Applying for Rental Housing

When you rent a home, the landlord/owner will want to verify your identity, make sure your income qualifies for the rent subsidy program or qualifies you to rent the unit without a subsidy, make sure you have good credit and do not have a criminal background that would potentially create problems in the community.  In order for the landlord to know this, they will need a lot of documentation from you.  Below is a list of commonly required documentation to rent a home.

Required Documentation

Personal

  1. Birth Certificate – A birth certificate is required for all household members, including children.
  2. Social Security Card for all adults
  3. Current Government Issued Photo ID for all adults
    • Documents required to apply for an ID – If you do not have a photo ID, you will need a birth certificate and Social Security card to get one.

Financial

Financial documentation must be recent, typically no more than 60 days old.  The landlord wants to know your current and future income, and recent documentation is required for them to know this.

Income – The following are typically required income documentation:

  1. Social Security Award Letter – The quickest way to obtain an up-to-date SSI or SSDI award letter is to create an account with the Social Security Administration and then print an award statement.  Just follow these instructions:
    • Go to my Social Security | SSA
    • Sign up for an account or log in to your existing account
    • Social Security will send you an access code to either your email address or by text to your cell phone
    • Enter the code to access your account
    • On the right side of your account home page is a box titled Overview.  In that box, click on Benefit and Payment Details
    • On the Benefit and Payment Details page there is a line that says Get a Benefit Verification Letter – click on this line
    • A screen will appear that says Here Is Your Benefit Verification Letter.  Below these words is a line that says Download Your Benefit Verification Letter.  Click on this to print the letter or save it as a PDF.
  2. Pay Stubs – The landlord typically will need a copy of your 6 most recent paystubs.
  3. Child Support – If you are receiving child support payments, the landlord will want documentation verifying the amount you receive.  If you are supposed to be receiving payments but are not getting them, you will need documentation from the Child Support Enforcement office.
  4. Spousal Support – If you are separated or divorced and are receiving spousal support/alimony payments, the landlord will need to see your separation agreement or divorce decree to verify the amount and length of time that you will receive these payments.
  5. TDAP – The Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) is available to help low-income disabled Marylanders through a period of short-term disability or while they are awaiting approval of federal disability support. The program is funded through the State of Maryland to provide help to individuals without dependent children.  The landlord will want proof of this benefit and will need to know how long you will be receiving payments.
  6. Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) – Maryland’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash assistance to families with dependent children when available resources do not fully address the family’s needs and while preparing program participants for independence through work.  The landlord will need to see documentation that shows how much you receive every month.
  7. Food Stamps – While food stamps are not considered income for purposes of calculating your rent payment for a rent subsidy program, landlords often want to have documentation of the benefit you receive.

Assets

The landlord will want to know about assets you have that have a monetary value. Assets include things like money in savings accounts or CDs, investment funds, stocks and bonds, IRAs, 401k’s, real estate such as a vacation home, art, jewelry etc. You need to let your landlord know about any assets you have, and you will need to show documentation of their value.

  1. Trusts – A trust is considered an asset if you can directly access the money in the trust.  Most special needs trusts are set up so that the person with a disability cannot directly access the money.  The landlord may want to review the trust documents to verify that you cannot directly access the money.
  2. ABLE Account: – ABLE account funds are not considered an asset for housing assistance programs or other means tested programs such as Medicaid.  However, you should report and provide documentation of the money you have in your ABLE account.
    Maryland ABLE
  3. Bank Statements – the landlord will want to see your 3 most recent bank statements.  This includes all checking and savings accounts you have.

Screening

Most landlords will do a background check.  This includes a credit report, a criminal background check and a rental history check. 

Credit Report

It is very important that you review and understand your credit report, ideally before you apply to rent a home.  If there are issues on your credit report that are a problem, such as judgements, bankruptcies, errors or other issues.  

Unpaid Bills – If there are outstanding unpaid bills, especially money owed to a previous landlord or to a utility company, it is very important that these be addressed by paying them off or by setting up a repayment plan.  

Utilities – Setting up and maintaining utilities is necessary for complying with a lease.  If you owe money to a utility company, even if it isn’t the company that will provide utilities to your new home, you will probably not be able to set up your utilities.  If you set up a repayment plan and make regular payments on time, you may be able to overcome this barrier.  Also, some community organizations will help people with low income pay utility bills.  Your local Center for Independent Living will likely know who you can contact.

Money Owed to a Previous Landlord – This is also a significant barrier to housing.  If you owe money to a previous landlord, your application to live in a new home will probably be denied.  Creating and sticking with a repayment plan may help you to overcome this barrier.

Obtaining and understanding a credit report – You can access your free credit report from the three bureaus once every 12-months by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228 or by mail: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You will be able to see reports from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Information may vary in each report so it’s essential to look at all three. Additionally, Maryland law gives its residents the right to access a free copy of their report annually, meaning you can access your reports from the three credit bureaus twice per year for free. 

What if you don’t have any credit? Sometimes people with disabilities do not have any sources of credit.  Not having credit isn’t as bad as having bad credit, but it’s still not good. Landlords want to see from your credit history that you are reliable in paying your bills. If you don’t have credit, a landlord could deny your rental application.  

Establishing credit – There are many ways to establish credit that are safe.  Many websites provide advice on establishing credit, and often recommend getting a credit card, buying one or two things each month and paying them off before the end of the billing cycle.  You can also get a cell phone account in your name which will establish credit.  Two good resources for more information on establishing credit are listed below:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a set of toolkits to help people with financial issues.  You can access their guide to “getting and keeping a good credit history” here: Getting and keeping a good credit history tool (consumerfinance.gov)

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has a resource called “Money Smart.” The FDIC’s Money Smart financial education program can help people of all ages enhance their financial skills and create positive banking relationships. First released in 2001 and regularly updated since then, Money Smart has a long track record of success.  You can access Money Smart here: FDIC: Money Smart – A Financial Education Program

Strategies for overcoming poor credit

Reasonable accommodations – People with disabilities are entitled to receive a “reasonable accommodation” to overcome barriers that are directly related to their disability. With regard to credit, some people with disabilities may have bad credit because they have large medical bills they are struggling to pay, they lost their job due to health issues, or their credit was affected by some other disability-related reason.  If this is true for you, a reasonable accommodation can be requested asking the landlord to overlook your credit due to your disability.  It is best to make this request in writing and to include an explanation of the circumstances that have affected your credit.  It is not necessary nor advisable to disclose medical details about your disability. 

Medical documentation of the need for the accommodation will probably be requested.  This documentation can be provided by a healthcare professional with sufficient knowledge of your disability to verify the need for the accommodation, such as a doctor, nurse, therapist, social worker, or case manager.  The medical documentation must be in writing. 

Credit repair

Just because you have a poor credit history doesn’t mean you can’t get credit. Creditors set their own standards and not all look at your credit history the same way. Some may look only at recent years to evaluate you for credit, and they may give you credit if your bill-paying history has improved. It may be worthwhile to contact creditors informally to discuss their credit standards.

Most credit counselors offer services through local offices, online, or on the phone. If possible, find an organization that offers in-person counseling. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Your financial institution, local consumer protection agency, and friends and family also may be good sources of information and referrals. 

Reputable credit counseling organizations can advise you on managing your money and debts, help you develop a budget, and offer free educational materials and workshops. Their counselors are certified and trained in the areas of consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Counselors discuss your entire financial situation with you and can help you develop a personalized plan to solve your money problems. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions.

Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself | FTC Consumer Information

Bankruptcy

If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, be aware that bankruptcy laws require that you get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within six months before you file for bankruptcy relief. You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at www.usdoj.gov/ust, the website of the U.S. Trustee Program. That’s the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Be wary of credit counseling organizations that say they are government-approved but don’t appear on the list of approved organizations.

Resources for financial education and empowerment

If you are looking for more information on managing your money, below are two resources for education and assistance.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Your Money Your Goals toolkits:
Your Money, Your Goals

Companion Guide for People with Disabilities:
Your Money, Your Goals: Companion guides 

FDIC Money Smart:
 Money Smart – A Financial Education Program 

Criminal Background Check

Most landlords do a criminal background check as part of the application process.   There are two background issues that will prevent a person from being able to live in federally funded housing or to use a rent subsidy that is funded by the federal government, such as a Housing Choice Voucher, HUD 811 PRA unit, or tenant-based rental assistance through HOME funding.  These two backgrounds include 1) lifetime sex offense registry requirement; and 2) conviction of the production of methamphetamine on federally assisted property.  With regard to other background issues, the landlord will typically have written standards for reviewing a criminal background report and denying housing.  Often, a background that includes a felony conviction such as assault, battery, arson, breaking and entering, selling illegal drugs, and other serious crimes will result in a denial if the criminal behavior was within the last 5-10 years.  Other convictions may also result in a denial if they are recent.  Landlords can only consider convictions.  They cannot use arrest records to deny housing.
FAQs: Excluding the Use of Arrest Records in Housing Decisions

Often, the landlord will have an appeal process when someone is denied housing due to criminal or credit issues.  If there are circumstances you would like to be considered that are related to your background, taking advantage of the appeal process is a good idea.  

If your criminal background is directly related to your disability, a reasonable accommodation can be requested to overlook the background issue.  Medical documentation of the need for the accommodations will be needed from a healthcare professional who has sufficient knowledge of your disability issues and background to substantiate the need for the accommodation.  For example, a person with a mental health disability who was not receiving treatment may have been convicted of assault.  Since the conviction, the person may have engaged in treatment and has shown greater stability with medication and therapy.  The person can request an accommodation and include information about their progress and absence of criminal behavior with treatment.

Expunging criminal records

If you have been charged with a crime, you may be able to have the criminal record expunged under certain circumstances.   An expungement is the removal of court and police records from public inspection. This does not include Motor Vehicle Administration records, which may have minor traffic violations, such as a speeding ticket. 

Who is eligible? If you have been charged with a crime, including a traffic violation for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed, you may file a petition for expungement if:

  1. You were found not guilty
  2. The charge was dismissed
  3. The charge resulted in probation before judgment (excluding charges of driving while under the influence or driving while impaired)
  4. The State’s Attorney did not prosecute (Nolle Prosequi) your charge
  5. The court indefinitely postponed your case (stet)
  6. Your case was compromised (settled)
  7. You were convicted of only one non-violent criminal act and you were granted a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor. For a Pardon packet contact the Parole Commission’s Office at 410-585-3200
  8. Juvenile Waived

Substance use disorder

  1. HUD has issued guidance specific to people with a history of substance abuse, including those with a criminal conviction history.  The guidance states that housing should not be denied to people who are not currently abusing substances and who have successfully completed a treatment program.  Documentation of completing the program may be required.

Please note that if a person resumes abusing substances, they can be removed from housing for a lease violation.

Also note that the use of medical marijuana on federally assisted property is illegal.  The federal government does not recognize medical marijuana as a legal treatment, nor have they recognized marijuana as a legal substance, even in states where medical and/or recreational use of marijuana has been legalized.  Persons using marijuana on federally assisted property are in violation of their lease and can be evicted.

Rental History

Your rental history is a serious consideration when applying for housing.  The landlord will be very interested in any negative circumstances in your rental history, including evictions, disenrollment from a rent subsidy program due to program violations or poor references from previous landlords due to money that you may still owe the previous landlord, property damage, disruptive behavior, etc.  A landlord may deny your application due to a poor rental history. It is very important to maintain a good rental history by paying rent on time and by following the lease and community rules.  If you owe money to a previous landlord, it is a good practice to create a repayment plan so that this issue can be removed from your history.