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Residential Rental Applications: What You Need to Know

A residential rental application is the first step in the overall tenant screening process. Does your form ask the right questions?


[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Apr 17, 2020 by Aly J. Yale
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A good residential rental application form is critical for a landlord. Not only can it help you evaluate a prospective tenant (and the risk they pose to your rental unit and pocketbook) but it can also ensure you align with fair housing laws in the process.

Are you on the hunt for the right application to use for your rental property? We've got you covered.

What is a residential rental application?

A residential rental application is a form that landlords require of potential renters. The prospective tenant fills out the form, submits it to the landlord or property owner, and pays an application fee (if required).

The forms are most commonly called residential rental applications, but they go by other names, too. You might hear it called a tenant application form or a rental screening form.

Often landlords will combine these applications with a credit score and criminal background check, though the prospective tenant must agree to these first. Most landlords also require an application fee.

What does a residential rental application include?

As a landlord or property manager, you're free to make and customize your rental application form as you see fit. Just make sure you abide by fair housing laws and that you don't ask any discriminatory questions.

If you don't use a standard application form, you'll want to ask for at least the following information. This will allow you to properly evaluate the prospective tenant and the risk they pose to your property:

  • Name, contact info, driver’s license number, and Social Security number: You'll need this to run background and credit checks later on. You should also ask about any kids or pets that would be living on the property, including ages, breeds, etc.
  • Employment history: Ask for their employers for at least the past five years, including salary info and contact details for any supervisors they've had. Be sure to ask for employment dates, too. You want to be sure they have a good track record and have had consistent income.
  • Residence and rental history: Again, ask for the last five years here. Get their previous addresses, the dates they lived there, their reasons for leaving, the monthly rent they paid, and their landlord's contact details. You will need to verify this information, as well as call the landlord to see whether the tenant was ever late on rent or damaged the property
  • Co-applicant info: If the applicant will have a spouse or significant other living on the property, you'll need to gather their information as well. This includes employment data, residence history, and all of the above.
  • Vehicle details: Ask for the make, model, and license plate numbers for any cars the applicant will have on the property. Are there any other vehicles they might store on-site, like boats or trailers?
  • Additional questions: You should also include a section for additional questions. Do they have an eviction history? Have they ever declared bankruptcy? Do they have a criminal history or do they smoke? Be careful here, and study up on fair housing laws if you're customizing this section.

Finally, at the end of your application, include a statement asserting that all the information entered into the form is known to be true and accurate, and ask the applicant to sign and date below. You should also ask for a fee, and get a copy of the applicant’s driver’s license along with the form.

Go beyond the application

Your residential rental application should be just one part of your overall tenant screening process. As mentioned, you'll also want a background check and credit check, and you may want to check the sex offender registry as well. A rental application fee may also be smart, as it shows the tenant is serious about the property (it helps cover those credit check costs, too).

Need help ramping up your tenant screening process? Here are 11 tools that can help. Can’t decide what type of lease or rental agreement to use once you do choose a tenant? Our gross lease vs. net lease guide can point the way.

Decided a residential rental agreement is right for you?

Check out this rental application template from property management platform Avail. Like all templates, this is only a starting point and probably needs some customization. As such, we strongly encourage you to contact a real estate lawyer if you have questions about this template and whether it is right for you.

Millionacres does not, and cannot give legal, insurance, or tax advice. Any information we provide is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation that it is appropriate for you, or for any specific person. Millionacres and the writers will not be liable for any real estate decision you make, or action you take in reliance on any material you read here. Please see our Terms and Conditions for additional details, including a disclaimer of warranties and liabilities.

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