a landlord is looking for in a tenant long-term.

It boils down to four things:

  • Will they pay rent on time?
  • Will they take care of the property?
  • Will they follow the agreed upon rules in the lease?
  • Are they going to bother me with every little thing?

When landlords (or their property managers) are evaluating your application, these will likely be the key factors that they will be considering.

My tips are designed to lay these concerns to rest and give your landlord full confidence that you are the right choice for their rental.

Let’s get into it!

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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1. Operate From a Position of Strength

Many prospective tenants are so worried about the weak points of their application that they forget that landlords are also under pressure to get their rental vacancy filled. Knowing this, you can turn the tables and operate from a position of strength.

Think about it – if you owned a rental and had to pay a sizable mortgage each month, you would be sweating bullets if the rental was sitting vacant and not generating any rental income. You have to come out of pocket for that mortgage until you find a renter.

If you don’t make your payments, you could lose your property (which may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars). Let me tell you, that’s a terrifying prospect.

But that’s where you come in.

If you have a less than perfect rental application, target your search to rental properties that have been on the market for a while (at least 30 days). That means that the landlord has paid at least one month’s mortgage with out any rental income coming in and will be feeling the pain.

You could be the answer to their prayers.

How do you go about finding these properties? You can go on and sort based on “newest”. Start from the bottom and go from there. Similar rental sites offer comparable screening features, so you can do this pretty much across multiple platforms.

2. Show How Your Strengths Can Overcome Your Weaknesses

Every applicant has strengths and weaknesses.

As a landlord, I have had prospects with terrible credit or low income still get approved because they showcased their strengths which helped me to overcome my objections to the weak aspects of their application.

Now when I say highlight your strengths, I am not talking about subjective stuff. The landlord is not going to be convinced just because you say you are nice and neat.

Find elements of your application that are objectively strong.

For example, if you have had a consistent job for many years and have never been late with rent, that could be a very strong indicator that you have the ability to pay rent and will likely do so on time, even if your credit score is not great due to being late on other bills or negative credit events.

In contrast, if you have low income but great credit, you can highlight how you manage your limited income really well, so that you are responsibly paying your bills (including rent) without issue.

3. Follow Instructions To the Letter

You would be shocked at how bad most applicants are at following simple instructions.

Most applicants don’t realize that the entire screening process is a test. Landlords want to know if you can understand and follow simple instructions because that is what you will be expected to do once you sign the lease and occupy the premises.

The first test is filling out the application, so do a good job on it. Answer all fields truthfully and completely. If you are not sure about how to answer a question, ask your landlord. If a question does not apply, respond with N/A.

Pay attention to other instructions as well. If the landlord asks for the last two paystubs, do not just give them one. These are just examples, but I think you get the picture.

An applicant who is on top of these things and “gets it” will stand out from the crowd.

4. Present Yourself Well

Don’t underestimate the power of first impressions.

When meeting the landlord, you want to dress appropriately, be well groomed, and speak clearly and respectfully. You want your entire persona to radiate tidiness, responsibility and overall trustworthiness.

All of these things will create an overall positive image that will subconsciously make the landlord place you ahead of other applicants in their mind.

5. Show You Are Serious By Doing Your Research

One of the pet peeves that I have as a landlord is a tenant who is flaky and just kicking tires. They waste the landlord’s time and provide false hope.

Now that may not be you, but the landlord does not know that. You can give the landlord reassurance that you are serious about the property by showing up and knowing your stuff.

If the property is renting at under market, you can tell your landlord that you appreciate their attractive pricing and are very interested in the unit. This will show that you did your homework and that you are someone who should be given serious consideration.

You can drop other subtle hints that you researched the unit, by noting how close certain stores or amenities are and tell the landlord why this makes the unit a great fit for you.

6. Offer A Better Value Proposition To the Landlord

One of the best ways to make your application stand out is to offer a better deal to your landlord. In a highly competitive situation, these negotiating tactics can catapult you to the top of the landlord’s list.

Here are some of the best options to sweeten the pot.

  • Offer to pay higher rent
  • Prepay rent
  • Be willing to sign up for a longer lease term
  • Provide a larger security deposit
  • Offer services that are valuable to the landlord (e.g., if you are handy, offer to fix or maintain items on your own rather than asking the landlord to do so)

7. Be Prompt and Responsive

One of the best indicators of seriousness and trustworthiness to a landlord is someone who responds promptly.

Whether that is responding to emails or texts or filling out an application, a responsive applicant is going to be viewed far more favorably than someone who ignores communications or is late in responding.

Again, landlords will view a tenant who is late or unresponsive as someone who could potentially be late or unresponsive when it comes to more serious obligations, such as paying the rent. It’s not a good look if you are trying to get approved.

8. Be Flexible

You can also shoot to the top of the list if you are flexible around things that are important to the landlord. That could include start dates, the length of the lease, and other conditions around the tenancy.

These are just examples, but there could be others. You can ferret out a landlord’s priorities by simply asking what are the most important things to them in this rental arrangement. When they tell you, see if you can match their needs.

If you are reasonable and willing to work with the landlord, that can really separate you from the herd.

9. Write a Cover Letter That Explains Why You Are a Great Fit

I have to admit that I am a bit on the fence with this one.

Many “experts” state that a cover letter can make a difference in getting approved for a rental application. I guess it doesn’t hurt, but I don’t want to oversell it.

A cover letter is likely not going to cure a fatal defect in the application. However, if it is personalized to the property and is well written, it can convey to the landlord that you put the time in to your application and should be taken seriously.

If you are a poor writer, I would try asking chat gpt to write something for you.

It is amazing what that little AI program can do. Ask it to write the letter based on things you want to highlight as strengths, such as stable income and a good rental history (and ask it to explain weaknesses in a positive light, such a poor credit, etc.).

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – 9 great tips to help you stand out from the crowd when applying for a rental property. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!