How to Get an Apartment in New York Without Credit

No Credit? Find out how to get approved without credit and learn how you can start your credit history on the right path.
Brooklyn, New York

It may be surprising, even for some native city dwellers, that you will need credit to apply for most apartments in New York City.

Virtually, every apartment you apply for will require your credit report to be pulled, even if you let the real estate agency or management company know ahead of time that you have no credit.

Be prepared to dish out the fee, which can cost you anywhere from $25-$150.

You’ll often see this labeled as an application fee.

If you don’t have credit, you’re probably either a foreign national, a recent graduate, or someone who never owned a credit card because you didn’t want to deal with the “hassle” or go into debt.

The lattermost reason seems logical, but the best way to not go into debt is to ascertain that all your bills are paid on time and not to completely avoid having credit.

How to Get an Apartment Without Credit

  • Regardless if you have a credit history or not, a landlord will run a credit report as part of a standard procedure for an apartment application.
  • The easiest solution when you don't have credit and one that most landlords are willing to accept is a guarantor.
  • A guarantor is a person who can guarantee the lease. This is usually someone close to you like a parent or family member, significant other or a close friend.
  • The guarantor should qualify according to the landlord's guidelines, which are usually an income equaling 80 times the monthly rent and having excellent credit.
  • Applicants with no guarantors can look into using a third-party guarantor service where you pay a monthly premium to essentially insure your landlord for the lease.
  • Building credit can help you avoid these life hurdles and open up new opportunities.

How a Guarantor Can Help You Get an Apartment

Your best option, in the case of having no credit score, is to get a guarantor.

Your guarantor is usually going to be a parent, a relative, a close friend or a colleague who trusts you.

The most common formula a landlord will follow for a guarantor is that they will need to make at least 80 times the monthly rent, and have excellent credit.

Should you default on your rent, this person will be required to step in and settle your outstanding debt.

So, they need to show that (assuming their lease is identical to yours) they can cover their rent and yours and are the type of person who pays their bills on time.

The infraction will appear on your guarantor’s credit, so make sure you pay your rent on time. Otherwise, you might hear from a very disgruntled guarantor.

People with excellent credit are dismayed with blemishes on their record, and they won’t think kindly of this incident.

Think about it this way.

They’ve worked hard to build a reputation for themselves, and now someone else is letting their financial troubles mar their credentials.

To learn more, read up on our article on What is a Guarantor for a Rental Apartment?

What Can Foreigners Do to Qualify for an Apartment?

Foreign nationals who are new to the US will not have a credit history. This includes anyone from Canada (sorry, your Canadian credit score doesn't count).

If you’re a foreigner, you’ll need to find a domestic guarantor as no one will be open to a foreign-based guarantor.

Most landlords will request that your guarantor be a New York resident.

However, some may be open to out-of-state guarantors, as long as they can prove who they are, be present at the lease signing, electronically sign the lease, or have a mailed copy signed and notarized and sent back.

In this case, you might find it necessary to apply for a third-party guarantor such as Insurent, The Guarantors, Jetty, and Leap.

These are also accessible to Americans without credit or with less than stellar credit.

Many of these companies not only guarantee leases but also guarantee the security deposit.

Just make sure that the landlord is willing to participate in these programs.

Can You Pay More Rent Upfront If You Don't Have Credit?

The short answer is no. In 2019, New York State passed a protective tenant/renter law that prohibited landlords from asking for more months upfront.

This was a common practice for New York City landlords who might have felt that a prospective tenant didn't have strong enough credentials to qualify for their apartment(s).

At times, this was even a predatory practice some landlords demanded even if the applicant was a reasonable candidate.

The protective law now prohibits any demands beyond one month's worth of security and the first month's rent.

Not only are landlords barred from requesting more money upfront, but it may also make them suspicious of any renter who offers this upfront.

Learn more about security deposits, by reading What is a Security Deposit in NYC?

Alternatives to Traditional Housing

If finding a guarantor is not an option, you might want to find out if any relatives or friends have extra room in their apartments or houses, or if someone you know already has secured an apartment and is looking for a roommate.

In the same vein, there are people letting rooms in their own apartments.

Make sure you are looking at rooms being advertised directly from the owner of the apartment (as opposed to a broker or a landlord of a building).

Going in with a group that’s looking to share a new apartment probably won’t be an option for someone with no credit, as everyone who gets put on the lease needs a credit score.

You can also look for sublets which are aplenty in New York. A sublet is an apartment or property that is being leased by another individual that you can rent in their stead.

However, you will be paying the rent to the person on the lease, and not directly to the landlord unless they have made arrangements with the landlord.

With no credit, you will not be able to take over the lease officially, so this is a good option.

It may be just enough months for you to start building your credit, so more good news!

Checking listings for apartments for rent by owner in a smaller 2-3 family home may also be a choice.

Mom and pop-style landlords who dwell on the actual premises are more likely to be understanding of your personal situation.

Do You Really Need Credit?

FICO Credit Score

In a city that runs on money, even landlords need to know that they are making sound financial choices with tenants.

In turn, these tenants need to show that they are making sound financial decisions and know how to handle their finances.

This is because when an owner lets his or her property to you, they are in a sense becoming a lender to you.

At lease signing, you actually agree to pay the landlord the full year’s worth of rent, but in monthly installments, not dissimilar from taking out a mortgage.

Not having credit may bar you from doing so many things in life or delay many opportunities for you such as getting a phone, buying or leasing a car, buy or renting property, or taking out a loan.

You might say you’ll avoid this avenue by simply paying for things in cash, but remember that you’ll need a lot of cash that most people don’t ever have lying around to buy a car or a house.

Does Your Rental History Count?

The most recent rendition of the FICO score (9), now includes rental payment history.

Whether this shows up in your report will also depend on if your previous landlord(s) reported it to a credit bureau.

It may also help to get a rental payment history and letter of recommendation from your current or previous landlords and submit that with your paperwork.

How Do I Get Credit?

If you didn’t get a credit card with your parent’s help during college, it’s not impossible to start building credit now.

The easiest way to start is to apply for a secured credit card, which is like having a bicycle with training wheels.

This is a credit card where you’ll need to put money upfront (whereas traditional credit cards are offered free or with a membership fee charged to the account).

Once you open up the account, make sure you spend a little each month but pay your bill on time.

Never pay just the minimum payment.

After several months of good payment behavior, the credit company will offer you a traditional credit card.

You can also apply on your own for a different credit card.

However, be sure you do not apply for more than one at a time or a few in one calendar year.

Too many inquiries into your credit will affect it negatively.

If you're having problems with existing credit, study up on how you can boost up your score or repair your credit.

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Ruth Shin
About the author

Ruth Shin is the Founder and CEO of PropertyNest. She shares in-depth insights on real estate, personal finance, and home improvement drawing from her experience as a licensed real estate agent, editing personal finance publications, and managing many home renovation projects. Ruth graduated with a BA from Hunter College in Writing, History, and Special Honors.