When self-employed graphic designer Ross Nover, 30, applied for a one-bedroom apartment in Adams Morgan with his girlfriend in March, he wasn’t expecting the process to be smooth sailing. He’d left a full-time job to freelance and then start his own design business with a friend, and he knew his future landlord would ask him for a pay stub.
Without standard pay stubs, Nover had to get creative to prove to the management company that he could cover the rent. He ended up using one of his tax forms — the K-1 form, which showed how much income he was responsible for paying taxes on — to help him land the apartment in April.
“It was a little different, but luckily we had that,” he says of the K-1 form. “They didn’t really run me through the wringer or anything.”
Not getting a regular paycheck — for example, if you freelance or run your own business — is one issue that may make it harder to qualify for a new place. Landlords want to know that you have a steady income and will be able to afford your rent each month. But, like Nover, renters may find that landlords and apartment companies are more flexible and forgiving than they might assume.
“When it comes to screening tenants, there is obviously some science behind
it,” says Thomas Carcone, new client representative at property management firm Agon Management (1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW No. 190; 202-417-2046). “But there are so many different factors that go into the evaluation process.”
Renters who have multiple or seasonal sources of income, like working retail during the holidays, can still get an apartment if they can document how they’ll pay the rent.
In D.C., it’s actually illegal for landlords to discriminate against a particular source of income, says Jeremy Boardman, owner of property management company Urbane Results (1232 M St. NW; 202-465-4690).
“It can be a job, it can be child support, it can be a housing voucher,” he says. As long as it’s valid, steady and well-documented, landlords or property managers have to accept it, Boardman says. But be ready with the documentation, he says. Urbane Results requires that the rent and any fees don’t add up to more than 30 percent of an applicants’ gross income.
If you don’t have a pay stub, you can show a landlord your income with a letter from your employer, copies of freelancing contracts, a copy of a student loan or scholarship, or a copy of your tax returns, property managers say.
McLean Robbins, 29, a freelance writer and digital strategist who rents a one-bedroom with den in Arlington, has income from various sources, but was able to use the W-2 form from just one of her clients to qualify for her last apartment.
“In my instance, the largest W-2 from my biggest client has always been big enough to serve as a full-time income,” she says. For renters who don’t work full-time or who have just lost a job, it will be hard to rent a place on your own. Carcone says it’s common to have someone else with a full-time job co-sign the lease. Unlike a roommate, a co-signer doesn’t live with you but takes on full liability if you can’t pay the rent, as if the lease were their own.
For Gerard Moreno Poole, a 60-year-old guitarist and vocalist, proving a steady income has always been a challenge. At his last apartment in Alexandria, he co-signed the lease with his brother – but now the musician has opted to avoid the hassle altogether and live in his RV instead. Suite