So you're representing a rental property and you’re getting tons of calls from interested applicants. Your obvious first step would be to send these prospective tenants a basic rental application form to fill out. The question is--do you send them a paper application or an online rental application?
Traditionally, you’d send a PDF of the California Association of REALTORS® (CAR) Application to Rent/Screening Fee form. This is one of the most common California rental applications you can use. Applicants would then print and fill one out, scan it, and send it back to you. This process might be "tried and true", but does that mean it’s the best way of doing it?
In comparison, an online rental application saves both time and paper, as it removes the tedious task of scanning and faxing/emailing.
Before we make a final decision, we should weigh out our options. Let’s take a look at the basics of each.
Paper Rental Application
The CAR rental application is currently the by-the-book way of going about handling rental applications. Basic information such as an applicant’s social security number, driver’s license number, vehicle information, residence history, employment history, and credit information are all included in this comprehensive paper tenant application.
It's always a good idea to see a sample rental application before you start screening so that you have a good understanding of the information that will be included on the form. Furthermore, you should make sure the application you use does not ask discriminatory questions or violate any regulations. This is particularly important when you use a California rental application because California tends to have more strict regulations than some of the other states.
After collecting a basic rental application form from each applicant, it is also common to collect a screening fee in order to pay for screening reports (and possibly any time you spend during the screening process). The maximum screening fee in California (for 2018) is $49.12 according to Cal. Civ. Code § 1950.6.
- Comprehensive Information: The CAR tenant application has just about everything you need to know about your renter.
- CAR Approved: Because it has become the standard rental application form in California, you will get the same information from every applicant, making it easy to compare applications.
- Low Tech: For applicants who are not technically savvy or do not have internet access, a paper rental application form may be your only option to get them properly screened.
- Incomplete Applications: You finally finished emailing out all of your applications and are beginning to get some back. However, upon reviewing them, some are incomplete or have confusing information on them. Now you have to send it back and wait for your applicant to correct their mistake or fill out blank areas, making your job much harder.
- Poor Handwriting: Most applicants are in a rush to apply and do not have the best handwriting. These two points combined can make it impossible for you to decipher the information. Best case, you may have to check back with the applicant to clarify information. At the worst, you may misread the information and make a bad decision on an applicant.
- Time Constraints: No matter how eager a renter you may have, it will take a significant amount of time for your applicant to print, fill out, scan, and email back the completed tenant application. According to PRNewswire, only 33 percent of Americans own a scanner, which further delays the process with a trip to a copy store.In addition, printing and filing each completed application is a time-consuming task that is unnecessary while using an rental application.
- Ease of Use: Dealing with paper tenant applications can be difficult at times. Illegible handwriting combined with no way to keep track of application creates an organizational nightmare. With multiple pieces of the tenant application comes from different applicants at different times, you’re in for a lot of paperwork.
Final Score for Paper Tenant Application: -1
Online Rental Applications
An alternative to a paper California rental application is an online rental application, which, as the name suggests, is completely done online. Not only does this save paper but it is a faster way of getting your applicant’s information.
However, there is no "standard" online rental application, and some may contain different pieces of information than what is found on the California Association of REALTORS® rental application. For that reason, make sure you get a sample rental application to review before you start using it.
- Faster Turnaround: Prospective renters can instantly complete each online rental application upon receiving it. This removes the printing and scanning process allowing you to get your applications back faster. In addition, most online application forms do not allow applicants to turn in an incomplete form, saving you even more time.
- Tenant Verification Included: As you may know, conducting a full tenant verification can be a painstaking process. Finding the best resources on your own can be difficult, and it is easy to sacrifice screening quality for convenience.Thankfully, some online tenant applications include tenant verification as well. For example RentSpree’s online rental application includes a full tenant screening from TransUnion SmartMove. A credit report, background check, and eviction history are all included with the report, so you don’t have to conduct tenant screening yourself. Best of all, tenant screening reports are instantly available to you with no extra steps required.
- No Paperwork: Leave paperwork in the 20th century. A completely online interface is not only beneficial to the environment, but it removes all of that annoying paperwork that you have to organize and file. Every application received online is organized on its own and easy to access.
- Always Complete & Legible: Online means typing and not writing. You can always read typing so you won't spend time finding the correct information or using incorrect data for your decision. Most online rental application forms also require the critical fields of the application to be filled out before submission. This can help to expedite the process by getting you the information faster.
- Lack of regulation: If you receive online rental applications from different services, you may have a tough time comparing the two because of the different information that might be on each application. In addition, if you compare a CAR application to an online rental application, the information may be different as well.In order to avoid this problem, it is recommended that you suggest to your applicants to use the same application, whether it be online or paper.
Online Rental Application Final Score: +3
According to our foolproof pro/con scoring system, handling your applications online might be the way to go. The good news with RentSpree is that you can actually get the best of both worlds. RentSpree offers the first ever online version of the CAR rental application. That means that applicants can step through our streamlined application process and you can get back a completed California Association of REALTORS® rental application. We've taken the online rental application and brought it to the digital age!
You can also access both an online and a paper version of RentSpree's basic rental application form. Even better is that RentSpree provides these forms to you at absolutely NO COST! So if you're looking to take the first step in the tenant screening process, you're in good hands.