Help! Why was my apartment application denied?

Now what?

Grey sofa in living room with coffee table
(Image credit: Getty)

Navigating the rental application process isn’t always clear-cut. From background checks and credit reports to pay stubs and references, hunting for your dream apartment comes with plenty of factors that can feel like hurdles. 

It can be disheartening to have your application denied. Some laws state that landlords and management companies must inform you about the reason or reasons. Even if you don’t have the exact information for the reasons your apartment application was rejected, just know that there are plenty of factors that come into play. 

For instance, while some places might be more forgiving for your credit check, others may require a stellar credit score. As rental preferences may differ between management companies and landlords, understanding each of these elements are crucial to getting approved in the application process.   

 The Background Screening  

It’s common during the application process that the management company or landlord conducts a background check for each tenant on a rental application. A background screening could include several searches, including a deep dive into your rental history, your employment history, and your criminal history. 

Even though there are plenty of reputable companies that conduct these services for landlords, it’s good to check if your application was denied because of a red flag on your background screening by ordering one yourself. If you find any false information on your screening, address it by contacting the background screening service directly. 

 The Credit Report 

One of the most talked-about elements of applying for an apartment is the credit report, a document from one (or all) of the top credit agencies that details your payment history and debt amounts. With every credit report also comes a credit score, a numerical grade determined by a number of factors in your credit history, which becomes a lot of people’s focus. 

If you find that your credit score is below average, there are clear-cut ways to improve the number. From paying down debts to paying your credit card bill in time, you can raise your score and raise your chances of being approved for an apartment. This will also help for future purchases, like if you take out a loan for a car or house. 

Even with a great credit score, many companies may find details on your credit report that need work. For instance, a high debt-to-income ratio could be a factor in determining whether someone can pay the rent on time. Another red flag would be if you had a great credit score but have recently taken out plenty of credit. This signals that you may have lost your job or are living beyond your means, all factors that make you a less-than-desirable applicant. 

For those with credit card debt or past collection charges, reading through your credit report can help you comprehend the story you are telling when applying to apartments. On the other hand, if you have an outstanding situation, such as being the victim of identity theft or if you’re going through a life transition like a divorce, be sure to disclose that information to the landlord or management company for them to take into consideration when viewing your report.

 No Recent Employment Records  

Cash flow is important to landlords. Even with hefty savings, it can be difficult to be accepted for an apartment without a job or legitimate proof of employment. 

Those who are moving across state lines or into new cities might have a challenging time being accepted without a job in place. Even if you have to take on a temporary gig between jobs, it’s important to communicate your current financial situation to who could be your future landlord. 

If you’re planning a move, consider saving your pay stubs or employment agreement for proof that can accommodate your application.  

 Income To Rent Cost Ratio 

If having employment isn’t your problem, then having a low income to rent cost ratio could be. In cities like New York, landlords use rules of thumb, like the “40x rule” to determine whether an applicant can reliably pay rent. 

This criteria dictates that one must have an annual income of at least 40 times the monthly rent of the apartment. This means that if you want to rent an apartment that costs $2,000, they determine that, in order to reliably afford rent, you would need to make $80,000 a year. 

In other cities where rent costs and salaries are lower, the “40x rule” may not apply. Still, it’s worth doing the math on your own to determine what price you can pay in rent and which apartments might consider you a good applicant.  

 Lack Of Rental References (Or Bad Ones)  

For those who have lived in rentals previously, having good references is imperative. By contacting references, your possible future landlord can make better-informed decisions on who to approve. 

If you’re unable to include past rental references for whatever reason (including those who are moving into a rental for the first time in their lives), adding employment and personal references will have to do as it’s a big red flag for landlords and management companies to see an application with no references. 

As a prospective tenant, it’s your responsibility to know that the people you add for references will be willing and able to refer you in good conscience.  


Some landlords and management companies have strict rules about the number and type of pets allowed in an apartment. Some rentals do not allow pets at all. 

When filling out an apartment application, be sure to check with the rental company about whether they accept pets to reside in the unit. 

Be truthful on the application about the pets you will have moved in and be sure to note any pet deposits or other requirements throughout the process.  

 Incomplete Information 

Answer truthfully and thoughtfully when filling out an apartment application. It’s important to note the number of pages and be sure to fill all of the pages when submitting. If you run into questions while filling out the application, communicate with the landlord and management company in order to make your application the best it can be. 

Another reason your application could have been denied is that it did not include the application fee. Most applications require a fee, whether you can pay it online or with a check, and without this portion of the application, you won’t be considered. 

After submitting, check with the landlord to find out if you have any missing components that could cause your application to be denied.

 Too Many Stellar Tenant Applications  

Whether you were late to apply or your rental market is flooded, one of the main reasons your rental application was denied could be that there were simply too many applicants. At the end of the day, the most coveted apartments, especially if you live in a high-value rental market, may see an excess of applicants. 

There are bound to be tenant applications with higher income, a higher credit score, or better references than you. Especially if the apartment you’re applying to has already been on the market for a while, the landlord or rental company may already be in the process of approving other tenants.

Don’t let this deter you. There will typically be other people interested in the apartment but by making your application as best as it can be, you’re giving yourself a great chance of securing the place of your dreams. 

Regardless of why you were denied your application, the only way through is forward. Be sure to apply to the places you love in a timely manner and only use truthful and accurate information when applying. 

Rental rights and laws differ from country to country, state to state, and city to city. If you feel that you’ve been discriminated against in your rental application, refer to your local, state, and federal laws to determine whether you can file a complaint. Tenants unions and non-profit organizations are resources that may help you make this determination. 

Kate Santos

Hello! I’m Kate Santos, a writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. In the design world, I got my start working as an Editorial Intern for Dwell magazine in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve written about design and architecture in many national magazines and online publications, including Playboy, Hunker, and The Culture Trip.

I grew up in a very old house in North Carolina and am still influenced by the rustic, charming, antique and aged elements of a home. Sustainability and longevity is extremely important to me and I believe learning to reuse materials or purchasing items you’ll love forever goes a long way. I also lean towards the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi when designing my own home, embracing the perfectly imperfect items I can find.