Rental Application 101

What do you need to know to get started

Last updated May 15, 2018

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. Reading a Standard Rental Application
  2. Identifying Red Flags on a Rental Application

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.

RentSpree reviews

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.

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.

Let’s take the next step and learn how to read and interpret the information found on a standard rental application:

  1. Reading a Standard Rental Application
  2. Identifying Red Flags on a Rental Application