How To Make A Rental Application Form That Complies With The Law

A rental application form is a useful tool for property owners to screen tenants without conducting numerous interviews. However, landlords should be careful about what they include or exclude in these forms to avoid liability.


How to Make a Rental Application Form

Rental application forms provide landlords with important information about potential tenants. Here’s how to create a tenant application form that complies with the law.


1. Background Information

The rental application should provide background information on the property and the landlord. This eliminates the number of questions the applicant might have about the property and tenancy. It also weeds out any tenants who might not be interested in certain tenancy types. Include the following information:

  • Landlord’s name and address
  • Property address
  • Type of tenancy (periodic vs. fixed-term)

In addition, it’s essential to obtain basic information from the applicant. Consider adding the following to the rental application form:

  • Applicant’s full name and current address
  • Home phone number
  • Cellphone number
  • Work phone number
  • Birthdate
  • Social security number
  • Government-issued ID number (e.g. driver’s license number)

The landlord can perform a background check on the applicant during screening using the above information. Make sure to inform the applicant of the reason you’re asking for this information.


2. Fees and Deposits

rental fees and depositsIt’s important to outline the fees and deposits you might ask the tenant for, such as pet deposits or parking fees. However, remember that some states have laws that limit the amount you can collect as a security deposit.

For instance, the laws in California limit security deposits to twice the rent for unfurnished homes and thrice the rent for furnished units. However, this only applies until July 1, 2024. After that date, the limit will be one month’s rent except for landlords who own a certain number of residential properties and units for rent.

Finally, clearly outline whether the charges are fees or deposits. The former are generally non-refundable, while the latter entitles the tenants to refunds.


3. Custom Inclusions

Landlords should be clear about their preferences and rules. For example, they should indicate whether or not waterbeds, co-signers, or smoking on the property is allowed. They should also add whether or not they require verification letters or references. Lastly, it’s best to include custom information or questions about the tenancy in the house rental application form.


4. Employment History

As a landlord, you may want to verify whether or not the applicant can shoulder your monthly rent expenses. Therefore, you may collect information on their employment history. Ask for the following:

  • Current employer’s name and address
  • Supervisor’s name and contact number
  • Applicant’s job title
  • Start date
  • After-tax monthly income


5. Sources of Income

Applicants may have other sources of income such as social security, inheritance, annuities, or severance payments. Leave a space at the bottom so they can note whether or not they have other income sources.


6. Rental History

Apart from their work history, it’s essential to determine whether the applicant has a clean rental history. Ask about their current or past property managers, landlords, and evictions. Collect the following information:

  • Previous landlord’s name and contact details
  • Monthly rent paid/being paid
  • Date of move-in and move-out


7. References

Landlords should be thorough about tenant screening. Thus, asking for personal references in the rental application form is often a good idea. The applicant can include the names of their family, friends, and professional contacts to vouch for them.

If you want a more comprehensive check, you can also mention that you accept cover letters, resumes, or other supplementary material. Applicants can attach it to their rental application form before submission.


8. Other Information

Landlords do not always need other information about an applicant. However, asking for them optionally to further verify the applicant’s character and eligibility can be helpful. Here are some things you can ask for:

  • rental application formsEmergency Contact. This can be helpful in emergencies. Ask for the contact’s name, number, and relationship to the applicant.
  • Other Occupants. Applicants can include information on other occupants who might move in with them, such as family, friends, partners, and roommates.
  • Pets. If the landlord accepts pets, ask about the applicant’s type of pet. Include restrictions on types of animals, breed, number of pets, age, and weight.
  • Vehicles. If the unit has parking, landlords can ask about the applicant’s vehicle so they know what to expect. Ask about the make, color, model, and year. Moreover, ask for the license plate numbers.


9. Authorizations

Landlords should add two authorization paragraphs toward the end of the home rental application form: the “Consumer Report Disclosure and Authorization” paragraph and the “Information Release Authorization and Acknowledgements” paragraph.

The former paragraph authorizes the landlord to get the potential tenant’s credit report. Meanwhile, the latter paragraph authorizes the landlord to verify the other information the applicant has provided in the rental application, including the following:

  • Income and employment
  • Public court records
  • Bank account information
  • Rental and eviction history
  • Criminal background

In this section, you can also ask if the applicant has:

  • Been convicted
  • Declared bankruptcy
  • Been evicted
  • Broken a lease agreement

If the applicant signs the authorization, they allow personal references, past landlords, former supervisors, credit representatives, and bank representatives to release the information related to the applicant. The landlord can use the information to verify what the applicant has said about past evictions, leases, convictions, and bankruptcies.


10. Signature and Fees

The landlord should include a dotted line where applicants can sign and date the document, whether it’s a physical or online rental application form. In addition, the application form should outline any associated fees for completing the form. Landlords can use these fees to run background checks, credit checks, and other administrative tasks to process the application.


Legal Considerations

Landlords might think the authorization section is all they need to comply with legal requirements. However, there are certain things that landlords should avoid to ensure compliance.


Fair Housing Act

Firstly, landlords should not discriminate against any applicants based on certain characteristics according to the Fair Housing Act. Protected classes include race, sex, color, religion, family status, or disability (physical and mental).

Additionally, many courts prevent age-based discrimination under the family status category. State law may also add other protected classes to the list, such as income source, sexual orientation, and marital status.


Screening Process Disclosure

In states like Texas and Washington, landlords are required to explain their screening criteria and selection process. The landlord can include this in the rental application form or attach a separate page.

Landlords must explain what criteria an applicant must satisfy to be accepted. These can include thresholds or limits for credit scores. Some landlords may also want tenants with clean criminal and rental histories. Moreover, landlords should indicate how long the application process will be and how they will notify the applicant.


Fair Credit Reporting ActCredit Reporting Laws

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines specific processes for obtaining tenant credit reports. Under the Act, companies and other entities cannot provide information in a consumer report if the person asking does not have a purpose specified in the FCRA.


Privacy Laws

Landlords should always respect an applicant’s right to privacy when collecting their information or running background checks. Follow the proper procedures and obtain consent. Never leave out the authorization parts of the form so you can avoid legal liability.

In addition, it’s important to safely store and dispose of sensitive information and use it only for legitimate purposes. Otherwise, the landlord might face a lawsuit or other charges.


Application Fees

Some states limit the amount a landlord can charge for tenant applications. Remember to research the applicable laws in your area before charging any fees.


How to Promote a Fair Application Process

Landlords should be careful with tenant applications and screening. To ensure they are not held liable for violations, landlords should always use standardized applications to ensure the consistency of collected information. Consider using an online platform to streamline the process.

Furthermore, do not use discriminatory language or ask discriminatory questions in the form. Stick to only relevant and necessary questions about the tenancy.

Lastly, screening criteria should be established and applied consistently to all applicants. Use only objective criteria and base them on tangible factors such as employment status, rental history, and credit history. If an applicant meets certain requirements, the landlord should consider them even if they dislike or are partial to specific characteristics.


Proper Applicant Screening

Landlords should properly screen applicants using well-drafted rental application forms. However, just because landlords are generally allowed to run background checks doesn’t mean they should abuse this privilege. They should be careful about violating any disclosure or discrimination laws in place.

Do you want to create a flawless rental application form with a comprehensive — but compliant — screening process? Consider hiring a professional property management company through our online directory!



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