The rental application is the document that property managers and landlords use to screen prospective tenants. It's used before they sign their lease agreement and move into the rental, which includes an apartment, room, or home.

As a property owner, you need a well-written rental application to help you determine if a tenant is responsible and trustworthy. This is called tenant screening, and it's a crucial step in the process. Let's learn more!

What's a Rental Application Form Template?

Often called a lease application, the rental application is your standard operating procedure before the tenant signs your lease agreement and moves into the unit.

Property managers or the property owner should obtain a filled-out rental application form and charge an application fee, which is non-refundable. This covers the cost of running the background check and credit check, along with the tenant's rental history inquiry.

The rental application can also be called a:

  • Tenant application
  • Landlord rental application
  • Lease application
  • Rental property application
  • Rental lease application
  • Residential lease agreement form or residential rental application
  • Application for a rental property

Landlords can save themselves from eviction proceedings when tenants violate the terms of the lease and other issues if they put the time in to find a reputable renter through a lease application form.

Examples of Rental Application Forms

Rental application form examples

There are many rental application forms landlords can use, and you should review the information below to determine what you need.

Depending on the rental property, you might require specific rental applications.

The Basic Rental Application Form

A basic rental application can gather information to help you run credit and background checks for a leased property. They can also be called a background check authorization form, which gives the landlord permission to run the review (including the tenant's criminal history).

In a simple rental application, the tenant will disclose important information, such as their social security number, date of birth, and name, as well as that information for additional occupants.

There could be a time when you have multiple co-applicants for one space. You should require separate rental application forms and tenant screening reports from each of your prospective tenants.

Every additional rental application for that same unit should have the applicant sign off on the background check and credit check, including their criminal history.

Usually, there's space on the application to collect information about employment and the tenant's residence history. You can use that with an IRS form 1040 or Employment Verification Letter to verify the person's income.

Apartment Rental Application Form

An apartment rental application includes information your prospective tenant provides. You should have a spot for all the required information needed to consider that person for the apartment, such as rental history, social security number, date of birth, and full name. Generally, you will request a small rental application fee to cover the screening reports.

House Rental Application

When evaluating potential tenants for a home, there are many things to consider. Therefore, you may want a house rental application that contains more information.

For example, you can collect information about your tenant, including social security number, rental history, date of birth, and full name. Then, you will research their financial information and run your screening reports.

Room Rental Application Form

If you plan to rent one room in the house, it's best to choose the right person. The property owner can use the rental application to run screening reports to determine if that person is trustworthy and reliable.

How to Decline or Approve a Rental Application

Once you've run your checks for general credit reports and criminal backgrounds, you will choose the applicants based on the rental applications. Inform the new tenants that you've accepted them by sending your rental application approval letter. Then, have them come to you to sign a lease agreement.

Choosing the wrong tenant for your property can lead to damages, missed rent payments, legal issues, evictions, and more.

The other pending applications should receive rental application denial letters.

It's wise to protect yourself thoroughly by asking your prospective tenants to fill out rental application forms. Make sure you keep them in a safe and secure location, such as in a safe. You're asking the candidates to provide personal information, such as a social security number and more.

The Next Step After Approval of Rental Property Applications

After approving the rental applications, it's time to prepare the lease agreement for the new tenant(s). When starting this process, landlords must be familiar with:

  • State rental laws
  • Landlord-tenant rights/responsibilities
  • Security deposit regulations (generally, a landlord will collect a security deposit upon the signing of the lease agreement.)

Along with rental applications, you will need to use these documents throughout the tenancy:

  • Early lease termination letter
  • Eviction notice forms
  • Notice to vacate
  • Late rent notice
  • Rent receipt

How to Write Your Rental Application

how to write your rental application form

Before breaking out the lease agreements, it's wise to screen tenants. Whether you use online rental applications or a printable rental application, here are the steps for writing them:

1. Fill out Property Address Information

At the top of your application, you should include this information:

  • Property address
  • Date of application

2. Enter Applicant Personal Information

Before doing much else, the tenant application form should ask applicants to provide identifying information, such as:

  1. Date of birth
  2. Full name
  3. Phone number(s)
  4. Social security number
  5. Email address
  6. Driver's license number

On the basic rental application, your potential renter should list the other possible residents on the premises and the relationship they have with the applicant.

3. Collect the Tenant's Rental History

When you review the applicant's residence history, you'll gain insight into the type of tenants they might be. Request this information from your potential tenants:

  1. Full current address, including the Zip code, state, and city
  2. Dates of residency, such as when they moved out and in
  3. Reasons for moving (such as being asked to do so)
  4. Monthly rent price, due date, and all payment conditions (cash, paid in full, etc.)
  5. Landlord/manager's contact information and name

You can determine how many years the potential tenant should go back. Likewise, try to get this information, as well:

  • Prior broken leases
  • Prior evictions

4. Gather the Tenant Employment Information

You are entering into an agreement for the potential tenant to pay monthly rent, so you must ensure they do so reliably. The rental application form can help you assess their financial stability.

Ensure the form asks your potential tenant for this information about their current/previous work history:

  1. Current employer and position within the company
  2. Name of supervisor
  3. Company phone number and address
  4. Monthly pay
  5. Duration of employment

Collect this employment information for previous employers for as many years as you feel is appropriate.

You can also ask the potential tenant to provide more information about their monthly or annual income sources. This can include W2 forms, pay stubs, employment offer letters, and more. Just ensure that you make copies and keep them in a safe and secure location.

5. Enter the Tenant Credit History

Many landlords require their applicants to have a renters credit check before consideration. While a credit report from Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax can be helpful, there are other references that will supplement your application.

The following information will help you review the applicant's credit:

  • Credit card statements
  • Bank account details
  • Letters from their former landlords that confirm routine rent payments
  • Institutions where applicants have accounts and the balances
  • Consent to the credit check
  • ITIN or social security number (one is required for the credit check)

It's wise to charge the tenant a credit application fee to cover the cost of the credit report. Plus, it's standard. However, some states will prohibit or limit the amount of rental application fees charged. For example, California allows you to get $52.46 total.

Some landlords prefer to hire a third party to request the credit check. Then, they will charge the applicant. This is often better for tenants because they may not like providing sensitive information on the landlord's application.

6. Get Tenant References

The lease application should ask renters for personal references, such as past landlords and neighbors. Make sure to get this data:

  • Contact information
  • Name of the reference
  • Relationship to the applicant

7. Conduct the Background Check on the Tenant

Most landlords ask that applicants consent to a criminal and general background check along with filling out their residential rental application.

Though the information provided will vary based on the service provider, it often includes:

  • Personal details
  • Credit report(s)
  • Income statements
  • Eviction record report
  • Criminal background record report
  • Rental history check
  • Public record check
  • Employment history
  • Fraud indicator report
  • National sex offender registry checks

Since the information provided on the rental application may be similar to a background check, you can ask for those details directly so that tenants don't have to fill in two forms.

Steps for Running a Background Check

  1. Make sure your potential tenant completed the application.
  2. Ensure the applicant and landlord have signed the application.
  3. Pull the credit report (check the credit score and history).
  4. Order your rental history report to see if the applicant paid rent on time.
  5. Conduct appropriate employment verification.
  6. Contact the references, including all previous landlords.
  7. Check the applicant's name on the national sex offender registry.
  8. Consider checking your state's website for any sex offenders.

8. Consider Additional Verifications and Property Application Questions

The rest of a good rental application includes questions about background information and the tenant's behavior while on the rental property.

Here are a few common questions your rental application should include:

  • Will there be other occupants living on the premises?
  • What vehicle do you drive (include mileage, color, year, model, make, and license plate number)?
  • Do you have pets?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Why do you wish to move?
  • How long do you plan on living at this property?
  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
  • What's your eviction history like?
  • Have you ever had problems with your current or past landlords?
  • Do you have a criminal background or any serious credit issues?
  • Will a guarantor or co-signer be responsible for your rent?
  • Who is your emergency contact? Provide a space for them to list phone numbers and addresses.

Whether the candidate includes a cover letter or not, you should be aware that some states put restrictions on landlords who screen tenants through an application.

Likewise, landlords, regardless of state, must follow the laws of the Federal Fair Housing Act and state/local fair housing laws whenever screening potential tenants.

Fair housing laws do consider age to be a protected class, so you can only collect that information when running a tenant screening report.

For example, California landlords can ask about the potential tenant's income level and source but can't discriminate based on other criteria.

If the applicant doesn't provide accurate or complete information on the Texas application, the landlord is allowed to reject the candidate.

What Else to Include on Your Rental Application Form

The candidate's signature on your residential lease application is the certification that they're telling the truth and authorizes the landlord to verify whatever information was included on the rental application. This includes contacting personal references, employment, and rentals.

If the applicant ends up offering incomplete or false information that you learn about when conducting the tenant screening reports, you can legally reject the rental application by sending a denial letter.

At the end of the rental property application, you should include authorization that lets you run a background and credit check. After getting the appropriate information, everyone should sign and date the application. There's no need to include security deposit information, as that often goes on the lease agreements.

Helpful Quick Tips

rental application form quick tips

There is so much information relating to collecting rent applications, screening tenants, and showing vacancies. However, here are some quick tips to start you out:

  • Don't describe your ideal tenant in your ads or rental listings because you could break the fair housing laws in your state (or on the federal level).
  • Make sure you collect a fully completed and signed form from every prospective tenant and read everything carefully.
  • When you create a rental application, make sure it has sections for criminal background checks, credit reports, and identity verification. You can charge the tenant for this, so you're not out any money.
  • Verify the applicant's income, employment, and rental history.
  • Ensure that the rent is about 1/3 of the applicant's combined income. Most landlords actually check to see that the person makes three times the rent amount.
  • If possible, walk through your applicant's current house to see how they treated it. This tells you what they'll do to yours.
  • If you have a borderline application, there are options to improve the odds of a better tenancy. One is requiring the applicant to have a guarantor or co-signer. These people are liable to pay the rent if the tenant doesn't do so. Another is to get a higher security deposit, which could be double your monthly rent. Just make sure you check all local laws to see if this is possible. Finally, you can request the tenant to purchase a surety bond to guarantee rental payments up to a specific amount.

Always follow your gut. If something about the applicant bothers you, decline the application and choose someone else to sign a lease agreement. There are great renters out there, so you don't want to risk choosing a rotten apple who might default, ruin your property, slander your name, or sue you.

Remember that you're in control of who you sign a lease agreement with. Don't be bullied by a prospective tenant. Property owners have the right to verify employment with the applicant's employer and do a criminal history check.

Fair Housing Laws and Discrimination

Landlords often think that they'd never do anything as horrible as breaking fair housing laws, but it's easier to do than you think. Savvy renters understand this and often sue landlords based on discrimination. Here's a classic example:

A landlord advertises their tiny studio apartment that only fits one person and says that it would be perfect for a single professional. Though that's invariably true, you still can't say it because it discriminates based on a person's familial status. Make sure you're advertising on mass-market circulars and websites, and don't describe your perfect tenant.

When you follow your gut and choose a tenant, you must still cover yourself against legal ramifications. That's why all landlords must run criminal background checks and credit reports. These are concrete, and you can use them as valid reasons to decline the application you created from a printable rental application template.

If the declined applicant tries to sue you for discrimination, you will have a written record of the credit report, rental application, and criminal report. These become references in court that can prove your reasons for denial.

In general, it's best to simply tell declined renters that you chose someone else without going into detail about why. When you provide less information, you're unlikely to be in court for unfounded lawsuits.

However, some states might require you to provide a reason for denying the rental application. In this case, it's best to say as little as possible and include in there that you have proof to prevent applicants from trying to go to court on a frivolous case.

FAQs for a Rental Application

When Should You Use the Tenant Application Form?

Landlords benefit from using a free online rental application when they are:

  • First-time landlords who wish to find a suitable tenant
  • In popular locations or buildings that attract many renters
  • A veteran landlord who had bad luck with previous renters
  • Screening for serious tenants who wish to move in quickly
  • Concerned about an applicant's financial resources

What's a Credit Reference on the Rental Application?

The credit reference on the online rental application is an organization, business, or person who the applicant has established a financial relationship with. In most cases, obtaining them is part of the normal tenant screening process and works alongside running a credit check.

These credit references will provide helpful information about the tenant's paying habits. When you review that data, you'll get more insight into how likely you'll get rent on time.

Examples of credit references can include:

  • Dental and medical offices
  • Local businesses offering payment plans
  • Previous landlords
  • Utility companies
  • Banks

What If You Don't Use the Residential Rental Application?

If you don't use rental applications for research and tenant screening, you will likely spend more time and money finding appropriate renters.

Once a potential renter fills out the application, review it closely. Make sure you contact previous employers and landlords and run appropriate checks.

How Long Should the Rental Application Take for Approval?

It often takes about 24 to 72 hours to approve the rental lease application. However, most landlords wish to check personal and financial histories, so the process might be longer because you're waiting for the database to give you the information necessary.

Landlords should always try streamlining the tenant screening process by using templates whenever possible and hiring a third-party company to run checks. Reducing the time you spend on processing and collecting the data will lead to a better overall experience and more rental income.

Can a Tenant Rent without Having a Job?

It's possible to choose a tenant who is unemployed, but you must ensure that they can cover the monthly rent payments. Look for references from their previous landlords and ask them to pay more upfront if possible. Likewise, you can request a guarantor or co-signer for the lease agreement.

What Do Landlords Generally Look for in Tenants?

Landlords often want to check the potential tenant's income, credit, rental history, and criminal background. Usually, they choose people who earn three times the desired rent amount and pay their bills mostly on time.

Where to Find a Free Rental Application Form

Your prospective tenant should always fill out a printable rental application form, which covers you against legal problems. Likewise, it will help you learn more about the person and determine if they have what it takes to live on the property and pay rent each month. The goal is to have a reliable person who doesn't disturb other tenants, is on time with payments, and keeps the place maintained.

It's challenging to take in all of this information, but it's easy to use DoorLoop to get a free rental application template. You will be able to view a sample rental application, but there are many other documents you can use. Once you have a tenant in mind, you may create subleases and leases, security deposit forms, and so much more.

Frequently Asked Quesitons

David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!

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The information on this website is from public sources, for informational purposes only and not intended for legal or accounting advice. DoorLoop does not guarantee its accuracy and is not liable for any damages or inaccuracies.