As an apartment hunter, you must demonstrate to your prospective landlord that you're likely to pay rent on time. Landlords check your credit, work history and income when deciding if and on what terms they will rent to you. Unemployment, however, does not necessarily extinguish your chances to be a tenant. If you have lost a job, you're pursuing your education or have otherwise not entered the job market, your prospective landlord may accept ways of payment other than a job to approve your rental application.
Is a Job Necessary?
Depending on where you rent, the landlord may not refuse you solely because your income doesn't come from a job. States such as California, Oregon and Massachusetts and local governments such as New York City prohibit denial of applicants based on their receipt of unemployment benefits, public assistance or other non-employment income -- so long as the source is lawful. These discrimination laws, however, do not prohibit landlords from qualifying tenants based on the amount of income.
Obtaining a Co-Signer or Guarantor
Even with low income, poor credit or unemployment -- where source of income is a legitimate factor -- you can rent an apartment with a co-signer or guarantor. The landlord looks to and can sue the co-signer or guarantor if you fall behind on rent or are evicted. You can also get a co-tenant to share the rent. Whomever you draft as a co-signer or apartment mate typically will be screened and must meet the landlord's credit standards.
Landlords might accept prepayment of rent or require a larger security deposit before renting to you. With enough money accumulated, you can pay rent over several months, or perhaps a year. If your lease calls for monthly payments, prepayment might not be an option -- especially before you begin the lease. State laws generally limit how much advanced rent, or security deposit, the landlord can require, though the limits vary by state. For example, Pennsylvania allows landlords to require the first two months of rent in the first year of the lease, then one month for the second year. Other states permit it only for the last month. You and the landlord might agree to a lease that lasts several months or a year, with your making one payment for the whole period. This approach locks you and the landlord into a lease for that period.
Low-income families can qualify for rent assistance. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's voucher program subsidizes a portion of the rent for a house or apartment owned by a private landlord; the family pays the difference. If you try this route, you will likely go on a waiting list. For more information on rental assistance programs in your state, go to HUD.gov, click on "Topic Areas," "Local Renting Information" and the link to your state.