How to create an unbeatable rental application, even if living on Centrelink

Do you need to beat hundreds of applicants for the house you want to rent?

In some areas, the price of rent and competition for rental properties is fierce. When I left my abusive marriage and needed to get a place to rent, it was difficult. Numerous people turned up each time, I was relying mainly on the single parents pension from Centrelink, along with some self-employment income, child support was nonexistent, basically my finances looked terrible. Add to that no rental history because I had been a home owner (and at another time, homeless), I was a pretty poor applicant on paper when going up against families, or double income no kids couples.

I have one trick that has landed me a house to rent, every time and many agents have commented on it. In fact, when I was moving from Sydney to Canberra, I drove down on the day, inspected the house, gave the agent my file and beat numerous other applicants for a property in an area with a less than 1% vacancy rate.

Here’s what I do.

1. ) Speak to the agent
Before I go to a rental, I check the listing, download the application form if there is one then I call the agent If there was no application online I request one to be emailed to me. Whenever I have gone to the rental property to inspect with all the other potential applicants, the agent knows exactly who I am when I arrive because we have already spoken and it seems they mainly remember me over other applicants because I made them laugh.

Most agents use 1Form now, so you can have it mostly prefilled and ready to go which is easier for everyone. I still include everything I outline below.

2.) Have your application ready
I have the application filled out, I leave the lease term blank and discuss it with the agent. Some owners like 6 months, others 12. If you are willing to be flexible it is more appealing to both agents and landlords.

3.) Letter to the landlord
In my last 3 applications, I included a letter to the landlord. In the first paragraph, I state how I would like to rent their house, how I understand as a landlord they want someone who will take good care of the property and how I will be that someone.

In the next paragraph, I outline the features of the home that make it suitable for my family and specifics of why I want to rent it.

Next, I talk about why I am a good tenant. I am clear that I am a single mum of 2 daughters, but I also work from home, I don’t smoke, I don’t have pets, I don’t drink or throw big parties etc.

The next paragraph is where I outline my income, although it looked small on paper I manage my money well and have other sources of income (which I outlined). I discuss how I keep my bills below average and how I source things for free. (I include copies of my bills to back this up, which I will discuss in a minute.)

My closing paragraph recaps why I love their property and how I will look after it.

4.) Create a file
With the application and letter in hand, I create a file. I get a folder or even a plastic sleeve to put in the following:

– My filled in application

– Letter to the landlord

– ID: For 1Form I just used a photo of each id. When they required printed applications, I had that ready to go at the inspection.

– Electricity and gas bills: These are included to prove identification and because mine are lower than average it makes my overall financial situation look better. My water bills for 5 people living in a home were lower than your average one person household, the same for my electricity. This shows I am frugal and my expenses aren’t as high as others. If you need some frugality tips check out the complete list of things you can use your pension/healthcare card for, along with my save money category which has all my money-saving posts in it.

– All income documents: I included child support documentation even when I didn’t get it, carers allowance for my daughters (when I left my ex my daughters had severe expressive and receptive learning disorders requiring extensive help. This meant I was entitled to carers allowance for both of them), my self-employed income (I include my tax certificate to prove income plus a recent bank statement to show how much and where money comes from as that is higher than my tax shows due to deductions.) A statement or letter for each income source is included. (If you need ways to make money, check out ways to make money while living on Centrelink, 29 ways to make money travelling, even as a family and financial resources here. financial resources here.)

– A letter outlining income: I do this because I am self-employed and I receive income from my royalties, public speaking, financial mentoring, blog advertising and more. I list the various incomes, how much I get for each and how often on average. If I worked for a wage I wouldn’t bother about doing this letter.

I put all of these papers together in a folder and label it – Kylie Travers xx address (whatever the address of the property is). When using 1form, I have all of those documents preloaded.

With this in hand, when I go to apply it’s easy. I look at the house and leave my application with the agent on the day or I can submit my 1form application on the spot. It’s easy for them because everything is ready to go and in order. Time is money – this saves them time and it means they just hand a file to the landlord as well, making it easier on everyone.

How to make an unbeatable rental application even when relying on Centrelink

Most agents tell me they have never seen anyone so organized and prepared with their application which made my application strong already. With the application for the Canberra home the agent even gave me his card in case I wanted to look at the property again over the weekend. He also said I should know Monday, but that file, with an *extra offer I included made my application very strong. And if the managing agent didn’t ring me Monday (he was not managing that property, but doing a favour for another agent), then to call him.

One final thing – when I look at rental properties I dress in business attire. Looking like a professional makes me stand out. I know at each open home I have been to I have been the only one dressed this way and the agents tend to talk to me for longer. The agents are the ones who recommend you to the landlord so building a rapport, looking professional and being friendly really helps.

What are your tips for securing a rental?

*The extra offer was more than 2 weeks advance rent. I always offer this but am never taken up on the offer. It gets their interest though because it proves I can save and am in control of my finances.
A version of this post originally appeared on my old site. Some of the comments from others who implemented my steps were:
“Hi Kylie, I just wanted to thank you. Thank you thank you thank you!!.I read this post when you write it and filed it away in my mind for future reference.

Last week I needed to move, quite unexpectedly and urgently. I am a single mum, studying, with 4 kids. I didn’t think anyone would rent to me.

I followed your post, put in an awesome application, outlining why I was the best tenant, including financials to prove I was capable and course enrolment details and a goal timeline outlining my plans for employment within the next 3 months.

The application went in Friday. I got a call Saturday to say the property was all mine and they were impressed with my application.

So thank you. Without this post, I would have put in a standard application and probably still be looking and getting quite stressed about it all!


and this from Elise
“Lol, your file sounds like my file. My agents practically kissed my feet when they asked for an up to date rates notice and I pointed out that the reason I only had one from last July is because it was paid up a year and a half in advance back then and I won’t get another one till this July. I think that cinched it for me as we got the first property we applied for too”


  • Rachel Stewart

    We’ve done the similar things and been successful – my partner is really good at talking to the agents and getting to know them (or, more, getting them to know him) and talking to them at every inspection we go to, even if we don’t like the property, you never know if they’ll be the agent for the next one we want. Cover letter is great too. We’ve also offered an extra month’s rent upfront one time and they didn’t take it, but I suspect it helps. Also in a highly competative market – when 30+ people were going to every viewing, we’ve offered a token amount above the asking price (like, $10 a week) and got a property that way.

  • IBikeNYC

    Hi, Kylie:

    Thank you so much for this outstanding advice!

    I, too, have some less-than-great issues that would be so perfectly addressed by doing some of these things myself. I have an administrative background and would find it very easy and natural to organize my stuff the way you suggest.

    One more excellent thing I can do right now to keep moving toward freedom!

  • Michelle Smith-wildey

    If you do have pets a pet resume goes a long way. I just added one on my application and was approved a dog a bd a cat inside. If possible include a photo, a little about them, immunisation and other medical history a reference if possible a your vets details.

  • India

    I am so glad I came across this article. My partner and I had been looking to move out for over a year but as he is a freelancer with inconsistent income and I am a student, we realised we wouldn’t be the most desirable applicants for a rental. The first place we applied for was rejected, as suspected and we nearly gave up looking. After some research I stumbled across your article and it immediately gave me hope. We spent about a week collecting all the information and evidence we needed to prove we could support ourselves on the application and the following two weeks we were approved for every rental we applied for. We ended up accepting an offer and are moving out next week. Thank you so much for this, I highly recommend this article for anyone in a similar position to us.

  • Nicole

    I have tried your tips and am still struggling to find something for myself and my two children but we have at least 45-60 people looking at the same places.

    • admin

      Hi Nicole, this post was written a few years ago. If you happen to live where I currently do, the Sunshine Coast, it is an area where it is next to impossible to get a rental at all. I’d recommend looking for private rentals and lease breaks in Facebook groups for the area or moving further out if possible. Covid changed everything.

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