A Pennsylvania rental application form is the document sent to prospective tenants to help the landlord compile a financial and personal record that can be used to screen applicants for the rental property. It often includes a rental history and other helpful information. Let's learn more about them now!

What to Include

Landlords have a right to ask each applicant for crucial data during the vetting process. You want to make sure they will treat your property well. Therefore, it's essential to create a Pennsylvania rental application that focuses on these things:

  • Credit history
  • Personal data
  • Employment details
  • Personal references
  • Income information
  • Permission to do background checks
  • Rental history

Additionally, landlords must offer legal disclosures on the application, including information such as:

  • Smoking policies
  • Property conditions
  • Shared utility arrangements
  • Associated fees
  • Potential hazards for the tenant
  • Security deposit
  • Rent control rules

What Not to Include

Pennsylvania and federal state laws protect potential renters from any unfair discrimination throughout the rental application process. The FHA (Federal Fair Housing Act) says it is illegal to discriminate against these protected classes:

  • Disability (physical and mental)
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin (nationality)
  • Familial status (having/not having children)
  • Color
  • Race

Pennsylvania goes a step further by offering protections for these classes:

  • Pregnancy status
  • Ancestry
  • Age

Landlords cannot ask about those items or use them to base the decision to rent to the prospective tenant because it is illegal.

There are exemptions to the FHA rule, which include:

  • Religious Organizations - Religion might be used to give preference to some applicants for property supervised, controlled, operated, or owned by the religious organization when it doesn't rent to commercial businesses. However, no other protected classes can be used to decide.
  • Owner Occupied Properties - If a dwelling has four or fewer units and one is occupied by the owner, it is exempt from the law unless the real estate agent is the landlord. This is called the Mrs. Murphy Exemption. However, race can never be a deciding factor here.
  • Age - Landlords can ask for the age of the applicants if they rent in age-specific communities, including senior housing, because there's a Housing for Older Persons exemption.
  • Familial Status - It's acceptable to ask an applicant if they have children who will live on the rented premises in family-member-occupied or two-family-owned dwellings.

Rental Application Fee Laws

Pennsylvania doesn't have a maximum rental application fee requirement. Therefore, the landlord can charge the prospective tenant what they see fit. However, it's best not to charge more than the out-of-pocket expenses, though it's up to the landlord's discretion. This is a non-refundable application fee.

If the applicant is approved after paying the non-refundable fee, the landlord can collect their security deposit. Pennsylvania state law claims that landlords can only charge two month's rent as the security deposit. After that first year of tenancy, it drops to one months' rent if the lease is renewed.

When security deposits exceed $100, the landlord should keep the money at a financial institution in an escrow account or put it in an interest-bearing account while paying the tenant interest minus the one percent administration fee. Alternatively, the tenant could get a bond through a surety company on the condition the landlord returns the security deposit after the lease terms end.

If they choose an escrow account, landlords must provide holding information to the tenant. However, no receipt is required.

Background Checks

The next step of the tenant screening process is crucial; you should always conduct a background check using the information provided on the rental application. These may have a fee attached to them and include:

  • Eviction Check - An eviction check shows the tenants' history of eviction judgments and filings against them within the last seven years.
  • Criminal History Check - The criminal history check shows information involving the tenant in databases and state court criminal records. They may have to register as a sex offender or something similar, and you've got the right to know this.
  • Credit History Check - If the tenant offers written consent, you can conduct a credit check with a pass/fail report or a full one. This might include credit scores, past addresses, any credit inquiries they've made, and information about income and employment history.

Laws and Consent

Before a landlord can do a background check on an applicant with the information provided in the application, they must get written consent as per the Federal Credit Reporting Act. Written consent can include a statement on the rental application, which is signed by the future tenant, or through a separate form.

Eviction Record Search

Since eviction records are part of the public domain, a landlord can retrieve them through the Pennsylvania Judicial System to check on the prospective tenant. There could be a fee associated with this.

To access the eviction records of the applicant:

  • Visit the web portal for the Unified Judicial System in Pennsylvania.
  • Choose "participant name" in the dropdown search bar.
  • Enter the person's name and other information you might have, choosing "landlord/tenant" in the "docket type" dropdown menu. Cases involving the applicant pop up here.
  • Choose "print preview" to read the docket sheet or print the information.

Adverse Action Notices

You can get a consumer report for an applicant, which includes eviction, credit, and criminal histories. It's possible to take an adverse action against them by:

  • Rejecting the applicant
  • Requiring higher rent
  • Requiring a bigger security deposit
  • Requiring a co-signer when one wasn't needed before

If you do that, you're legally required to give the tenant a notice letter that includes details. The adverse action notice is necessary, even if you don't use the report's information for the action.

The notice should include:

  • Explanations indicating that you didn't take the adverse action against them and don't know why it was made
  • Details about the consumer reporting agency used
  • Statement telling the applicant they can get a copy of the report to later dispute the contents (must do so within 60 days)

It's recommended to tell the tenant the reason for rejecting them, but it's not required.

Build Your Own

Being a landlord in Pennsylvania isn't easy. While you might be focused on the lease to ensure that the tenants don't do significant damage to the property, that's not the only document you need.

A rental application form is a crucial document, whether you're a property manager or owner of the building. Doorloop has Word and PDF documents to help you through the creation process. Likewise, you can customize it directly on the company website for a small fee.

While you're at it, request a demo of its project management software to help you stay organized.


Why Do You Require a Pennsylvania Rental Application?

A rental application can help you find out information relating to the person's income and credit history before entering into a lease agreement with them.

What Can't You Ask on the Pennsylvania Rental Application Form?

The landlord cannot use the rental application to ask about sexuality, religion, race, arrest records, citizenship status, and other protected data.

Do You Have to Ask for a Person's Social Security Number on the Pennsylvania Rental Application?

You're not required to get an SSN from applicants, and it might be wise not to. Screening companies can generally get this information when needed, so you're not responsible for their private data.

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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!