Rental Applications

Rental applications, filled out when you take people through your unit, provide you with information that will help you decide who will be your future tenant. In addition to the basics — name, address, telephone number — the application asks for such things as a current address and employer, and who will reside in the apartment.

Have each adult who will be living in the unit fill out a rental application. If all the parties are working or receiving disability payments, you can combine their income to find out whether they can afford the rent you're asking.

Rental applications are an essential element in the selection process. The information provided by prospects can help you select the best possible tenants. It gives you solid, objective information that allows you to compare candidates and make your decisions.

Experts recommend using a standard rental application form, rather than making one up. With a standard form you get the same information from everyone, which makes it easier to make comparisons. By sticking to the questions in a rental application, you also are less likely to ask personal questions that might inadvertently imply that you are biased.

Rental applications typically ask applicants for the following information:

  • Personal details: date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, model and color of car, and license plate number

  • Names of others who will live in the unit

  • Rental history: former addresses, names, and phone numbers of prior landlords

  • Current employment and employment history: title or position held, supervisor's name and phone number

  • Gross income

  • Monthly credit payments

  • Whether applicant has had bankruptcies, lawsuits, evictions, or criminal convictions

  • Number and type of pets, if your lease allows them

  • References and emergency contacts: their names, addresses, and phone numbers

A few years ago landlords routinely asked for credit and financial details, such as banks, savings and checking account numbers, and credit cards, but that's becoming less common because of the possibility of identity theft. Ask your local rental property owners association what's recommended in your state.

Review Applications Immediately

After the forms are filled out, take time to go over them while the applicants are still there. Verify their social security and driver's license numbers by looking at their card and driver's license. The social security number, current employment and employer, and emergency contacts are the information you need if you ever have to collect unpaid rent from a tenant who leaves before the lease is up. Make sure they've answered every question you've asked.

Above all, make sure the applications are signed. It gives you authorization to verify the information they've provided and to do a credit check.

What do I do if someone doesn't fill out the whole application?

You can make it your standard policy to automatically reject an incomplete application without going any further. Of course, don't make any exceptions to this standard.

Release Forms

Some landlords also ask prospects to sign a separate release form authorizing the landlord to verify information with an employer, credit bureau, bank, or savings institution. Banks in particular are reluctant to say anything without a release, and even when you provide it, most will only tell you whether or not that person has an account with the bank.

Narrowing Down the List

When you decide you have enough applications, you can stop showing the unit and start checking the information supplied by the applicants. First weed out applications from those who have not answered all your questions. Then look at the financial and employment backgrounds of the rest and eliminate those that have few or no resources or a spotty work history.

When you've narrowed the field — perhaps to three to five prospects — you're ready to move on to the next steps in finding the perfect tenant. You will check their credit, verify their employment history and their current employment, and look at whatever else you've decided is important to you.

Sometimes you'll get calls from a person or family who needs an apartment immediately. Don't rush into accepting any tenant. Take your time. Always go through all the rental applications and winnow them down step by step using the criteria you've established.

Don't Throw Applications Away

Experts recommend that you keep a file for each applicant for at least a year. Several years would be better. The file should include the applicant's rental application, your notes on conversations with the applicant, credit checks you've conducted, and any information you got from banks, employers, and references.

Never eliminate every applicant in a protected category. For example, keep one single parent with children or one group of college students as prospects. If you don't consider any of those applicants who are in a protected group, you risk implying that you're prejudiced against single parents or students.

Every time you reject an applicant, write down the reasons why you came to that decision. It's easier to take a few minutes documenting the rationale for your decision than trying to recall the process months later. Those written, dated notes also build your case should you ever be taken to court.

It can't be said often enough: Be absolutely certain you make all your decisions about eliminating applicants on facts that will stand up in court, not for personal or subjective reasons or just plain dislike.

You may sense that an applicant would be a headache as a tenant, but that's not a good enough reason for rejection. You have to substantiate that gut feeling with proof that they are unable to keep a job, that they don't pay their bills on time (or at all), or that previous landlords have had trouble with them. You will learn more about selecting and rejecting tenants.

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