After returning from a two-and-a-half month “snowbird” trip to Arizona and a prior extended visit with my elderly mother in Maryland, I embarked on a very intense week of apartment hunting in Albuquerque. My previous experiences looking for housing there had been painless, but not this time!
First, I was greeted with the fact that there is a very high occupancy rate for rental housing, possibly 95 percent. This, of course, is due in large part to foreclosures, the weak economy and people not buying for fear of losing jobs. I was also very surprised that almost all apartment complexes and many individual apartments, now almost always handled by management companies, charged application fees (generally between $15 and $50) and that they often took multiple applications. One manager explained that this was like selecting a job applicant. Hence, they charged all who were interested so that their background checks could uncover the candidate with “stellar qualifications.” She failed to realize that one doesn't pay to apply for a job, nor provide such personal information as required on apartment applications. I started to wonder how much a background check (criminal, credit and rental history) actually costs and why the disparity in fees. I also discovered that as might be expected with such a shortage of housing, managers displayed favoritism in how they approached applicants. Two managers strongly encouraged me to apply because I would be a good, quiet tenant. One of these told me that four or five applicants had already been rejected and that the pending applicant would probably face the same fate, as he did. I didn't want to be the next victim!
Next, I discovered the stringent rules for acceptance. Income had to be three times the rent. One had to have two to three years of “verifiable rental history,” as well as “good credit” (not clearly defined). Unfortunately, my retirement income is rather low and savings don't count, not even with letters from banks! The fact that I had never been late with past rental payments and offered to pay several months in advance to prove my solvency was not considered. Of course, having moved around a lot and not having a current physical address were not in my favor, nor was having just one credit card (always paid on time), but no loans. There were several apartments for which I would have applied if it hadn't been for the managers' discouraging words, leading me to believe I would be denied. I finally applied for an apartment within the income guidelines, but was rejected due to “lack of rental history” and “no credit.”
Unfortunately, what happened to me is not unique. I have since met a number of people who faced similar circumstances and had to apply for several apartments before they were accepted. In my opinion, this situation is unconscionable, an artificial creator of homelessness, and warrants further investigation. I used to joke that I was homeless by choice—no more.