Understanding the Apartment Application Process

An apartment in Chicago has caught your eye and your heart. Now it is time to convince the landlord that you are the ideal tenant. Most landlords vet potential tenants using a similar application process.  Here’s what you can expect:

Is There an Application Fee in Chicago Apartments? 

Choosing between potential tenants can be a time-consuming endeavor for a landlord.  To make sure that applicants are serious about renting the apartment, landlords usually charge an application fee for Chicago apartments.  Often the fees are nonrefundable if the landlord agrees to lease the unit to the renter, but the renter is no longer interested or fails to sign the lease within some reasonable time, like a week or ten days. Sometimes landlords agree to refund the fee if the applicant is rejected for reasons unrelated to their application (like if the landlord chooses the first tenant to apply and does not bother to review the other applications in a pile). Take a close look at the rental application form to see whether the fee is refundable.  

What Does the Rental Application Look Like?
Landlords will likely ask you questions that will help assess whether you’ll be a good tenant.  At the top of the list: are you likely to pay the rent, stick out the term of the lease, maintain the property, disturb the neighbors, or behave in a way that would cause you to be evicted? The landlord will try to answer those questions by measuring your income, employment history, rental history, and whether you have a criminal record. The application will likely ask for references to help the landlord verify whether you’ve been truthful.
Try to gather as much of this information as you can before starting your apartment search to be ready to go.  Once you’ve found your dream apartment, you wouldn’t want to lose out to another renter just because it took you a few days to chase down the contact information for your landlord from two years ago.
Remember that your landlord has no legal reason to ask questions about your race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military status, or source of income because Chicago’s fair housing law prohibits discrimination based on those protected characteristics. For example, a landlord cannot impose different application requirements on a person because of their sexual orientation, age, national origin, religion, or disability. See Municipal Code of Chicago, 5-8-02. 
If you plan to have a roommate, you should disclose this on the application, and the roommate will need to complete an application. 

Do I Need to Do a Credit Check for My Chicago Apartment? 
Don’t worry; the landlord will not run a credit check on you without your written consent (unless they are comfortable with violating federal law, that is). The landlord might ask you to run your credit check through a service like RentConnect and ask you to pay the fee. If the landlord rejects you based on your credit score, you have the right under federal law to the name of the credit bureau that supplied the report and a copy of a free report from that agency within 60 days.  If you are rejected based on credit and are surprised by the landlord’s assessment, you should request a copy of the free report to check it for accuracy.
But what if your credit is not so great? Do not fear; there’s a work-around! You can include a guarantor on your application, and that person’s credit can stand in the place of your own.  A guarantor is a person who agrees to pay the rent if you cannot or will not. You might have a friend or family member who is willing to do this for you.  That person will have to provide a credit check or other evidence of ability to pay the rent on your behalf. 

How Long Do Tenants Typically Wait to Hear Back About an Apartment Application? 
It is hard to be patient while waiting for the landlord to contact your references.  In the meantime, explore Domu’s neighborhood pages to learn more about the area you have chosen to call home.