Online Rental Application vs. Paper Application: Which is Better?

Online Rental Application vs. Paper Application: Which is Better?

So you just started representing a rental property and you’re getting tons of calls from people interested. Your obvious first step would be to send these prospective tenants a rental application. 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, have them print and fill it 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 Tenant Application

online rental application

The Basics

The CAR rental application is currently the by-the-book way of going about handling rental applications. Basic information such as 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.

In addition, a screening fee determined by the agent or landlord is paid for by the applicant. The fee is usually $42.


  • 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 for rental applications, you will get the same information from every applicant, making it easy to compare applications.


  • 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.

  • 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 online 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: -2

Online Rental Applications

online rental application

The Basics

An alternative to the CAR 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 CAR application.


  • 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.


  • 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: +2


online rental application

According to our foolproof pro/con scoring system, handling your tenant applications online might be the way to go. Despite the lack of a standard application used by everyone, the lack of paperwork, and convenience of an online rental application make it much easier to use than a paper form.

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