The rationale for requiring credit scores in the tenant screening process is that presumably a prospective tenant who does not pay their other bills might not pay the rent either. However, a credit score does not ensure a good tenant. Rental units are filled with tenants who passed a credit score screen but nevertheless will leave the apartment dirty or damaged, sometimes excessively so.
The problem is that many landlords (or property managers) do not actually use the credit report to screen tenants. In fact, some landlords prefer tenants with less than pristine credit reports, especially if they are bad landlords themselves or if their rental is actually illegal. Furthermore, many landlords charge the application fee to everyone even if they have no intention of running a credit report. It is just free money. Meanwhile, landlords and property managers have collected too much of their tenant’s private financial information on a rental application. But hey, not to worry. They keep the applications locked up (except during business hours) and all their employees are upstanding people who would never illegally use that information.
In some states, the laws says that landlords must refund any amount of the application fee that exceeded the actual cost of screening. Tenants have no way of knowing what that cost might be or if the landlord actually paid it. Landlords certainly never give back any of the application fee. Some property managers double dip. They charge the prospective tenant an application fee AND add the amount of the application fee to the management fee the landlord pays as a reimbursable expense.
What about the tenant who offers higher quality documentation than a credit report? What documentation could be better than a credit report? How about reference letter (with contact info) from previous landlords showing that the tenant has never missed a payment, lived quietly and respectfully, and left the apartment clean? Some (usually the worst) landlords will not even consider such documentation, so intent are they on collecting personal financial information. The fact is most landlords, even bad landlords, will rent without a credit report. If your building has foreign students, you can be quite sure there was no credit report. Neither that Chinese student nor the parents have a credit report, and what landlord is going to call China to speak to the previous landlord?
When planning a move, be sure to get a reference letter from your current landlord, addressing not only rent payments, but your behavior as a tenant. Maybe get reference letters from your neighbors, or write the letter yourself and ask them to sign. Call the utility companies to get a credit letter. Make a copy of your most recent bank statement, redacting the account number or other personal information. If you are paying student loans, make a copy of your most recent statement, again redacting personal information. If you are moving to take a job, make a copy of your offer letter. If you have no offer letter, ask you new employer to write a letter certifying your employment.
You are screening landlords as much as they are screening you. If a landlord or property manager will not accept such a high quality information package, then apply somewhere else. Remember, you never have to fill in every blank on an application form. Sure, you might not get the place, but maybe you do not want such a landlord anyway.