Can an Old, Unpaid Bill Keep Me From Getting an Apartment?

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Searching for a good place to live is tricky enough to make anyone, even a person without past financial problems, hate the process. So to find an apartment that’s affordable, has the features that meet your needs and is in a decent location, only to have the landlord hold up your application because of an old item on your credit report — well, it’s frustrating, to say the least. A Credit.com reader recently found themselves in this situation:

I have a PG&E bill from 2010 that is on my credit report, but PG&E show it as a discharge and are not asking for payment. I need to clear this up before my new landlord will allow me to move into a new place. If I secure a settlement for this can I request them to remove this from my credit report?

We put the question to John C. Heath, a credit expert and consumer attorney for Lexington Law, a Credit.com partner. Here’s what he said.

“I don’t know if I would attempt to secure a settlement. The amount has been written off,” Heath wrote in an email to Credit.com. The reader may want to check the statute of limitations in their state, because the debt may no longer be enforceable, Heath added.

This may take some explaining to your landlord. “I would speak with the landlord and see if they would be willing to overlook a [six-year-old] debt. A lot can change in a six year period,” Heath wrote.

Negative information on credit reports (like a charged-off debt) generally remains there for seven years. It’s important to remember that this goes for paid, unpaid and settled debts alike — so paying off an old debt doesn’t remove the negative history from the record. However, if you feel information on your credit report is inaccurate or unfair, you can challenge it with the credit bureaus and data furnishers reporting it to them. You can do this on your own (you can go here to learn more about disputing errors on your credit report), or you could consider hiring a reputable credit repair professional to help you. To keep tabs on your credit and any negative items affecting it, you can get two free credit scores with regular updates from Credit.com.

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10 Ways to Save Big on Renting Your Next Home

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It’s no secret that rents are high in many areas of the country due in part to millennials’ affinity for renting combined with the impact of Great Recession foreclosures that sent some homeowners looking for leases. Boomers, for a variety of reasons, have also become more likely to rent.

The bottom line is that high demand for rentals has driven up the costs. Even so, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good deal, or at least avoid paying more than you should.

Consider these tips for tracking down an affordable rental:

1. Avoid the giant, corporate complexes

Instead, look for apartments where you will deal directly with the owner or a manager. Those landlords generally place more value on long-term, reliable renters than those who work at corporate complexes, reports The Fiscal Times. They are also less likely to raise rent quickly.

2. Know the neighborhood

Even in a seller’s market, landlords are anxious to rent their properties to qualified tenants as quickly as possible. Use that to your advantage by scouring the neighborhood and targeting the properties for rent. Consider looking for housing that’s a bit older, and you may have a solid shot at negotiating rent, reported DailyFinance.com.

3. Show them your ‘perfect tenant’ persona

It’s easy to forget that in many ways landlords are entrusting their valuable property to your care. That’s why they look for those with good credit scores, stable employment and solid past rental histories. Sure, it’s tempting to wear sweats and sneakers when apartment hunting, but remember — leasing is a business transaction. You needn’t dress as if you stepped out of a corporate boardroom, but having a clean, professional appearance is a good idea. Landlords also want you to look good on paper — meaning a good credit score, a stable job history and stable rental history. If one of these things is going to set off alarms, be prepared to address it. For instance, a landlord I know was willing to rent to a couple even though the husband had a marginal credit score, because they were recently married and the wife was now in charge of finances for herself and her (admittedly) disorganized spouse. They were prepared for questions and got the rental.

4. Prepare to negotiate for savings

Renters are often surprised at how easily they can reap significant savings by negotiating. Be prepared to ask for one month free, or for a lower monthly rate in exchange for a longer lease. Ask for a two-bedroom apartment for a one-bedroom price. Ask for free fitness membership or a break on utilities or parking. You might even ask if there’s some service you could perform – lawn mowing, snow shoveling or even general maintenance on your own unit – for a reduction in rent. The time to speak up is, of course, before you sign or renew a lease.

5. Weigh everything that is covered by your rent

Is it vital that you live in an apartment with the “right” address? Consider that at a slightly less prestigious location your rent might also cover the costs of parking, a doorman, on-site fitness facilities, utilities and more.

6. Shop at off-peak times

Landlords are especially anxious to rent between October and February. You’ll find more specials and choices when you shop for a rental at a nonpeak time, reports The Washington Post.

7. Read the lease first, then sign

Sure, that sounds like a no-brainer, but in the frenetic, time-consuming rush to rent an apartment many of us sign first and ask questions later. Check the lease, and read all fine print. Do you pay extra for utilities? Is water included? Are there parking restrictions? Can you sublet? And even if everything looks OK but you have misgivings, don’t sign, recommends The Fiscal Times.

8. Ask about referral bonuses

It’s sometimes difficult to find qualified renters for properties, which is why apartment managers often value referrals. Ask if the apartment complex has a referral program or if they would consider paying a “finder’s fee” if you refer a prospective tenant who becomes an actual resident. I’ve heard of referrals ranging from $50 to $250, depending on time of year, location and other variables.

9. Don’t forget about pro-rated rents

If you rent an apartment but don’t plan to move in on the first of the month, find out if the landlord will pro-rate your rent – just allow you to pay for the weeks you are there. Although some property managers of highly desirable units might insist on the full first month’s rent, many will likely be more than willing to discount.

10. Consider your gut reaction to the property

Rental notices can be misleading, and rental layouts can make a big difference. A 750-square-foot apartment that includes a long hallway might feel smaller than a 600-square-foot apartment with a more open layout. A cheaper apartment in a neighborhood where parking is scarce and tickets are commonplace might end up costing you more than a more expensive place where parking is plentiful, or included in the cost of renting. An awesome deal in a crime-infested area might not feel so awesome when you’re trying to catch a taxi late at night. Be realistic about your budget and your lifestyle.

This post first appeared in Money Talks News.

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