Q: My boyfriend and I had a great studio apartment for one year. It was our first place and we loved buying all of the little household items that make a house a home. I had a great job and, even though I was the only one working, my credit was good.
Then just a few months after we moved in, I was fired from my job and my boyfriend was still looking for work. I was unemployed for four months, but we still managed to pay rent, just not on time.
I finally got a low-income job and we struggled the rest of the year to pay rent. We paid partial rent throughout the month when we had some cash but not once did we pay the mounting late fees. Our landlord was sympathetic and ultimately waived the late fees, but said we couldn’t renew our lease because of late payments.
We currently live with our parents and want to get another place soon because now we both have decent-paying jobs. How hard is it going to be to find another place because of our past rental history, even though we can afford to pay rent on time? Do you have any suggestions for us?
A: As many have learned in the last few years, building up your credit worthiness and the ubiquitous FICO score can take a long time, but can be destroyed very quickly. Of course, timing is a key component. The U.S. has just gone through a business cycle in which credit was clearly extended to too many people. Whether that is the fault of the borrowers or the lenders is the great debate now.
But at this time and with the economic downturn swinging the "easy credit" pendulum to the "tight credit" side, you are certainly not alone with this challenge. I am sure that you are anxious to get back to having a place of your own and it can be difficult to find yourself back home with your parents, but a lot of patience will be required.
I would suggest that you live below your means for a while in all aspects of your lifestyle and not just in your housing expenses. Your goal should be to live with your parents and live frugally in all ways until you can save up several months’ worth of living expenses. By building a cash nest egg you will then be able to go out and search for a new place with the peace of mind that you can really afford to live there.
You should also be forthcoming with your new landlord and explain your situation. You may be surprised, but my experience is that most landlords are owners of investment property because they went through the same type of process of living below their means and were committed to delayed gratification, a concept that is exceedingly rare these days.
Of course, I am not suggesting that a savvy landlord will be willing to just listen to you describe your newfound financial approach and will hand you the keys! No, he or she will want you to pay a larger-than-normal security deposit to back up your story. You might even have to pay a security deposit that is equal to two months’ rent so the landlord can be confident that another job setback will allow him or her plenty of time and the financial protection in case an eviction is necessary.
While I think there are many benefits for you and your boyfriend in my proposed plan, you could also increase your chances of finding a new landlord willing to rent to you if you have a co-signer. You may start out pursuing the "living below your means back at home with Mom and Dad" only to find that times have changed and the house you may have grown up in is no longer big enough.
In that case, your parents may be very willing to assist you as a guarantor or co-signer on a lease that would get you into your own place.