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 amount of 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 submit an application and does not bother to review the other applications in the pile). Take a close look at the rental application form to see whether the fee is a refundable one.  

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 yourself to be evicted? The landlord will try to answer those questions by measuring your income, your employment history, your 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 you start your apartment search so that you’re 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 on the basis of those protected characteristics. See Municipal Code of Chicago, 5-8-02.  A landlord cannot impose different application requirements on a person because of his or her sexual orientation, age, national origin, religion, or disability, for example. 
If you are planning to have a roommate, then you should disclose this on the application and the roommate will need to complete an application, too. 

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 he or she is comfortable with violating federal law, that is). The landlord might ask you to run your own credit check through a service like RentConnect and will ask you to pay the fee to do so. If the landlord rejects you on the basis of your credit score, you have the right under federal law to the name of the credit bureau that supplied the report and, also, a copy of a free report from that agency within 60 days.  If you are rejected on the basis of credit and you are surprised by the landlord’s assessment, you should absolutely request a copy of the free report so you can 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 in the event that 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 you wait 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.