Chapter 1: Rental Application 101

What do you need to know to get started

Last updated Feb 28, 2019

Just as the eyes are the window into the soul, the rental application is the window into a tenant’s rental history. Not collecting a rental application from a tenant would be like trying to park a car with your eyes closed. You may end up in the general vicinity of where you want to be, but the results are likely to be disastrous unless you have some really good luck.

Tenant screening doesn’t have to be like Russian Roulette, which leaves you at the mercy of the odds. Collecting a rental application is the first step to protecting your business, your reputation, and yourself.

Using a rental application in your tenant screening process is not as simple as you may think. There are a few basic questions that may come to mind:

  1. Which rental application should you use and where can you get one?
  2. What information will you collect?
  3. How do you interpret this information?

But as we all know, the devil is in the details and there are actually many other questions you should be aware of before you use a rental application:

  1. Which laws and regulations should you adhere to?
  2. What is the proper way to verify the information you receive?
  3. How high an application fee should you charge and what is the legal maximum?
  4. What red flags should you look out for?
  5. How can you avoid discrimination?

These (and many more) are questions you should have answers to when you start using a rental application during your tenant screening process.

Luckily for you, we will be covering all of these topics and more in great detail so you can have all the information you need to handle the rental application process.

If you’re looking for other information about the screening process, you can check out our other guides to tenant screening, credit reports, background checks, and eviction histories.

Here is a table of contents for rental applications:

  1. Rental Application 101
  2. Reading a Standard Rental Application
  3. Identifying Red Flags on a Rental Application
  4. 5 Common Problems with Lease Applications
  5. Free Rental Application Form
  6. Rental Application Denial Letter
  7. Fair Housing Act

With that being said, you still might be thinking…

What is RentSpree?

RentSpree is an award-winning rental application and tenant screening service located in Los Angeles, California. We work with thousands of real estate agents, landlords, and property managers of all sizes throughout the nation.

Our Mission

  1. Simplify - We strive to simplify the tenant screening and rental application process. As a one-stop-shop, we believe you should be able to get all the comprehensive information you need for thorough tenant screening in one step. One of your most valuable possessions is your time. We have seen far too many real estate professionals take days to get completed rental application forms and tenant screening reports.
  2. Educate – Knowledge is power, especially in this business. The more you know, the more confidence you have to get things done the right way the first time.
  3. Protect – Our proprietary rental application forms and PDFs will help to keep you compliant. The last thing you want is to come under fire by HUD for a Fair Housing Act violation. That could cause irreparable damage to your business and your reputation.

Our Clients

We process thousands of rental applications and tenant screening reports each month for countless real estate professionals. We love working with all of you and we pride ourselves on providing you with a simple yet robust rental application and tenant screening service.

What is a Rental Application?

A rental application is your opportunity to start collecting detailed information about a prospective tenant. The point when you collect a rental application marks the first time things get put to paper. Everything before that is likely made up of email and phone communication where you may have done some marketing for the rental or took steps to pre-screen applicants.

Getting an applicant to fill out a rental application involves the sharing of extremely sensitive personal information. This means that you have an important responsibility to safeguard the information you receive. It also means that applicants who fill out an application are at least somewhat interested in renting the property.

We will go over the components of a rental application in more detail in the next chapter. But generally speaking, the applicant will provide information about his or her residence history, employment, income, references, pets, vehicles, and personal status.

Using this information, you should be able to get an idea as to whether the tenant will be a good fit for the property or meet your minimum screening criteria. Also, collecting a complete rental application form is important to keep on file for every tenant just in case an eviction or collections process is needed later on.

Simply put, you will mainly use the information from a rental application to determine which applicants have a high likelihood of meeting the financial requirements of paying rent each month. You also want to find someone who will keep the property in good condition and not cause damage. There are a number of other tenant screening steps to help with this, but the rental application is a major first step.

rental application sample

What Can you Expect from this Guide?

Using a rental application to screen tenants is a great idea. But there’s a lot to think about as you go through the process. Because it can be difficult to keep track of all the intricacies, this guide is meant to provide a quick and easy breakdown of best practices.

  1. Reading a standard rental application
    A rental application includes a tremendous amount of information that can be used to vet a prospective tenant. You should understand clearly what information you will receive on an application. More importantly, you should know how to interpret that information in a way that gives you a clear picture of the applicant.

  2. Identify red flags on apartment rental applications
    Once you’ve collected the information, only the most experienced rental professionals have the ability to pick out red flags by reviewing an application. But your job should be to quickly and easily identify these red flags. So even if you don’t have a tremendous amount of experience, this guide will teach you the most important red flags found on a rental application and how you can identify them.

  3. Understand the common problems with lease applications
    You are only as good as the tools you use. So make sure your rental application asks all the right questions without getting you into hot water. Don’t use any old rental application. Take a few minutes to read your application to see if it serves your purposes and provides you with adequate protection.

  4. Get a free rental application form
    RentSpree even provides you with a vetted rental application you can use for tenant screening. Better yet, we give you two option for how you can use it: online or off-line. That’s right. We provide an online rental application as well as a rental application PDF that you can download and print. No more using outdated forms that can get you in trouble. Our rental application is regularly reviewing and updated to keep you compliant.

  5. Get a rental application denial letter
    What happens when you get an applicant who doesn’t quite make the cut? You need to make sure you handle this the right way according to the FCRA. In some cases, that means issuing a rental application denial letter. We provide a rental application denial letter you can use and let you know when and how you might be required to use it.

Don’t Cut Corners

If you remember anything from all this, remember that no one can afford to cut corners. You should make a point to collect a rental application from each tenant no matter what. This means you should collect one even if you have a tenant who “seems great” or is someone you know. Aside from the obvious fact that you should have thorough information from every tenant, collecting an application lets the tenant know that you mean business. Furthermore, it ensures that you are applying your screening process and screening criteria uniformly to all applicants. This can keep you away from accidentally engaging in any discriminatory practices.

Young married couple with key from rental application

Continue to Chapter 2: Reading a Standard Rental Application, or jump to a different article.

  1. Rental Application 101
  2. Reading a Standard Rental Application
  3. Identifying Red Flags on a Rental Application
  4. 5 Common Problems with Lease Applications
  5. Free Rental Application Form
  6. Rental Application Denial Letter
  7. Fair Housing Act