When conducting a tenant search, a consistent and transparent process is desired. Using a rental application form is one way to ensure this is realized. In addition, it ensures that uniform questions are asked.
A rental application form is a document issued by landlords requesting tenants to provide detailed personal and employment information to help the landowner assess the tenant’s suitability. It contains personal, employment, and residence history information of the tenant, as well as references from previous landlords that can be contacted to verify the applicant’s desirability as a tenant.
A rental application is used when renting out all sorts of property, including but not limited to homes, rooms, apartments, and commercial property. It is one of the most important steps of screening prospective tenants. Often, tenants will pay a non-refundable fee meant to cover the costs of carrying out a credit and background check. Tenants are also expected to provide their names and sign the rental application as consent to credit and background checks.
Components of a Rental Application Form
Landlords can craft the rental application or use a rental application form that best suits their needs. However, regardless of the approach he or she uses to achieve this, there are fundamental components that must be present in the rental application.
These fundamental elements include:
Tenants should be requested to provide personal information such as legal names, employment status, marital status, and contact information such as mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. This way, the landlord can be aware of whom they are interacting with.
The landlord should describe the property in question by providing details such as the number of bedrooms, square footage, and the property’s location in the rental application. This way, the tenant can be aware of what is being offered, and the landlord is exempted from any liability based on interpretation.
Tenant’s employment details
The rental application should prompt the tenant to state their current and direct previous employment status and details. Employment details to be provided include; the name of their employer/company name, location of the workplace, occupation, gross income, and duration of employment. This employment gives an overview understanding of the tenant’s employment and financial status. It is also used by landlords when conducting background and credit checks.
Tenant’s residence history
The rental application should outline a brief history of the tenant’s residence history. This way, the landlord can see where the tenant has lived and is living and previous landlords. The residence history should state the type of house rented, rental amount, location of the property, duration of the tenancy, reasons for moving, and information of the associated landlord(s). The landlord can then make an informed conclusion of how desirable the person is as a tenant.
Tenants can also provide personal references if there are any. Landlords should be wary of friends or family members used as references. References are preferred to be familiar with the tenant in a professional capacity. Their names, contact information, and relationship should be documented. References are contacted to seek verification of claims made by the tenant or add any details left out. New tenants will obviously not have landlord references but can use employers as references, which is allowed. Landlords use references to know the applicants a bit better.
Tenant’s financial information
Tenants can also be requested to provide their financial information such as the bank’s name, bank account, type of account (savings or checking), and credit card information such as credit score/limit.
Additional details (if any)
Landlords should give the tenant an opportunity to include any additional details worth mentioning. This can include clarification of certain issues addressed in the rental application, such as the unavailability of a previous landlord due to incapacitation or death. The rental application form should have a section for the applicant to sign and indicate the date when they signed the document.
Pets & vehicles
The landlord allows the tenant to mention if they own pets or vehicles. This is because these possessions will typically require certain clauses or provisions to be included in the lease agreement. For example, different premises have different house policies and parking provisions.
Miscellaneous questions can be included in the rental application, especially if the landlord feels there is room to clarify matters further and know the applicant better. For example, miscellaneous questions can address smoking, why the applicant deserves to be rented the space, etc.
Free Forms and Templates
Paper-Based vs. Digital Method of Rental Application
There isn’t a fixed method of having potential tenants fill out a rental application. However, there are two methods often used by landlords; convenience being a defining factor. The first one is the digital or online method which involves landlords listing vacant spaces online or on listing websites along with a customized rental application form and having interested tenants send their completed/filled out rental applications through emails or third-party websites. On the other hand, there is the paper based-method in which the landlords craft a rental application or use a rental application form in PDF that tenants can download, print, fill out, scan, and upload or email to the landlord.
These two methods vary in convenience and benefits. To help landlords select the best option applicable to their situation, there are several factors to consider and how each method fairs compared to the other.
These factors include the following:
Ease of use
The digital method of rental application is easier and faster than the paper-based method. The digital method does not include the process of printing, hand filling, scanning before emailing the rental application, unlike the paper-based method. It also ensures that rental applications are sent to the landlord as soon as the tenant submits them. The paper-based method, on the other hand, is easier for less tech-savvy applicants.
Rental applications filled out digitally are more legible. This is because the legibility of paper-based rental applications is dependent on the applicant’s handwriting, which, admittedly, can be poor. Illegible rental applications cost time to review because if their contents are not readable, chances of misinterpretation increase which might prompt the landlord to ask for clarification, further delaying the screening process.
Digital-based rental applications always require tenants to fill out all the pertinent sections before submission. However, with paper-based rental applications, tenants can choose to fill out what they prefer revealing, which can end up leaving out important information. This means landlords have to go back and forth enquiring about the missing information, which would not happen with a digital method.
Tenants can submit digitally filled out rental applications regardless of where they are as long as they have an internet-enabled device that is conveniently fast for most and broadens the reach of the landlord. Paper-based applications will require a printer and scanner, which might not be readily available, thus delaying the process of application.
Since screening is ordinarily the succeeding step after rental application review, using the digital method allows the landlord to transition from the review process to screening seamlessly; sometimes, these steps can be done simultaneously. With a paper-based application, the landlord will often be required to take additional steps such as applying for the screening. This is because they have to ultimately review and upload the document on the sites carrying out the background and criminal checks or fill out application forms for these checks. This can be time-consuming.
Tenant Verification According to the Form
Tenant verification will most of the time be the step that determines the quality of tenants a landlord has under his or her premises. Verifying tenants is typically a long process but very significant. There are steps that the land owner can follow on how to use a rental application form to verify the suitability of potential tenants.
These are as follows:
Obtain a completed rental application
Tenants cannot be screened if at all they have not submitted a filled-out rental application. However, once a complete rental application has been submitted, the process commences. Therefore, an essential part is issuing the tenant with the rental application to have them complete it and hand it back.
FCRA disclosure – A Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) disclosure should also be attached that outlines the tenant’s rights.
Non-refundable application fee – Landlords should typically charge a non-refundable fee to cover the costs of screening. The fee can be anywhere between $35-$70 depending on the applicable state laws.
Collect background information
Tenants are expected to provide information that shows who they are as a person. The landlord can design the questions in a rental application to explore their most pressing concerns; however, rental application forms will usually be designed to meet this need. Background information involves any criminal charges (past and present), age, rental history, marital status, etc. Knowing this information about a tenant helps avoid tenants who can be troublesome and create disputes within the premises. Normally, a credit score of over 620 and a clean criminal history should be acceptable.
Background checks can be done through various online companies that conduct them at a fee. Fees charged for credit and criminal checks are typically billed to the applicant. References from previous landlords can also be sufficient. Employers have been known to be used as references to detail how well the prospective tenant(s) gets along with other people.
Afterward, verify the tenant’s employment and income status to ensure that they are financially stable to afford the monthly rent for their specified term. Tenants with an income that is three times their rental payments are recommended, for this creates a safety net if they are faced with a costly emergency. For example, verifying employment can be done by having them provide the following documents.
- The tax filing reports of the last two years; which are done through the IRS Form W-2. Self-employed applicants should use Form 1040 to do this.
- The last two pay stubs can be requested from the employer to be provided through an Employment Verification Letter if the applying tenant is employed.
- Bank statements from the last two months.
Sometimes tenants, such as college students, will often have a third party as a guarantor for rent payments. In such a case, ensure that the guarantor also fills out the rental application form. Their credit score should determine the tenant’s suitability.
Communicate with former landlords
The next step is to contact any references provided in the rental application, phone calls being the most recommended means of contact. The objectives should be to validate the applicant’s personality and habits by asking different follow-up questions that address the following;
- Late payments – Enquire how often did he or she make late payments and how long the payments were due.
- Notices of eviction – Ask if the tenant was ever issued with to vacate and what was the reason behind it.
- Noise complaints – Enquire if the tenant was a loud tenant and if the behavior was recurrent.
- Cleanness and trustworthiness – Ask in what condition the tenant left the house.
- Tenant’s association with other tenants (if any) – Question if the tenant was social or how they interacted with other tenants.
Check the sex offender registry
Then, the landlord should check if the tenant is listed in the local and state sex offender registry. How to proceed with the results of checking the sex offender list is dependent on the Fair housing act – which prohibits landlords from rejecting applicants for the sole reason of being in the sex offender registry. However, the landlord can reject their application or evict the tenant if the landlord can prove the applicant poses a threat to occupants of the building. The National search offender query can also be used to check if the applicant has been listed for sex offenses.
Asking questions is one effective way of screening tenants. It can end up saving the landlord a considerable amount of time. The landlord can structure questions in such a way that if he or she is not satisfied with the answers given by the tenant, they can reject the application without carrying out other long screening steps such as background checks. The rental application can include questions that help the landlord have more insight into why the tenant is suitable for space and who they are. Answers and points to note can be written down to compare what was provided in the rental application. Some of the questions that can be asked during the screening of tenants are as follows;
Why the tenant is moving?
The most preferred answers to this question that one should look out for are; work distance-related issues, affordability, space matters, or the end of their current lease. Red flags to look out for are; disputes with their current landlord, roommate, or neighbor. However, having them explain the situation is seen as more considerate, for they might not be at fault. These answers in a rental application ensure that drama-free tenants are selected.
The date when they plan to move in?
Renting is a time-sensitive venture, for every day the house remains rent-free, it is economically interpreted as a loss to the landlord. Tenants to avoid are those planning to move in too soon (the next day or the day after) or at a much later date. If a tenant is planning to move in too soon, it should be a signal of lack of planning on their side, for they may be breaking an existing agreement as far as one knows.
How long they think or want to live on the premises?
The duration of tenancy will vary from one tenant to the other it is, therefore, necessary to keep one’s options open. Some tenants might prefer a fixed term or a month-to-month lease, two types of leases that influence the rental rates; month-to-month leases are a bit higher.
What is their monthly income?
The tenant’s answer to this question can then be compared to the results of the credit check. If the tenant’s answer is different from what was found in the income verification, this is a red flag.
Do they have any references from their current or former landlord and/or employer?
Tenants can declare if they have references that can be contacted to ascertain their reputation at work or as a tenant. References should be contacted only after the house tour.
How many occupants will be occupying the premises?
Tenants should declare how many people will be living within the premises. Landlords can determine whether the given number is acceptable; avoid crowding in the house. Tenants that exceed the occupants’ limit can be eliminated, thus saving time.
Asking the right questions is imperative, but paying attention to how they answer the questions is where one should focus on majorly.
Here are some tips on what to look for when tenants answer questions:
- Hesitation in answering
- Changes in mood and tone when they speak (for example aggression,)
- Non-verbal cues, for example, fidgeting, looking away, etc.
- If they change the topic or answer accordingly
Approve or reject the tenant
Finally, the landlords should make their verdict and proceed accordingly.
There are two options;
- Approval – If the applicant checks all the boxes of a suitable tenant, good credit score, stable income, great references, no criminal history, etc., they should be approved, and preparation of the lease agreement can commence. Remember, a lease agreement binds the landlord and the buyer to the tenancy obligations, NOT the approval of tenants.
- Rejection – A rental application precedes the lease agreement if the landlord approves it. However, if rejected, a rejection letter is issued to inform the applicant of the landlord’s decision. The landlord also declares how and where the tenant can get a free copy of their consumer report in sixty (60) days. (15 § 1681m(a)(4)).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A rental application form is used to outline prospective tenants’ personal, employment, and financial details that the landlord uses to assess their suitability as tenants in their premises.
Landlords are only prohibited from asking questions that violate Fair Housing Act. There is no limitation in regards to questions landlords can ask potential tenants through a rental application.