Most of the time, a California rental application is used by the landlord or property owner to screen potential tenants by assessing information about their income, rental history, credit report, and other factorsThis process for screening prospective tenants determines whether they could be an acceptable tenant for the landlord or not. 

Keep in mind that the rental property and screening process in each state is different, so if you want to comply with California law, you must ensure that you cover all of the clauses stated on this page.

Overall, this article will walk you through California rental applications and any other details you must know before leasing your rental unit to a prospective tenant in California.

California Rental Application Fees

In California, landlords have a maximum fee they can charge tenants. This limit is adjusted every year for inflation according to the Consumer Price Index.

The maximum application fee that landlords can charge, as of December 2021 is $55.58 per applicant, according to the CA Civ Code § 1950.6(b) (2019). Moreover, the rental application fee must be charged based on the cost of the screening process, as well as the value of the property management team's time processing the form. This must include an itemized receipt.

It's vital to note that California laws also place a limit on the security deposit. In this particular case, the maximum amount for the security deposit may not be higher than three months of rent for furnished properties and two months of rent for unfurnished properties.

Things To Include

The following is a list of clauses that private landlords or property managers can include in their background check screening reports or rental form for the potential tenant:

Credit Check

A credit check will either be a pass/fail report or a full report. The full credit report will disclose all of the information relevant to the tenant's credit, including:

  • Credit score
  • Income information
  • Past addresses
  • Credit inquiries
  • Employment

Tenants have the right to request a copy of the report alongside their rental application results.

Criminal History Check

This history check includes information about the tenant's involvement in any criminal activity stated in the court criminal record for California, as well as their appearance in any database for criminal activity. It's vital to note that some cities, such as Berkeley, prohibit landlords from requesting this information.

It’s important to note  that it's illegal for landlords in California to discriminate against a tenant based on their arrest records.

Eviction Check

The rental history for evictions will show the tenant's entire history of eviction cases over the past seven years.

Report Copy

All tenants are eligible to request a rental application report copy that includes the landlord's decision surrounding the tenancy period. Any fees charged by the landlord must be itemized and included in a receipt.

Laws and Consent Guidelines to Follow for Background Checks in California

According to the Federal Credit Reporting Act, the prospective tenant must provide the owner with written consent for the background checks before they can run a California rental application.

The consent for background checks can be included in a separate statement or in the rental application form itself.

What You Can't Include

According to the Federal Fair Housing Act, there are many factors that count as discrimination and therefore cannot be included in the lease:

Overall, Fair Housing laws (and California laws) prohibit landlords to discriminate against any person based on the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Nationality
  • Sex (Unless there's a case that involves renting properties for a particular sex)
  • Familial Status
  • Religion (Landlords can have a preference for particular applicants if the property is operated, supervised, or owned by a religious group that doesn't rent it for commercial purposes)
  • Disability
  • Age (Unless the property is located in a senior housing development)
  • Primary Language
  • Ancestry
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity
  • Immigration Status
  • Medical Condition
  • Genetic Information
  • Source of Income
  • Marital Status
  • Military Service Status

In the case of private clubs that operate without public access and don't discriminate against potential members, the Federal Fair Housing Act states that these clubs can have preferential consideration for any applications regarding lodgings operated by the property.

Eviction Record Search

You can access a person's eviction records at any time since these are included in California public records. Follow this process to search for what you need:

  • Go into the California Court Directory and choose the tenant's past home location or the superior court for your jurisdiction.
  • Go into the "Civil Court" division, then the "Portal" option. There, you can use the tenant's name and other relevant information to find what you're looking for. According to the company resources, the evictions are categorized as "Unlawful Detainers."

Adverse Action Notices

In case you take an "adverse action" against the tenant after checking their eviction, credit, or criminal history, you must provide them with a notice letter called "Adverse Action Notice." It must outline an explanation surrounding the consumer reporting agency and why they didn't take the action themselves. You may also specify the reason why you're rejecting the tenant, although it's not required.

Moreover, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of this report; tenants have the right to dispute the report within 60 days.

Some "adverse actions" include the following:

  • Rejecting the applicant or a co-signer (if they didn't include one before)
  • Asking for higher rent or security deposit amounts

Build Your Own

California rental applications can be hard to navigate yourself, so if you want to make things easier, download our free application form today. You can find the application form in the "Rental Application Forms" menu in either Word or PDF format.

Moreover, you can adjust the rental application form if you consider it appropriate by downloading a customizable version.


With DoorLoop, eSignatures take just a few clicks to get done, but it goes beyond that: you can also create California rental applications that are reusable and autofilled with each tenant's information when you create them, making the whole process take a few minutes instead of several hours.

Your tenant's experience on your property starts with signing their lease, so it's a great idea to make the process as efficient as possible. DoorLoop does that and then some, streamlining applications and screening so that everything is simple from the beginning.

DoorLoop also connects with top listing platforms like Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads,, and more, letting you attract tenants on autopilot. You can also make sure you're bringing in the most reliable tenants by screening your prospects in seconds through an integration with TransUnion.

To get a closer look at DoorLoop, learn more or schedule a free demo.

Bottom Line

We hope this rental application guide has helped you understand all of the details surrounding these forms, including security deposits, running a background check, and more. If you need further help, make sure to download our free template today.


What Can a Landlord Ask on a Rental Application in California?

Generally speaking, you can ask detailed questions surrounding the tenant's rental history and how their relationship with the past landlord was. Some other common questions the landlord may ask include:

  • Why are you moving?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • When would you like to move in?
  • How many people will live with you?
  • and more

Can a Landlord Ask for Three Months Rent in Advance in California?

Yes, although this only applies to furnished dwellings.

What Is the Maximum Rental Application Fee for a Rental Property in California?

As of December, 2021, the maximum fee is $55.58 per applicant.

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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!