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My Rent Payment Was Late. Will My Landlord Still Refer Me?

landlord reference letter
Worried that a bad landlord reference will keep you from scoring a great new apartment? Put these seven tips to work right away.

If you messed up relations with your current landlord — maybe you were late with rent too many times — that same person might still give your future landlord a glowing recommendation about you. Yes, you read that right.

But don’t start feeling too warm and fuzzy — yet. Your landlord might be willing to make you sound good just to get rid of you as a tenant. If, however, you have a forthright landlord, the truth will come out. That doesn’t mean you’re destined to become a couch surfer, bouncing from place to place in Austin, TX, or Seattle, WA, though. Here are seven strategies to land a new apartment without a stellar recommendation from your current landlord.

1. Explain yourself

Many landlords will ask about your rental history, including a request to reach out to past landlord(s). If you have a bad track record, be upfront about it. “Give the landlord as much information as you can, including a detailed rental history and your total income,” says Rick Drew, market leader of Renters Warehouse Miami. If you have a good reason for not paying your rent on time, such as a roommate bailing on you, the new landlord might be understanding — especially if the rent is less in the new place and you can afford it on your own. Or maybe you have a higher-paying job now, and paying the rent will no longer be a problem for you. If you can make a new landlord feel confident that you will pay the rent on time from here on out, you might still get the apartment.

2. Use Trulia’s Rental Resume

Trulia’s Rental Resume can benefit both you and your potential landlord. You’ll be able to easily showcase your qualifications, such as how soon you can move in, how much money you make, whether or not you have pets, and your great credit score. If you meet a landlord’s conditions here, they may not even ask for references.

3. Pay upfront

A poor rental history becomes irrelevant if you offer to prepay. You might not have an entire year’s worth of rent in cash, ready to hand over to a new landlord. But not all leases have to be for a whole year. If you can scrape together a few months’ worth of rent and offer to pay upfront, you might get to sign on the dotted line. Then, if you’re a model tenant by adhering to all the lease stipulations, you might receive an offer to renew your lease — this time without having to prepay.

4. Offer to pay more

It’s common to haggle over the price of goods. The seller sets a price, and you try to get the item for less. But if you really want something and are afraid of losing it to someone else, you might offer to pay more. The same strategy could work to land an apartment. Say the advertised rent is $1,200 a month. If you offer to pay more, such as $1,300 a month, the landlord might overlook your sketchy past rental history.

5. Use a co-signer

By getting a family member or friend to co-sign the lease with you, the landlord might agree to rent to you. The co-signer is like added insurance. If you don’t pay the rent, the landlord can then get it from your co-signer. The person who co-signs must, therefore, have a good credit score and be able to pass a credit check.

6. Allow direct deposit

If your problem has been paying rent on time, offer to pay through an autopay system. The money would go directly from your bank account to your landlord’s account. You can authorize your landlord to withdraw the rent money on a recurring basis using Automated Clearing House. But be sure you keep enough money in your account to cover rent. If your account balance becomes too low, the landlord won’t be paid, and if that happens too often, don’t be surprised to see an eviction notice coming your way.

7. Move to a less desirable neighborhood

If people are fighting harder for a particular apartment than they do for a door-buster deal on Black Friday, the odds of your getting that place, with your poor rental history, are slim to none. So look where people aren’t competing. You might need to move farther out, move to a place with fewer amenities, or move to an older rental. But once you put in your time at a less desirable space and establish a good rental history, you should be able to get a better place next time.

Have you rented an apartment with a poor rental history? Tell us your success story in the comments!