Winning the Rental Game, Even With Bad or No Credit

Kaycee Miller
4 min readDec 16, 2020


If you are just starting out, chances are you have little or no credit. This can hurt your chances of landing that rental property, especially in today’s real estate market. Recently, an annual survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition showed that there was nowhere — not one place — in the entire United States where an individual working a full-time minimum wage job could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Add this to a tightened rental market with rental rates up and vacancy rates decreasing, and as a renter, you could be facing an uphill battle.

So what to do? In a competitive market, it’s more important than ever to keep an edge and stand out from other rental applicants when looking for a place to call home. If you have a less-than-ideal credit record, it’s time to buckle down and focus on improving your profile. While landlords take many things into consideration when selecting a tenant, credit score is one thing that can help to thin out a long list of applicants. How do you get past this with your next potential landlord?

Here are some tips to stand out from the crowd, and be more than the number of your credit score:

  • Act Fast: While it might seem advantageous to look at as many available properties as possible, make a list of pros and cons and then submit an application to only your favorite, this strategy can waste valuable time. In a competitive rental market, an apartment may only be available for a couple of hours. Renters should be ready to submit an application as soon as they find a place they like and are qualified for. Once you find a suitable rental property, be ready to submit your application and have all the move-in fees available that day.
  • Be professional: It is important to remember that your landlord is running a business and your interactions with him or her should be professional. Even before you submit a rental application, your future landlord or property manager will treat all interactions with you as a pre-screening process, including emails, phone calls and appointments. Always act courteous, professional and show up on time. If you are late, rude or sloppy, the landlord may choose not to rent to you because they have reason to believe you will not treat the property appropriately or your rental relationship with respect.
  • Follow directions: Did the rental advertisement ask you to call to set up an appointment, but instead you knocked on the door and disturbed the current tenants? Did the landlord ask for a copy of your driver’s license, but you didn’t submit one? If you can’t follow the directions on a rental advertisement, your landlord has reason to believe that you will not follow the directions or rules outlined in a lease agreement. For this reason, your landlord can legally deny your rental application. Make sure to read directions carefully and show your respect for the landlord’s requests right away to set yourself up for a great landlord-tenant relationship.
  • Solid references: Landlords and property managers rely on references to verify your employment and rental background. If you provide your landlord with your employer’s name and phone number, they may Google the company and call the number listed online to double check the validity of the information you provided. If it turns out that you or the “reference” you listed do not work, it will be a red flag that you lied and you could be denied. Your future landlord will also call your past landlords or property managers to find out what you were like as a tenant. They are looking for information on whether you paid rent on time, if you damaged or maintained the property, and if you ever caused any problems in general. If your past landlord give less than stellar references, there is a chance you will get your rental application denied. Conversely, great references will work strongly in your favor.
  • Proper income: This requirement seems pretty straightforward, however, some renters still find themselves stretching a paycheck and applying for properties they cannot afford. While some landlords will list the income requirements on the rental advertisement, others just assume that renters will not apply for properties out of their price range. The industry standard for income requirements is typically that a tenant needs to make 3x the asking rental price. While you may think your $3,000/monthly paycheck can completely cover your $1,200/monthly rent, your landlord will not and you will most likely get denied. To figure out how much you should be spending on rent, divide your monthly take-home paycheck by three. Don’t forget to include utilities in this figure.

Even if your credit score isn’t going to magically fix itself by the time you need your next rental home, you can stand out from the crowd — and from the stack of rental applications — by following a few simple steps.



Kaycee Miller

Kaycee is a writer and the marketing director for Rentec Direct, specializing in real estate and property management. Learn more at