Are we unqualified?
July 18, 2012 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Apartment-hunting: are we doing something wrong?

Hi. My boyfriend (of about 10 years) and I are apartment-searching in a moderately large Midwestern city. We just got turned down for an awesome apartment, which is worrying me, but it was apparently because 2 other prospective tenants applied at the same time. We were told that there was nothing wrong with our applications, but you see, I'm a worrier.

Background: I'm 27, he's 30. I'm a teacher in a public school. He's currently unemployed, but has savings (some from an inheritance) which is plenty to cover rent. He wrote a short note with the application explaining that despite his unemployment, he would be able to cover the full year of rent for both of us, up front, if the landlords were worried about unemployment (listing his income as "savings and investments"). My salary as a teacher would also allow me to do this, although we didn't make note of that because it didn't seem relevant. The point is, we have enough money to cover rent and wanted to make that clear to the landlords.

Our credit is fine, I think, and no problems with previous landlords. Boyfriend has lived at home for the last 4 years to take care of a dying mother and spend time with his father, so his previous landlord info is from 2008. He currently volunteers and is working on artistic and musical projects but is suffering from anxiety and depression (his maternal grandma just passed away, which is one factor), another reason he's been living at home. Obviously we didn't list those things on the application, except listing volunteer experience. As much as I want to put our personal stories on there, they're probably not relevant.

Would the offer to pay up front be a red flag to landlords? Or the boyfriend's current situation? I'm guessing that the applicant who got the place is older, or more professional, has a higher salary, is wanting to stay in the area for a long time, or some other reason that makes sense. The owner (the apartment is owned by a couple, not a big company) said in a voicemail, "We chose someone who is, uh, better to rent to" after telling me that there were no problems with the applications. She seemed to not know exactly how to phrase it.

This is the first place we've applied for and now I'm all anxious that we aren't qualified tenants even though we totally are.
posted by sucre to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you should probably mention less, not more. Emphasize your salary, not his savings.
posted by wrok at 5:35 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You are worrying too much. It's one place. It could have been a host of reasons. Maybe this particular place wanted to rent to some older people because they fit better with the vibe of the building. Maybe the landlord has some weird bias about renting to x type of people. Maybe it was what he had for breakfast. Maybe it was just the order he reviewed your applications.

Don't say you can pay a year up front. Just list your job, and 'savings and investments' is fine for your boyfriend. Anything more will make you look desperate. Just keep looking. Finding rentals right now is REALLY TOUGH, especially in cities. It's probably nothing to do with your application.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:37 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think this is one of those things that you can't decide for the landlord whether they see you as qualified tenants. How do they know he's not lying, for example?

I think you should be emphasizing that you can afford the apartment, not necessarily the how. Whether that is "sucre" or sucre and bf" I don't know if it makes a difference, but many landlords are going to take employed persons over unemployed more seriously because they perceive security.

On the other hand, one place is not enough to establish a pattern and you don't really know the why of this.
posted by sm1tten at 5:38 PM on July 18, 2012

Best answer: Somewhere, back in the mists of AskMeFi, there was a question from a landlord asking what to do if you have multiple applicants for a rental property, all of whom are qualified. Do you do a First Come First Served kind of thing? Pick the person with the best financial profile? Draw straws? I can't find it, but it might be worth digging up. The upshot of the answers was that it's perfectly fine to choose the applicant whose financial situation looks best.

Could you have been the loser-outer in a situation like that?

Either way, I wouldn't sweat it too much.
posted by Sara C. at 5:41 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If an unemployed 27 year old offered to pay a years rent in cash for my place I'd probably assume he was going to grow weed there. Ymmv.
posted by fshgrl at 5:45 PM on July 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

Best answer: If you are employed, all that you need to list in the application is your annual compensation, and your (and your BF's - if you guys want him to be included in the rental agreement) SSN - for credit check. The rest of the details are not necessary and none of their business. If your salary is not adequate to cover your rent and living expenses, then you may need to get into savings etc.. But this is not necessary (and typically) rental application forms dont have placeholders for that kind of information.

I think you may be over thinking this. But as others mentioned, your personal circumstances are not really necessary for them to know.
posted by justlooking at 5:46 PM on July 18, 2012

Response by poster: Just a note, I'm the 27 year old teacher and he's the 30 year old unemployed artist person. I do think the note was not necessary, but I think his goal was just to be clear that he is able to pay and for them not to assume that he's completely broke due to unemployment.
posted by sucre at 5:48 PM on July 18, 2012

The rental market is really competitive right now and a landlord accepting a tenant can be hinged on something that might be random. I think if anything you may be coming off as seeming desperate, as someone mentioned, but I doubt it's even that. There are just a lot of prospective tenants out there right now so don't worry too much.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:49 PM on July 18, 2012

You don't sound sure that your credit is okay--do you both have recent credit reports? I'd start there, and next time not mention anything about his unemployment.

You're probably over thinking this. Especially since the place is owned by a couple and not a management company--the landlord could have just chosen to rent it out to a friend of a friend or something.
posted by inertia at 5:56 PM on July 18, 2012

Landlords come in all sizes and philosophies. Keep trying the lighter until you get a flame. So much of it is luck, you just have to keep trying.

Also, I went through a situation like you went through. My advice is:

Don't offer to pay a full year up front. This means your landlord's motivation to fix your problems will be precisely zero. It's also just an awfully big fat check to hand to someone. I think it almost makes you look bad because you shouldn't trust your landlord so much.

Two or three months would be enough to be fair to your landlord in case you have to break your lease because you just can't afford it. Phrase it as paying the last 3 months in advance, not as a deposit that could be wrangled over later.

That is what we decided to do, but ultimately what happened was we found some more laid-back landlords who were happy with the standard arrangement anyway. Good luck.
posted by fleacircus at 6:04 PM on July 18, 2012

I live in a mid-western city where the vacancy rate is less than 5%. Many landlords will get several qualified applicants and then pick the ones who will sign the longest lease. If you can lease for longer than a year, mentioning that may help.
posted by Ostara at 7:04 PM on July 18, 2012

The sad truth is, if I had multiple applicants, all other things being equal and one was employed and the other unemployed, I would almost certainly rent to the employed applicant. Even if the unemployed one had enough savings to pay rent for the entire term of the lease. So your job is to either find places where you won't be up against other applicants, or to make sure that all other things AREN'T equal (meaning every single thing about your application other than your boyfriend's employment status is pristine).
posted by primethyme at 7:14 PM on July 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the reassurances. Yeah, no weed growing here.

My credit score is 738- just checked. Not sure about bf.

I think fewer details is the way to go. And I forget that vacancies are so low right now. This apartment was beautiful and well taken care of (with tenants who've lived there for years), so it's even more appealing to renters.

I guess I just feel that it's unfair to judge just on employment, but there has to be something to compare. That's why I'm inclined to give the whole story, to show that we're the same as anyone else, but I think that's too much. The employment question was on the application which is why we had to include that info.

Thanks again!
posted by sucre at 7:44 PM on July 18, 2012

Adding my three cents: I'd assume that anyone who was unemployed but had 12,000 plus in cash is a dealer, and that's a real red flag.

Focus on your job. Tell your BF to enroll in classes (switching his status to 'student', which will help) or to ginger up a consulting/self-employed 'resume' while he's looking.
posted by jrochest at 7:54 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Echoing others who say that an unemployed person with buckets of cash would set off alarm bells for me. Your income covers the rent, leave it at that.
posted by looli at 7:59 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not sure about bf.

This is something you need to know. He could have some pretty deleterious stuff on his report that makes you instantly unappealing.

I know because it happened to us, in our competitive rental market. Everyone does a credit check, and when we were turned down twice I had my partner pull his report. His Equifax report was labelled something like "insufficient information to score," which is esentially true, since he carries no debt, or credit cards, or car loans and never has. A good thing, one might think, but no, it translates as "no credit history," which to landlords looks like an awful risk.

They want to see not that you're someone with a pile of money (anything can happen to your pile of money, from a sudden addiction/gambling habit to family emergency) but that you're someone with the capacity to make regular payments on a timed schedule - exactly what your credit report shows. So don't emphasize a big pile of money, but do indiciate willingness to drop a larger security deposit if that would help.

If the report is fine then you'll probably do better at your next try. I agree about your bf listing himself as "student" instead of "unemployed."
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you see if you will find a place that will put you on the lease and not him? I am currently employed and my boyfriend is not and when we were looking at rentals prospective landlords seemed to think it was fine if they had me on the lease and boyfriend and I worked out the details of payment between ourselves. Agree strongly with everyone that less is more for these sorts of applications.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:22 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm in agreement with those folks who say offering to pay a year's rent without being employed seems sketchy. Focus instead on the fact that you have a good job. You're right that personal stories aren't relevant. Instead of giving what may be misconstrued as excuses, put that energy into selling yourselves as the best darn tenants in town.

The bottom line is there is absolutely no way to know why your application was turned down and that worrying about it is just going to take valuable time and energy away from finding another place. Forget this one, it's gone. Also, Miko's suggestion of pulling your boyfriend's credit report is sound. Having that information will eliminate some of the anxiety here.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:53 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stop referring to him as unemployed. We refinanced while I was unemployed, so I wasn't unemployed I was just the stay-at-home partner. Or he could become a "consultant" but that would sometimes lead to requests for his taxes, etc.

"What does your BF do?"
"He's a teacher."
"Oh, where does he teach?"
"Well, since it's summer, he's between contracts at the moment. He hasn't yet settled on where he'll be for the fall."

For teachers (esp. currently, where districts are laying off their entire staff) it's not unusual to be between contracts in the summer.
posted by anastasiav at 5:21 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Were I your BF, I'd spend a couple of bucks on a business licence for a DBA, and become a business. Now he's self-employed. Spend another $9.95 on business cards if you like for added verisimilitude.

A friend of mine has been out of the job market for 5 years and she's ready to go back. What did she put on her resume? Office Manager for X (her partner's last name) Corporation. Why? She's been doing all of his office stuff, in addition to playing with cats, painting, and enjoying her swimming pool.

I honestly don't think this is a huge issue, but you can stack the deck in your favor.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my boyfriend was laid off and we were apartment hunting, I filled out the applications listing him only as second resident, not as another lease-holder. We just left him out of the financial equation completely, since my income was enough to cover the rent.

However, while I don't think you're doing yourself any favor by drawing attention to how your situation is out of the ordinary, I also don't think you should panic after a single application. No one "wins" every apartment that they apply for.
posted by Kriesa at 6:47 AM on July 19, 2012

I am a small landlord in the Northeast; I have rental property in a small city of about 30,000. As a landlord, I am looking for stable tenants who are likely to pay rent regularly, not cause damage, and not overly hassle me for small repairs (that is, nitpick).

When I evaluate potential tenants, I am looking for gross monthly income 3x the rent amount. I look for stability in employment and a good credit score (indicates you pay your bills responsibly). I'll check 2 previous LL references. I also look for stability in living situation.

Problems with your situation:
1. your boyfriend being unemployed = insufficient income / unstable employment
2. your boyfriend claiming to have a large amount of cash savings, and offering to pay a year up front = screams "drug dealer" / "involved in illegal business" to me. Not something I want to even potentially deal with.
3. Unemployed boyfriend = likely to always be on-property = potential to be nitpicky about apartment maintenance.
4. You and BF are not married or engaged, and you have not previously lived together = you're roommates. If the two of you split up and you move out, then I have an unemployed male (and possibly angry, destructive male) in the apartment who couldn't have qualified for the apartment on his own.

Any applicant that can qualify and has fewer "potential issues" than you have, as listed above, becomes a more desirable potential tenant.

Alternatively, you may have more luck if you list him on your application as "looking for work/starting a business" and offer to show proof of his assets. Note this is an IMPORTANT DISTINCTION than offering to pay rent up front. I did once rent to a couple who were involved in a business in start-up stage. They had no provable income, they didn't offer to pay up front, but they did briefly explain the situation, stated "we have cash savings sufficient to cover expenses for six months", and then proved it with a recently-dated bank statement in his name. They have actually turned out to be some of my best tenants.
posted by Ardea alba at 9:05 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

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