There are plenty of reasons someone without a job might be apartment hunting. Maybe you’re one of the millions of workers who were laid off during the coronavirus pandemic—or maybe you decided to start fresh in a different city and moved before you landed a new gig. Whatever the situation, the upside is that you can still secure a rental even if you don’t have a job or regular income. But you’ll need to go into the process prepared to make sure you have the best shot at being approved for a rental.
Look for listings with private landlords
Traditional management companies have a lot of good things going for them. They usually have a standardized way to pay rent, a team that handles maintenance requests, and an office to answer any other questions. But they are also stricter with their requirements than most private landlords. If you’re unemployed, your best bet is to look outside the traditional management companies.
Private landlords can be more flexible in every step of the process, including what documents you must provide during the approval process and what your credit score needs to be. Traditional management companies almost always ask for proof of income, while some private landlords will only require a credit report and bank statements. Look for private landlords listing their units on Craigslist, in neighborhood Facebook groups, or on local apartment-listing websites. You could even try driving (or walking) around a neighborhood you’re interested in—sometimes smaller, less internet-savvy landlords will just post “For Rent” signs on their property.
Consider subletting, rather than renting outright
If you’re apartment hunting while unemployed, you should also look into subletting. Often, the income and credit requirements are less strict for subletters—since, technically, your rent payment is “guaranteed” by the tenant whose name is on the original lease.
There are other benefits to subletting, too. Sublets are often cheaper than market rate, either because the original tenant is subsidizing the rent or because of rent control laws. (Bonus if you live in a city where tenants are expected to pay broker fees—you’ll sidestep that cost completely!) And you won’t be locked in for a full year, which is helpful if you want to find a different place to live once you find a new job. Browse Flip to find available sublets in your city.
Provide proof of any nontraditional income
Even if you don’t have a regular full-time job, you may have other income you haven’t considered. Did you get a severance package from your last job? That could be considered income. Same with unemployment payments, child support, alimony, tax refunds—anything that will put money into your bank account should be considered income. In fact, it’s illegal for a landlord to discriminate against applicants based on their source of income in several states, including New York, Washington, and California.
Document any and all sources of income in your rental application. These additional payments may reassure a hesitant landlord that you’ll be able to afford the rent.
Offer to pay more upfront
Take stock of what money you actually have available. Maybe you have a healthy savings account, or you can borrow money from a friend or family member. If you can offer to pay more upfront—whether that’s a few months’ rent or the entire lease—you’ll be more likely to get an approved application from a landlord (assuming you can provide them proof beforehand that you actually have the money in your account ready to go).
This strategy may not work in all states, however—in New York, for instance, state laws make it illegal for landlords to require tenants to pay more than the security deposit and first month’s rent when they move in. So even if you’re willing to pay more rent upfront, the landlord may be hesitant to accept it.
Find a guarantor
Check with your friends and family to see if someone will volunteer to co-sign your lease as a guarantor. As implied by the name, a guarantor will “guarantee” your rent—if you can no longer make payments to your landlord, they’re legally obligated to cover for you financially.
Finding a guarantor isn’t easy. For one, it represents a major financial risk for the potential guarantor. Plus, landlords expect guarantors to be in stellar financial shape—they’re generally expected to earn 80-100 times the monthly rent per year. But if you manage to secure one, this typically overrides any concerns a landlord might have about your income level or lack of employment.
If you don’t know anyone personally who could act as guarantor, you can also consider using a guarantor service. In this case, you pay a fee to a company that acts as a cosigner on the lease. These services probably won’t be as big of a boost to your application as a traditional guarantor, however.
Ask your previous landlords for a reference
If you have a great relationship with any of your past landlords, milk that connection for all it’s worth. Get in touch and ask if they’ll write you a reference letter. Ideally, this note vouches for you as a model tenant who always pays the rent on time. Include the reference in your rental application for the new place.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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