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How to Find an Apartment in New York City With Bad Credit

Ruth Shin

Ruth Shin

Don't let bad credit get you down. With these simple steps and solutions, learn how you can get approved for an apartment.
Brooklyn Fort Greene, New York

So you know you have a bad credit score and it’s time for you to look for an apartment.

Maybe you think you’ll be turned down flat by every landlord.

That may be true in some cases, but there may be some good news for you...

The reality is that there are some landlords and management companies that are still willing to work with you.

You may, however, be required to pay extra securities or extra rent upfront (or both), pay the full year at lease signing or require the application of a guarantor with great credentials to guarantee the lease.

Let's look at your options.

Paying More Money Upfront

Paying extra security was a fairly common practice among New York City renters trying to get over bad or no credit.

A landlord would ask you to pay six months of rent at lease signing, which will usually apply to the last six months of the lease and not the first six months.

However, in 2019 New York City and State passed reforms in rent laws that prohibited these practices because renters would be beholden to this request if they wanted the apartment and some landlords would abuse their position.

Needless to say, there has been some industry pushback on a number of these policy changes and some landlords make still continue this practice with renters who are unaware of their rights.

Unfortunately, this also means that if your credit is less than fair, paying a little extra money upfront is not really a legal option in New York.

Getting a Guarantor

A guarantor is someone who can guarantee your lease. They are essentially a co-signor on your lease but they don't live with you.

Normally, a guarantor will need to earn at least 80 times the monthly rent and have excellent credit.

This can be a family member or friend that you trust.

Don’t be late or delinquent on your rent payments once you have signed the lease with a guarantor, as this will appear on your guarantor’s credit history and affect their credit negatively.

It won’t endear you to your guarantor as well, and they are much less likely to help you out in the future.

You can also sign up with guarantor insurance companies, which you pay a monthly premium or fees for the duration of your lease.

These companies act as third-party guarantors and guarantee payments to landlords should you fall behind on the lease or skip out on it.

This doesn't mean you're off the hook, however. You will owe this third-party the delinquent rent as well as fees.

Make sure the landlord takes them before you apply.

Finding the Right Landlord

Larger management companies and property owners are less likely to be open to work with those with less than good financial standing.

Most of them have large mortgages and loans to pay off and for investment reasons, require tenants with high credit ratings.

Hence, you may find that some of them won’t want to lease to those with bad credit. You can benefit from smaller landlords like the mom-and-pop types, which tend to have a more personal touch to their approach.

It’ll also be easier to meet and speak with them one-on-one.

They are perhaps likelier to understand your situation or be willing to completely overlook any credit inquiry whatsoever.

Though increasingly rare, there still are landlords that simply require a security deposit and the first month’s rent for move-in.

Repairing Your Credit

FICO Credit Score

While credit can be repaired (and you should definitely start working on it right away), it can be a very long process.

How Do You Start Repairing Your Credit?

Your first step to healthy credit is to actually know what your credit report says and identifying the problem area(s).

You can easily pull up your credit report by using one of the many free credit monitoring services.

These reports and services can usually point out what's hurting your credit score and what's helping.

The four most common areas where you might have issues are errors, high balance or credit usage, late or delinquent payments, and collections.

Make Corrections on Any Errors

Sites, like Credit Karma, show you the individual ratings and reports from both Transunion and Equifax.

If you notice a big difference in the numbers, that might be a sign that both of them have different information on you, like an error or a line of credit that is or isn’t being reported.

You should make sure both of them say the same thing. You have to file corrections with each individual agency.

You’ll need to pull up the Experian report separately, but review each account listed carefully and make sure the same information is being reported.

If you’ve improved your score dramatically with a simple correction, congratulations!

If not, you’ll need to work longer on improving your standing.

FICO looks at the percentage of the balance on your overall credit limit, payment history, number of accounts, length of credit history, and number of new inquiries.

High Balances and Credit Usage

If you have high balances across the board or even just on one card, you can improve your credit score by simply paying that balance down to less than 30% of total credit utilization.

Debt consolidation might be a better and simplified situation if you are over your balances and owe a lot of money to several different accounts.

Many debt consolidation programs say that they can negotiate on your behalf, but the truth is that you can also negotiate directly with the bank or credit company.

You can call up your credit company if high fees are making it impossible to pay down your balance and let them know what's realistic for you to pay.

The credit company can actually eliminate a good chunk of your balance to make this goal achievable.

Checking your credit regularly can help you maintain good credit.

Late Payments Are Difficult to Overcome

The most difficult problem to work through is your payment history.

If you have been late frequently or even just a few times, your credit can be affected dramatically.

It takes five years for these late/missed payments to be cycled out of your history, which means you need to start paying on time right now.

Set up automatic payments or set a monthly alert for yourself every month for when your bills are due.

You will notice your score climbing gradually over time as you maintain great paying habits.

The more distance between you and your last late payment, the better it reflects upon you and your credit score.

Note: paying off all your balances on your credit cards and closing the accounts will NOT bring your score up to a “Good” rating.

It will only improve your score if you’ve had exceptionally high balances.

Actually, keeping those accounts open and faithfully paying them down every month is a better long-term strategy.

FICO Model Updates Can Help Your Score

FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation), which created the model that scales your creditworthiness, will periodically update their scoring models to include or excludes factors in your history.

This can often affect the score of millions of Americans both negatively or positively.

The most recent news is that FICO will be updating their scoring model to include your banking and rental history.

Which means--

Great news for those with poor or no credit due to a lack of credit history!

While there is still a great deal of Americans that do not have bank accounts, this change in FICO will help those who have kept their bank accounts balanced, but don't have credit.

If you've always paid your rent on time as well, and your previous landlord(s) has reported it, that may actually get you the apartment!

There is a caveat though.

Not all credit check services use the most up-to-date models.

This means that your landlord could be using a service that draws up a FICO score according to an older model like FICO 7 or FICO 8 (they are often cheaper).

And it's hard to predict which one will be conjured up, so your best bet is to either start a credit history or straighten out your bad credit.

What Can Disqualify My Application Right Away?

Bankruptcy

Financial ruin is a difficult situation for anyone to be in, but it does happen and you’re not alone if you are facing it.

Last year, almost 800,000 Americans filed for bankruptcy, of which more than half were Chapter 7 (filing for individuals).

If you’ve filed for bankruptcy, be certain that it will show up right away on your credit report and you probably won’t be considered the top candidate for that apartment you want, to say the least.

While all your debts no longer need to be squared, for landlords who still remain open, you will most likely have to pay the full year of rent upfront, including the security deposit(s).

Open Collections

If you have one or more open collections, some landlords may see this as a huge red flag and not want you on the lease, period; so make sure you know exactly what is going to show up on your report.

The application process is not the time to find out these details.

Open collections may also include utility payments, medical bills, and student loans.

The good news is that if you do have open collections and you pay them off before you start your home/apartment search, it shouldn’t add an additional negative impact on your credit according to the latest FICO guidelines.

Evictions

If you’ve been evicted or delinquent on rent in the past, this will also sound an alert for a landlord.

Many management companies and brokerages use third-party credit services that also look for eviction hits.

The most recent FICO scoring will also include rental payment history.

If you’ve been late or missed payments, it won’t reflect positively on your application and actually disqualify you.

If there is an error, it may be possible to get a letter from the landlord or management company it pertains to clear the misunderstanding.

Criminal Record

Monopoly- Jail

Having a criminal record may also affect your ability to obtain housing.

While it is illegal under HUD’s rules to discriminate against everyone with a criminal record across the board (whether that is an arrest record or actual conviction) as a blanket rule, the landlord can still refuse housing to individual cases.