Bad credit, bad job, need an apartment

diamond_lifeSeptember 18, 2007

Hi, everyone. I'm a bit clueless here on the whole apartment situation, and I was hoping that someone here can help me out.

I'm a 19-year-old female. When I was 18, I moved into an apartment with this crazy bipolar chick. The landlord owned this apt. above his restaurant and rented it out to us. I paid all of my rent on time, but she didn't put me on the lease when I moved in. However, she skipped out on over four months' rent and left town, so I moved back with my parents. So maybe me not being on the lease was for the best.

Fast-foward. Now I've moved to another state, and moved in with a guy my age, and we are in a relationship. He lives...actually, lived...with this friend in an apartment complex. The roommate was messy, filthy, dirty, disgusting, and had a cat that was equally so. He had friends basically live there and mess the place up more. Finally, with the help of his mom, I convinced Matt my boyfriend that we should move out of the place, and move in temporarily with his mom. And so in August, we packed up our things and left. Matt borrowed money from a family friend to continue paying rent there, and now he's pretty much boggled down in debt.

Okay, so the stress got to me. Matt's mom is a perfectionist, and she wants everything a certain way. That meant a lot of pressure from me, who is slightly clumsy and is normal in cleanliness. She wanted SUPER-CLEAN. Matt didn't think that I was doing enough, and I hated my job, and I felt like I was going nowhere in life, and so the arguments began between Matt and I, with me starting most of them. Recently we broke up, and he asked me to leave his parents' house. Two days later, his mom sat me down and told me that I wasn't performing up to her standard, and that I would have to leave. (Of course, she didn't know that Matt had already told me to leave.)

So now I'm basically clueless about apartments. I have a job that pays 6.75 an hour, maybe 15 hours a week on average. I've applied to just about every available place I've come across, and I expect that hopefully I'll get a new job soon. Matt's mom is giving me a week to leave, but I'm somewhat disregarding that because that is impossible. The thing is, I want to stay in this city, because apartments are cheaper than in my home state, and I harbor no bad feelings towards Matt or his mom and don't mind staying here and still being friends with them.

I don't know if it would be easier for me to find a person with a room available or an apartment of my own. Roommates seems like the cheaper option, but I don't know what the standard is, if a lease is usually signed, if I have to submit an application. And what do they look for in a application? Are they going to do a background sheck, a credit check? I have a misdemeanor charge from last year that I already paid and a couple of traffic tickets that are unpaid, but that's about it for my rap sheet. Credit's another story. When I was 18 I got a credit card, and I only spent my money on three things, all of them under $20. Because that went unpaid for so long (I was living in that first apartment and only had money for rent and food) I now owe hundreds of dollars. I also owe $40 to a video store, and over $700 to my old community college (I dropped out and asked my parents to use the tax return they received for claiming me to pay it off, but it "magically" didn't happen).

I moved to this new city to try and get a good job, go to school, and pay off my debts, but in light of this new situation, I have to put all that on hold. I'm just looking for suggestions as to the best route to go. Thanks.

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Hi, what a mess! I would definitely not sign a lease or anything else now, not until you have a good job and hold it for a few months. All you'd be doing is incurring more debt, and the chance to really get in trouble for nonpayment. What you need is to possibly go home (nice new city or not) and live with your own family til you sort things out, or if it's not possible, then room with old friends you can trust in terms of stability - but don't sign onto leases if there's any choice at all. Get registered in school - maybe they can help financially, or find a social agency that can guide you in the right direction. Your choices up til now have not been so great, and you need to get focused, and not just chase another bad one. Or else get a second job where you live and get a room, but on a month to month basis, and save your money for the future.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 4:58AM
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Strictly speaking from my perspective as a landlord:

And what do they look for in a application?
Stability. Not frequent movers/bailers. Ability to pay (and responsibility for) debts incurred.

Are they going to do a background sheck, a credit check?
Depends. Some don't do any checks. But housing conditions tend to be reflected in that (lower quality). Some do only credit checks. Some do credit and order full background check. I do credit check, call references, and check local court dockets or dockets from counties of prior residence if available online. (I'm looking mostly for evictions.) I also check sex offender registries. So although I don't order formal background checks, there are several ways to access info that's enough to paint a pretty good picture of an applicant. A tip re: references. Don't put a friend down as prior landlord. It's so easy to trace a prior address (which shows up on your credit report), track down the owner through tax records (almost always online nowadays) and contact owner. Too many applicants were offering cell #'s with friends playing landlord. I stopped that by insisting on landline phone #'s only, so that I can use a reverse directory and make sure phone # matches address of owner that I've confirmed via property tax records. In a nutshell: don't lie, you'll hang yourself.

I have a misdemeanor charge from last year that I already paid and a couple of traffic tickets that are unpaid, but that's about it for my rap sheet.
Misdemeanor criminal or traffic? If it's traffic I don't pay too much attention to moving violations. All depends on what it's for.

Credit's another story. When I was 18 I got a credit card, and I only spent my money on three things, all of them under $20. Because that went unpaid for so long (I was living in that first apartment and only had money for rent and food) I now owe hundreds of dollars.

Get those paid off, asap. Even if you pay interest and a little toward the initial charge. It will not disappear.

I also owe $40 to a video store
Not to be critical, but I've seen those occasionally and immediately mentally reject the applicant. Why? If a person can't be responsible enough to rent a movie and pay for it, they probably will have the same attitude toward rent. Get that charge paid off first! It's the smallest and it looks really bad.

and over $700 to my old community college (I dropped out and asked my parents to use the tax return they received for claiming me to pay it off, but it "magically" didn't happen). Tuition deductions reduce their adjusted gross income on their tax return. It doesn't mean they get reimbursed that whole $700. So just because you incurred a school debt and didn't pay it does not make them obliged to give up their deduction to pay toward your debt. If it was agreed you pay for school, and you dropped out, tuition is still your responsibility.

So debt-wise, all told you owe about $1,000? If you can't manage to pay it off in a year (about $83/month) then shoot for two years max ($40/month). You might have to sacrifice something (iTunes, internet, cell, those cute shoes at the mall, fast food, Starbuck's, etc.), but you're just getting your foothold in life and you've gotten off on the wrong track, to the point it's impacting your ability to get a decent roof over your head. Two years seems like an eternity when you're 19, but someday you'll look back and it will have gone by in a whirl.

Frankly, from a landlord's perspective, you're a pretty risky tenant at this stage. History of racking up silly debt (video store), bailing out on school and not paying tuition (lack of self discipline, not paying what you owe) and letting a couple $20 charges add up to hundreds (irresponsible). Not trying to slam you, just laying it out. There are a lot of 19 year olds who don't have this kind of activity on their credit. But I've seen 19 year olds with much worse. My point: you are not too far gone. Back peddle now. Make it a priority. You're so young, don't let this become the pattern of your life. It will have far reaching and negative consequences.

I feel bad that you are being booted out suddenly with little choices. I find that cold. Thirty days would be much more humane. (And you might find, from a legal standpoint, that you can show established residency at Matt's mom's house, and legally she can't just put you out on the street with such little notice. But I'm not a lawyer.)

So first things first. Get a decent job. Or two decent part-time jobs if necessary. You're probably going to need help for a bit, which means as much as you like it where you're at, you might need family/friends to help get you back on your feet. Then go out and explore your options. Because as it stands, you've boxed yourself into a corner with few options. Higher education will open doors. Whether university, community, or 1 year business school. In today's world, it takes more to make it. Not everyone is cut out for schooling though, and I understand that. But if there's anything that interests you, for your own sake, get that education! Whether it be a bachelor's degree or a cosmetology license or a skilled trade. Something that will get in you in the door to a steady job with benefits. You might find (as many people do) at some point you will be heading back to school because what you have now is not enough to make a life for yourself. I'd encourage you to do that now, before you are tied down with the bigger responsibilities that come with age.

Second, get those debts paid off. Top priority. If you applied for one of my houses today, you'd be declined. Too much on your credit that reflect small items allowed to balloon. Those should have been addressed. However: if you applied in a year or two, told me your story, and your credit reflected that you were indeed making regular payments to satisfy your outstanding debts, to me that shows maturity and willingness to be responsible for your own actions. I have given many adults a 'break' who screwed up much worse than you when young, but had a subsequent record of getting back on the right track. Turned out to be good, reliable tenants.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 10:33AM
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Depending on where you live, you may have a more luck looking for a roommate situation. You aren't a very good risk for a landlord, and while there are certainly some private owners who don't check too deeply on their prospective tenants, most look for some rental history or at least stable job and credit if you don't have that. Some guy looking for a roommate to split the rent is less likely to go through a screening process. That's not necessarily a good thing, but in your case it could make it easier to get in the door. And, depending on the situation of the person looking for a roommate, you might be more likely to get in quickly and to get in without getting tied into a lease-- again, not necessarily a good thing in all situations, but in your situation might make it easier to get a foot in the door. Personally, if you go for a roommate situation, I recommend a month-to-month arrangement rather than a lease, anyway. As you are seeing now with your boyfriend's mom and his old roommate, it's easy to find yourself living with someone who's not really compatible and this gives you (both) the freedom to get out of a situation that's not working out. There really is not a "standard" way to do the roommate thing. There are about twelve different ways, from an established group house where new people come in as old people leave and are generally interviewed and "accepted" by all the current roommates, to somebody stuck in a lease he can't afford after his friend he got an apartment with took off, to homeowners renting a room for a little extra cash, etc. They will all go about the acceptance process differently.

There's no reason to limit yourself to either/or (apartment on your own vs. roommate); you need a place quickly, you should be checking out all options available to you to find something acceptable.

And I expect moonshadow is correct about your boyfriend's mom not being able to legally kick you out without 30-days notice. However, if you negotiate with her a reasonable time frame (and do your absolute best to live up to her cleanliness standards in the meantime) rather than just refuse to go, you are likely to make things easier on yourself in the meantime.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 11:07AM
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Thanks for the advice, everyone.

To moonshadow: That was a boatload of information you gave me, thank you. I didn't know how much I needed a landlord's opinion until now.

To answer a couple of your questions: The misdemeanor was a shoplifting offense, and the traffic tickets, which total about $346 I think, were not speeding tickets or anything like that. My dad got me the car, and there were certain things wrong with the appearance of the car, like there were no front plates, and so I got three tickets and he got four.

And although Matt's mom said she's giving me a week, I told her upfront that I still needed to get a job and it would probably take longer than a week. She said that in no way, shape, or form was she going to be responsible for my being homeless, that she wouldn't let that happen.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 1:59PM
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Well, that's very civil of Matt's mom to not put you out on the street, that certainly will be a big help. Maybe she can help you find a place/roommate, if you really feel you must stay in that area? (I still stand firm about getting that education though ;). You'll never regret it, and it's something that no matter what happens in life, no one can ever take that away from you. Like now, you're at the mercy of Matt's mother. An education/skilled training/trade would empower you and never let you be at the mercy of another like you are right now. It's not fun trying to get schooling and have to work at the same time, but it can be done. If, however, you have the opportunity of parental help while you can go to school, grab it. That window won't stay open indefinitely ;)

The tickets for the car I wouldn't think twice about. Not relevant to me. I'd be focusing more on your financial profile and behavior. I'd check to see that you had enough to pay rent and still enough left to live on. I've had so many applicants try to spread themselves way too thin. Tons of credit card debt, car loans, etc. and they want to pay rent that's a little high for their budget, then toss in utilities, extras like cable, phone, etc. I get uneasy when that scenario occurs, because sure as anything I'm looking at late rent or requests to pay installments. (I have bills to pay on the property that I can't get extensions for, and it comes from the rent.) Those kinds of tenants tend to become a burden to a landlord, so their leases don't get renewed (if they get in the door to begin with).

Shoplifting, I dunno if I'd let that bother me. Not that I'm condoning it mind you, I just don't know that I'd let a single shoplifting charge from a 18/19 yr old stop me from renting to them. (If you had multiple shoplifting charges, or a few more years under your belt, it would be a different story.) Not that your young age is an "out" for you, but we all made some not-so-wise choices at that age. I'd look at the whole picture and see what kind of portrait is painted. That's why I encouraged you to whittle those debts down asap and get them resolved on your credit. It changes the picture of who you are.

I will be first to admit I'm not as tough as some landlords are (and have had my attorney chide me for that). But I'm a firm believer that life happens, sometimes we can control it, sometimes we can't. I never look at medical bills on a credit report, for instance. That's not an "intentional" debt that someone seeks out like a credit card or car loan. Stuff happens in life. If I see a person who's gotten knocked down, but is trying really hard to pick themselves up (get out of debt, be responsible), yes I'll definitely give them a chance. It's never come back to bite me, and those people tend to be my most conscientious tenants. But there is one critical criteria that must be met: I do not want to be first on their list. Show me solid evidence on a credit report that they have taken care of bills gone to collection, and are paying other items on time when a few years ago they didn't, then I'm much more receptive to them. If they tell me "I'm turning my life around" but then their credit looks like garbage, no way, I don't want to be the guinea pig.

You might not get the apartment/house of your dreams right away, but let it be a tool that works for you. It is a powerful tool. Abide by the rules, be a good tenant, don't trash the place, pay your rent on time. All that will be a stepping stone to moving onward and upward. But if you pay late, miss rent, bail out, trash the place, party till your neighbors cry 'evict her!' you'll be stuck right back where you are now in a couple years.

I have faith you can do it ;)

    Bookmark   September 20, 2007 at 7:31AM
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As someone older who has gone through all that you have, let me offer an opinion. Do you live in a university town or a larger city where you can rent a ROOM instead of a whole apartment? I bet you don't have a lot of necessities or furniture now, do you? Your bills probably take up most of your salary, so you'll want the cheapest place where you can safely live. Try a room in a house full of girls (making sure you have a lock on your bedroom door). Share the kitchen, living room, and house with others. At 19 years old, you can do this. It's a lot harder to have roommates when you're older. Also, get a job or two where you're working at least 50 hours a week and pay your fines and bills! Don't buy a car and use public transportation. Make a five year plan to get yourself out of debt, and always work at least 40-50 hours a week. You can do it! Just think of yourself now, and realize that you won't be living this way forever. Keep telling yourself that you're doing this to now so you can have your own home when you're in your 30's. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 5:05PM
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Just want to say, Honey, listen to moonshadow. She gave you great advice. I truly wish you all the best. Sorry you're having such a hard time, but print out moonshadow's posts and read them every day. I could have so easily been in the position you are in. Big hugs to you.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 7:36PM
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GREAT advice here are so young and can get this all turned around in a few years.

Do it while you have a chance. By the time you are 25( which is so young) you can have a whole new life........good credit, good education and on your way to being successful If you don't take care of it now, you can also be 25 and have no hope of a future and a good job.............hardly anyone gets hired anymore into a good job after the age of 32.......

You can do it all, just follow moons advice!

Good luck

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 10:43AM
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Yes, rent a room! You cannot afford an apartment when you only work 15 hours a week at barely over min. wage. The bonus of renting a room is that you can meet new people and make new friends at the same time. Your credit and recent problems would probably prevent you from getting an apt. anyways. Renting a room is cheaper with less responsibility, while you clean up your credit, find a better job, pay off your debts, etc, etc.

Consider going back to school or a trade schoool so you have prospects of being more financially stable in the future.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 7:10PM
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Property owners usually look for gross income of 3 times rent. Having any unpaid bills is a big problem, because if you stiff other creditors, you're likely to stiff the landlord. If I were looking at the application, that $40 owing to the video store would really bug me (she doesn't have the money to pay off a $40 debt?).

I would do this:

1) work 40 hours+ per week, 15/week is not enough. Waitress, busboy, retail, anything just so you can pay off your debts.

2) Live with roomates, it is much cheaper. With them you likely won't have a credit check (or a lease), but you can save your money.

3) Once your debts are paid off and you have a bit of income, re-establish your credit rating. A good way is to get a credit card, use it every month for a few things here and there (like groceries), and pay it off in full 100% of the time.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2007 at 4:12PM
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It was never explained why you're not able / willing to work 40 hrs (or more) a week? Nonetheless, you've got to bring that income up - now. I'm in agreement with most of what I've read on this thread:

1. You've got to find a stable place of residence. Move back home with your parents, relatives, or friends, but move some place where there's stability.

2. Get that income up - like yesterday. You've got to start earning some money, as $70 a week isn't going to do squat for you. Forget rent, you can't buy food or pay utilities with that amount of money (even in the least expensive places in the US). Drop your pride, and take that job working at Pizza Hut, or washing dishes at the Outback Steakhouse. Renting an apartment, house, or a room isn't in your cards with that current salary, or your past debt repayment history.

3. Your an adult, now you have to become both financially and emotionally mature. You need to repay your debts as soon as you have a stable place to live, and a steady income. Ditch all the credit cards as you don't need them. The credit cards and loans you've taken in the past represent the symptom of your financial woes not the cause of it. Start organizing your money with a monthly / bi-monthly budget (doesn't need to be fancy, simply list what you earn and what you spend - and stick to it). Learn where your money is going, as you cannot tackle a problem if you don't know what the problem is.

It's not going to be easy, but you've got to make some drastic changes in your life if you want to be independent. The only person who can control the outcome of your life is you.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2007 at 3:14AM
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