This tenant does not look good on paper
June 26, 2013 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to help a friend find an apartment to rent. She is on a low fixed income which will not meet the gross-income-must-be-3x-rent formula most landlords around here require their renters to meet, but she will be receiving assistance from family to ensure her expenses are covered. What kind of support or advice could I provide to help her find a place that will rent to her?

Some details: she's looking for a one-bedroom apartment in a specific Northern California town. No pets. Does not want a roommate. Offering to pay a few months' rent in advance might be an option. One added complication is that this person does not have the best people skills and might have a hard time sweet-talking, persuading, or otherwise using social engineering to talk a potential landlord into taking a risk on her.

She is currently on a waiting list for housing assistance, but from what we've heard the wait could be 2+ years. I am somewhat open to the possibility of offering to cosign for her, but a lot of places specify no cosigners, and it's kind of right on the borderline of how far I'm willing to stick my own neck out for her.

AskMe plz grant me yr wisdom
posted by prize bull octorok to Work & Money (15 answers total)
Don't co-sign for her.

For a less-than-appealing candidate on paper, she needs to do everything she can to appear responsible, respectful, and generally on the up-and-up, provided she's meeting the landlord in person at some point. As in, "I know it may look like I'm a risk, but here's why I'm not."

I was once a 'less-than-appealing candidate' as far as renting went, and this is what helped me score decent housing: Looking presentable, always. Being friendly and open, willing to answer questions honestly. Offering to provide bank statements. Offering to provide any other documentation (within reason) that would help solidify my chances. Offering to pay a higher security deposit, or several months' rent up front. Offering character references from past landlords or employers.
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:25 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

If she will be getting assistance from family, will said family also cosign for her? You might get better luck with individual landlords than large companies.
posted by ethidda at 3:26 PM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't co-sign, don't even bring it up. Your friend is going to need to pull it together. She may have better luck in a large complex than with an individual landlord.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:30 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is her family willing to cosign for her? You might encourage her to go in with an notarized affidavit stating from her family member that's helping that he/she is providing her $X per month and hope that they count it in her income calculation. In my subsidized housing world, we get "periodic assistance verifications" all the time from tenants who have zero income but get money or other help (mom pays for the tenants phone and mom certifies that she spends $30 on to help daughter with this bill for example.) Then we use that amount to calculate income (and thus rent.)
posted by vespabelle at 3:31 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't cosign for tenants, especially those to whom you owe no familial obligation.

Help this person present her best face to a landlord by having her do a mock interview with you as the fake landlord.
posted by dfriedman at 3:31 PM on June 26, 2013

My reasoning is, a landlord has more to lose if the rent isn't paid, a corporate place, especially one thats under occupied, won't be strapped, what with being a corporation and all.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:32 PM on June 26, 2013

Is she low income enough to qualify for subsidised housing? That would help with her rent, and give her a list of landlords who have agreed to participate in the program.
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:39 PM on June 26, 2013

Is she low income enough to qualify for subsidised housing?

"She is currently on a waiting list for housing assistance, but from what we've heard the wait could be 2+ years."
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:59 PM on June 26, 2013

If the initial contact is by email, how is her written communication? Can you help her write/respond initially?

When she goes to meet the landlord, can you go with her? It's not unusual for someone to bring a friend to look at an apartment just to have a second opinion.
posted by radioamy at 4:29 PM on June 26, 2013

Nthing getting the family to cosign when that option is available. Even if she was great at sweet-talking, it would matter little in the overall balance, considering the amount of money the landlord stands to lose. Cosigning is a good way to mitigate that risk.

Another thing she can do for herself is to demonstrate responsiveness and an easy-to-deal-with communication style. This has nothing to do with sweet-talking or personableness. Just answering emails or phone calls promptly, filling out the forms completely, and being succinct and professional can do it. The landlord wants to avoid any potential headaches or extra work and will weed out anyone that seems difficult.
posted by ignignokt at 7:21 PM on June 26, 2013

If her family is going to pay some of her expenses anyway then they should co-sign. You should not co-sign. You should back as far away as possible and give your friend a chance to stand on her own, something that her family clearly isn't going to do. She might have to suck it up and look for a roommate. Life is hard sometimes. Shelter a plant from the harsh light of the sun and the brutality of rainstorms and that plant will never grow.

But that isn't answering your question. She will need to include her family subsidy in her income. Her parents may have to sign a statement saying that it is there intent to pay x amount of her living expenses. This could possibly disqualify her from government subsidies but it could get her into an apartment sooner.
posted by myselfasme at 8:35 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really think your friend should be working with a private agency to find housing that will accept her at this income level. Look around, or contact churches or the Salvation Army. Somebody will be aware, as a local specialist, of where to go and who to talk to. In larger cities there is often low-income housing available, where you simply pay a percentage of your income as rent even if it fluctuates (which can be paperwork hell, mind you), but perhaps not in a specific small town.
posted by dhartung at 3:35 AM on June 27, 2013

I used to work for an apartment management company. I think that the way that we handled such things was to have the tenant pay additional - a security deposit, plus first and last month's rent, for example.

The rent 3x income test is to see how likely it is that they will be able to pay their rent. If their family is willing to give them $x amount/month, perhaps a letter from the family member stating that, plus the bank statements showing the deposits, might also be helpful as additional information.
posted by needlegrrl at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2013

You should only ever co-sign for anything if you are willing to pick up the full tab. She has specific wants, but may have to accept what she can afford. If she can save up, or her family will help her with an additional security deposit, that would help.
posted by theora55 at 4:37 PM on June 27, 2013

Where has she been living? Can the old landlord give her a glowing recommendation?
posted by small_ruminant at 5:04 PM on June 27, 2013

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