Apartment Guru: Good Person, Bad Credit

Dear Apartment Guru,

My boyfriend and I want to move in together but his credit is a mess. He has a good job and he is definitely pulling it together, but as it stands things are pretty bleak. The other day we put in an application on a place and were turned down because of it. What are our options if we don't want to end up in a hovel?

-The Grown-Up in the Relationship

Dear Grown-Up,

As co-author of "The Good Girl's Guide to Living in Sin," I will tell you that after talking to tons of women who have cohabitated, it is never a good idea to live with a person without knowing the basics of their financial situation. As long as he is being honest, and as you say, "pulling it together," I think you are on the right track.

As for what to do about apartment-hunting with his bad credit, Gabe Leibowitz, President of Aboveground Realty in New York suggests that you might be able to sign alone. "Many landlords do require credit reports for all inhabitants," he says, "but some are fine as long as the signer's credit is strong."

Unfortunately, signing alone makes it harder for you and your guy to become Domestic Partners. (You know, if you've been eyeing his healthcare or something). Also, down the road each of you are less protected by failing to jointly sign a lease. For example, you are the only one legally responsible to the landlord, but if at some point the two of you become estranged, you can accuse him of trespassing on your property.

Alternatively, Leibowitz suggests seeing if one of you can get a guarantor to co-sign the lease with you. A guarantor generally has a strong income and really good credit and usually comes in the form of a parent, sibling or grandparent. I'm sticking with family-based options since your guarantor has to trust you enough not to violate their generosity, or at least, know how to make you cry if you do.

But if a guarantor is as mythological a creature in your world as a unicorn, you might want to figure out if you can offer the landlord a bribe -- or as Leibowitz phrases it in more ethical terms: "extra money on your down payment." It actually isn't a bad idea for you guys to offer the landlord a few months rent up-front. Or even better, suggests Leibowitz, "Offer to pay for the entire year. That will probably go a long way toward assuaging the landlord's concerns."

Of course letters of recommendation, especially from past landlords and current employers, also might help a landlord override his own rules about renting. Landlords just want to know that the people living in their building are going to pay rent, respect the property, and generally live responsibly. Credit is one way they have to measure this. If your credit (or his) doesn't stack up, find other ways to prove you are the right person to rent to. And then live up to it.

Happy renting!

The Aparment Guru is Joselin Linder, co-writer of
The Good Girls Guide to Living in Sin and Have Sex Like You Just Met. Having rented apartments and houses in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Columbus, OH and abroad in Prague, CZ, she knows what it means to live in home you don't own and still make it homey. Anything she doesn't know, she isn't afraid to ask.
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