How Self-Employed Freelancers Can Get Approved for a Rental Apartment in NYC

Find out about what it takes for a freelancer to get approved for an apartment in New York City, who to turn for help, and how you can safeguard your chances of getting the apartment you want, including what paperwork you need and your credit score.

If you are part of the thriving self-employed workforce, you might find it easy to rent a desk at stylish co-working spaces. However, securing a living space in that neighborhood could prove to be far more challenging.

Landlords may be hesitant due to the unpredictable nature of your income. After all, they typically prefer a straightforward letter of employment as proof of financial stability. Moreover, the entrepreneurial aspect of your work might involve credit card debt and loans, which could negatively impact your credit score. This, as we'll see, is a crucial factor when it comes to renting an apartment in Gotham.

But don't lose hope or start contemplating overnight stays at your co-working cubicle just yet. We're here to guide you through the process of preparing for your apartment search and offer strategies to enhance your chances of securing your dream home in Gotham.

What Freelancers Can Do to Get Approved For an Apartment

  • Knowing your credit and having the necessary income documentation together will help you get the apartment you want.
  • Unlike employed renters, freelancers need to provide extra paperwork to prove that they can consistently make an income that qualifies.
  • If you're having difficulty getting qualified, you should try to work with a smaller landlord who may be more understanding of your situation.
  • In the end, finding a guarantor may be critical for you to get approved for an apartment as a freelancer.

Know Your Credit Report

Your credit score is the first thing any landlord will look at in judging your candidacy. If your credit score is below 650, you’re going to have a tough time renting an apartment in NYC without a guarantor.

So, before you even think about looking for places, check your credit score. If you don't already know your credit score, you can receive a free credit score each year from any of the three major reporting bureaus - TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian.

Your credit report tells the landlord if you are someone who pays their bills on time.

If your credit score shows a history of late or lack of payments, it tells the landlord that you aren't likely to pay the rent on time for the duration of the lease.

As a freelancer, you should have a credit score of at least 680 to offset any other elements of your financials that a landlord may see as red flags (inconsistent income, loans, etc.).

If your report has been damaged by the loss of a job, a divorce or a move, a good agent should be able to explain the situation and negotiate with the landlord in your favor.

If you’re credit report is less than ideal, there are ways to improve your credit score.

Prepare Your Paperwork

In addition to your credit report, getting approved also hinges on the power of your paperwork.

Before you begin reaching out to agents you're going to have to take some time to prepare all the paperwork required for applying for an apartment in NYC.

As a freelancer, you’ll need the standard paperwork required of any applicant and any additional paperwork that will make the case to a prospective landlord that you’ll pay your rent on time for the full duration of the lease.

In terms of standard paperwork, these are the basics:

  • 2 years of tax returns
  • 3 months of bank statements
  • Last two pay stubs
  • Copy of your photo ID

Since you probably won’t have paystubs as a freelancer, you should also have the following:

  • An official letter from your accountant outlining your projected income for the year
  • At least two letters of recommendation from clients attesting to your integrity and the merit of your business.
  • All client invoices from the past two years

What about 1099s?

Well, landlords are going to look primarily at the first pages of your tax returns.

The income stated there is often lower than what is indicated on your 1099’s because of the many deductions taken by freelancers.

When assessing the first two pages of your returns, landlords will only be able to verify your income after deductions.

Since the difference between your total revenue and income may be significant, most landlords aren’t really going to factor your 1099 income into their evaluation.

Types Of Apartments that Won’t Be Freelancer Friendly

Condos and Co-ops

Individual owners of condos or co-ops renting out their properties will generally be very strict in terms of the approval process.

Understandably so - a tenant who does not pay rent on time could potentially affect the owner's personal financials.

In terms of a co-op, even applicants with superlative financials have to pass an excruciatingly detailed board approval process.

Unless you’re a freelancer making high five or six figures year after year, with superlative credit it’s highly unlikely your co-op application won’t be approved.

Large Doorman Buildings

These buildings are run by management companies with very strict guidelines.

If your financials fall outside those guidelines, you will most likely not get approved.

Getting Approved

Getting approved as a freelancer can and does happen all the time. Here are some things you can do to help your cause.

Find the Right Agent

Anybody who’s ever rented in NYC will tell you about the cutthroat world of the NYC real estate agent.

There are over 10,000 agents in NYC, and many of them will promise you the apartment of your dreams.

Take the time to thoroughly vet these agents to find the best one to meet your unique needs as a freelancer.

Ask agents if they have successfully had freelancing clients approved.

You need an agent with strong relationships with landlords. Such an agent will know which landlords are more flexible.

A good agent will also know how to negotiate for you.

Some of the finer points of negotiating an approval might include:

  • Offering to pay additional security deposit
  • Offering to pay additional rent upfront
  • Using a guarantor

Focus On The Right Buildings

Like their apartments, landlords differ greatly. Some landlords are more flexible than others.

You're going to want to focus on buildings owned by small landlords - landlords with no more than 20 buildings. These smaller, often family-run operations can be more lenient in the approval process.

New Rent Laws Make It Harder for Freelancers to Get an Apartment

Back in the day, if you had the money, you could theoretically offer to pay a year's worth of rent upfront (albeit many landlords wouldn't accept this).

Before the new rent laws were passed in NYC, you could also offer to pay a larger security deposit in order to persuade a landlord who might be on the fence about your credentials.

However, to scale back predatory behavior by many landlords, they are now barred from asking any renter to pay more than one month's worth of security deposit and one month's rent, and from charging more than $20 for a credit check or application fee.

These laws are meant to protect renters but do limit one's options on how to convince a landlord to approve them.

Use a Guarantor If You Don't Qualify

If your credit score or paperwork is lacking in any way, you should have a guarantor lined up.

The guarantor will be legally bound to “guarantee” your lease.

Your guarantor will be responsible for paying your rent should you fall behind or are unable to fulfill the payments for the duration of the lease.

A guarantor is most often a parent or family member but can be anyone in your network who meets the appropriate criteria and is willing to take on the responsibilities of the role.

Your guarantor must:

  • Make 80x's the monthly rent
  • In the vast majority of cases, live in the state of New York (although more landlords are accepting out-of-state guarantors, but this is the exception, not the rule)
  • Have excellent credit, typically a score of 750 or above
  • Provide the same set of paperwork as you (including paying the application fee)
  • Sign the lease. Remember, they are ultimately accountable for payments being made on time for the duration of the lease period

Needless to say, asking someone to be your guarantor is a big ask. But as a freelancer, having a strong guarantor can make the difference between getting approved or not.

Third-Party Guarantor Services

If you do not have someone in your network who can act as your guarantor, there are third-party services such as Insurent or The Guarantors, Jetty, and Rhino.

For a charge of 5-10% of the total annual rent, these services issue an insurance bond to the landlord which will cover all of their expenses should you be unable to fulfill the terms of the lease.

Guarantors still have their own approval policies, but they are fantastic options for freelancers looking to overcome the ultra-strict barriers to renting imposed by most NYC landlords.

Look to Rent in the Off-Peak Season

The winter is the slow season for the rental market in NYC. Unlike the summer or fall when the market is flooded with renters, landlords are often more willing to be less strict in the approval process during the slow winter months.

So if you’re a freelancer looking to rent in NYC, you do have options.

You’ll have more challenges than the typical renter, but if you use the tips outlined above, your chances of finding your new home in the Big Apple isn’t out of reach.

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Lor Cohen
About the author

Lor Cohen specializes in writing on real estate, travel, and education. He is based in New York, Queens. Lor Cohen graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in Philosophy.