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On Thursday incoming representative Maxwell Frost, the first Gen Z-er elected to Congress, tweeted about a familiar experience for many 20-somethings moving to the District: How difficult and expensive it can be to find an apartment.
Just applied to an apartment in DC where I told the guy that my credit was really bad. He said I’d be fine. Got denied, lost the apartment, and the application fee.
This ain’t meant for people who don’t already have money.
— Maxwell Alejandro Frost (@MaxwellFrostFL) December 8, 2022
“Just applied to an apartment in DC where I told the guy that my credit was really bad,” Frost tweeted. “He said I’d be fine. Got denied, lost the apartment, and the application fee. This ain’t meant for people who don’t already have money.”
According to his tweet, Frost has bad credit because he quit his full-time job and incurred debt while running for Congress. (He also drove for Uber during this time, but didn’t make enough money to cover his expenses, he says.)
This happened at an apartment in Navy Yard, Axios reported, where Apartment Finder says the average rent for a one-bedroom is $2,595. That’s not cheap, but it’s certainly doable on Frost’s future $174,000 salary.
While it’s illegal under DC housing law for providers to assess an applicant based solely on their credit score, they can make a decision based on comprehensive analysis of the applicant’s credit history. That includes things like income ratio in relation to the rent price, potential past-due balances on other properties or bankruptcies, and landlord references, says Devin Henry, DC real estate group Nomadic Real Estate’s chief operating officer. “You want to look at all factors, because looking at any given factor of the application in isolation is going to ultimately do a disservice to the applicant and to the housing provider.”
This is especially important in light of the current economy, when US households are increasing their debt at the highest rate in 15 years. “Credit history is a hard one that holds a lot of folks back,” says Lydia La Motta, home-management group FlockDC’s director of engagement. “It is an unfair barrier for so many people, especially when rents are so high and folks are just trying to make their first break.”
So, what are the best practices for apartment hunters who might have a spotty credit history?
First, know the ins-and-outs of your credit history and, if there are some issues within it, be upfront about them when applying, says La Motta—like Frost says he was in his tweet. Second, make sure you have good references from former landlords. “Besides income, [rental history] is the top thing we’re looking at,” she says.
It could also be helpful to apply to a spot with a monthly rent that’s well below the typical approval ratio of 30 percent of your monthly gross income, says Henry. And, Henry says, while it’s certainly not accessible for everyone, apply with a co-signer if you can to make your application stronger: “When you get a cosigner, you’re not only adding, ideally, strength of credit through the cosigner, but you’re also adding in the cosigner’s income as well, so it can strengthen your application as a whole.”
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Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.