Reasons for Denying a Rental Application

Getting turned down for an apartment or rental house can be stressful for a couple looking for a place to live.
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Getting an approval on a rental application is not a forgone conclusion. Landlords or apartment managers deny applications for a variety of reasons. Generally speaking, as long as the manager doesn't base his decision on unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability, he has legal rights to deny your application. If you believe the rejection is based on unlawful discrimination, you can file a discrimination claim with your local housing authority.


Rental denials based on poor credit history or no credit history are legal at local, state and federal levels, according to the Fair Housing Act. This means that if a landlord or property manager asks to run your credit and you decline to permit it, he can reject your application based on an inability to check credit. If he runs your report and finds a low credit score or no credit history, he also has grounds for denial. Managers sometimes note minimum score requirements on applications. Similarly, bankruptcy judgments and home foreclosures are grounds for refusal.

Criminal History

The Fair Housing Act also allows for denial of applications based on findings that you have a criminal history. Applications usually ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime. There is variance in different areas on this provision, though. Madison, Wisconsin is among jurisdictions that have named past criminals a protected class. This means you can't be discriminated against based on your criminal history. Check your local and state guidelines to find out whether your criminal history is protected.

Smoking and Pets

Some, but not all, landlords reject applicants who smoke or have pets. This is generally protected by the Fair Housing Act because of the potential damage and associated costs pets and smoke can cause. Exceptions for companion or service animals are common, so if you have a guide dog, it should not affect your application. Landlords usually indicate in rental listings whether they are pet-friendly or smoker-friendly.

Reference History

Property managers routinely ask for references with your application. If you submit your application with no references or your references don't pan out, you face application denial. The Fair Housing Act offers no legal protection for first-time renters. Some first-time renters try to overcome a lack of rental references by offering personal or professional references.


One of the surest ways to get an application denial is to lie on your application and have it discovered. Previous jobs and sources of income, past living arrangements and other financial data are types of information applicants sometimes lie about. Leaving important sections of the application blank can lead to immediate rejection as well.

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