A Cosigner Can Help First-Time Renters Assuage Landlords' Concerns

By Sara Gebhardt
Saturday, July 8, 2006

Q: I am a 22-year-old recent college grad trying to find an apartment in the District, but I am having a really hard time of it. I have been rejected by several landlords because I have no rent al history and because I haven't found employment yet. I went to a great school and had a great grade point average and think I give a good first impression, but I can't seem to rent. Any suggestions for someone in my position? -- Baltimore

AWelcome to the real world, where landlords do not give you extra credit for getting good grades at a good college.

It may not be the most attractive option for someone eager to be independent, but the answer to your problem is to find a sympathetic relative to cosign the lease for your apartment. Landlords will change their tune entirely if you have somebody backing you financially in the event that your great r?sum? and great personality do not land you a great job.

A cosigner will ensure that somebody will be legally responsible for coming up with the money if you cannot, and that's what landlords care about.

Aside from the cosigner route, some landlords may take you more seriously if you offer to pay a few months' rent up front or if you agree to a shorter lease term as a trial period. If your college landlord can at least provide a basic, positive reference about your tenancy, that might help your case a bit, too.

You might also think about finding a roommate who has a job lined up or is already employed.

Another solution is to stay in temporary digs until you find a job. That way, you will have a shot at building up a rental history. Then when you have an income, you will be a better candidate for an apartment.

When I was searching for an apartment, I was terrified by reviews I read online. I ended up moving into a building with horrible reviews anyway because I liked the apartment, rent, management staff and location. I have lived here for a month and still love it. How much stock should people put in online apartment reviews? -- Fairfax

Your experience is proof that you should definitely take online apartment reviews with a grain of salt, though you should not totally ignore them. Because people who are unhappy with buildings are more likely to post reviews than those who are content, you are apt to find more negative posts than positive ones.

Still, you shouldn't completely disregard online posts. They provide clues about what it is like for people to live in a given building. Sure, one person's nightmarish experience may be an anomaly or a product of that person's living habits or specific situation (e.g., loud neighbors), but chances are, online reviews will clue you in to potential problems with building management or apartment units.

Even if you suspect that some frustrated tenant flooded online apartment message boards with damaging comments, you can use the information to help you better ask questions of management and residents before you decide to sign a lease.

For example, when I randomly picked a post about a Chevy Chase apartment building on ApartmentRatings.com, I found a not-terribly-slanderous and seemingly legitimate comment alleging deceitful management. The post was titled "I was cheated" and said the management did not inform the resident of a promotion when he or she was looking at the place and later wouldn't credit the tenant with a month's free rent.

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