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Finding Tenants, Landlord-Tenant Law

A Guide to Rental Applications in Florida

Contents

A rental application is a means of checking prospective tenants to see if they would be a good fit for your property. They are generally filled in by tenants after they have viewed the property and are wanting to move forward with the process. An effective application can be the difference between quickly finding a reliable tenant and ending up with high vacancy and eviction rates.

One of the most important things to be aware of when selecting potential tenants is your state’s rental application laws, as these vary depending on your jurisdiction.

If you’re creating and screening rental applications in Florida, here is everything you need to know to ensure you remain compliant with the law.

What to include in my Florida rental application

When compiling your rental application, you should include relevant and useful questions for the potential tenant to answer. Bear in mind that it will be easier for you to screen tenants if you have more information to base your decision on, so it’s a good idea to be thorough here. Some useful questions to ask are some related to:

  • Applicant information: You will want to get the applicant’s phone number, email address, current residential address, driver’s license number, etc. You may also want to collect their social security number (SSN) – however, to reduce your potential liability you can run a tenant screening report without collecting a SSN using Landlord Studio.
  • Proof of income: You will need to ask for proof of income to ensure your prospective tenants make sufficient income to cover the rent. Generally, this is at least 3 times the rent amount. For this information, you can request paychecks, a W-2, or bank statements.
  • Employment history: Collecting current and past employer history details will help you better understand your tenant and how reliable they are and is another way to verify income.
  • References: References from previous landlords will help you understand what kind of tenant they’ll be. You can also ask for an employer reference, a credit reference, or personal references to help you determine if the tenant is likely to look after your property and pay rent on time and in full every month.
  • Run a tenant screening and background check: A tenant screening report will include a credit, eviction history, and criminal background check. You should include space on the application form for the tenant to give you written consent to conduct a tenant screening report and credit check. This isn’t such a big deal if you use Landlord Studio for your tenant screening report, as we will get confirmation of the tenant’s consent during the tenant screening process.
  • An application for a lease co-signer: If you are going to require a co-signer for the lease, for example, the applicants are students or don’t have a prior rental history, you will want the co-signer to fill out a rental application as well.

Additionally, you might ask for information regarding:

  • Roommate information
  • Emergency contact information
  • Pet information (if required)
  • Whether or not they smoke.

When you collect rental applications using Landlord Studio’s rental listing feature you can easily gather most of this information from tenants using our inbuilt prescreening questionnaire.

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Are there any restrictions on rental applications in Florida?

Regardless of where your rental property is located, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) stipulates that certain protected classes can not be discriminated against. These protected classes are:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Familial status

This means that applicants cannot be turned down for any one of these reasons. Questions about these protected classes are not considered relevant or fair, so should not be included in your rental application in Florida.

Furthermore, landlords in all states must not discriminate against applicants with emotional support animals (ESA). This means that you cannot legally decline an applicant based on the fact that they have an ESA, even if you have a no-pets clause in your lease. Even if you do allow pets normally, you may not impose a pet deposit, pet rent or pet fees for ESAs.

Instead, you may choose to reject rental applications based on the following criteria:

  • Poor credit
  • Insubstantial money
  • Bad rental history, eg. previous evictions

Exemptions to the FHA for Florida Rental Applications

There are some types of housing that are excluded from the FHA including private clubs and senior housing. You can find more information about FHA exemptions here.

There is one big point of difference between rental applications in Florida and other states. In Florida, there are explicit laws that prevent the discrimination of service members.

About Florida laws regarding rental applications from active service members

A rental application submitted by a prospective tenant who is a service member must be processed within seven days after submission. If the service member is not notified in writing of approval or denial (with a reason for rejection), the lease will automatically go into effect. This is irrespective of your own tenant screening guidelines.

Given the relatively tight turnaround time expected here, it’s a good idea to include a question on the rental application regarding whether or not the tenant is an active service member. If you find yourself inundated with applications, this question will allow you to filter them by importance. At the very least, you can make a start by prioritizing the applications that are on a tight time frame.

Even if you do not end up with applications from active service members in Florida, it’s still good practice to process your applications as quickly as possible. This will help you to minimize the amount of time it takes to fill a vacancy, leading to higher rental return rates.

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Florida rental application fees

Once you have established all of the information you need to collect as part of your rental application in Florida, you’ll likely want to charge prospective tenants an application fee to cover the cost of checking their income, credit history, and landlord references.

The amount a landlord can charge for a rental application varies from state to state. For example, in California, the maximum amount you can charge (as of 2021) is $53.33 per applicant. The state of Florida does not limit the amount a landlord can charge for application fees. Instead, it is advised that they do not charge more than the average out-of-pocket expense. For this reason, most application fees will be around $30-$50.

As a landlord in Florida, it is up to you whether you pay this fee yourself, or pass it on to the tenant. If you are using property-management software like Landlord Studio, there is a built-in tenant screening service that gives you the ability to easily pass the charge on to the tenant, if you wish to do so.

How rental application law differs in other states

Whether your rental properties are in Florida, California, or New York, you will encounter different laws for rental applications and fees. Familiarize yourself with the differences before taking applications, to ensure you remain within the guidelines.

Rental application management with Landlord Studio

To make the rental application process as smooth as possible, aim to be consistent and clear with your tenant screening. Using Landlord Studio you can collect tenant applications, prescreen tenants, and automate comprehensive tenant screening reports highlighting red flags and providing invaluable insights to help guide you in making the best decision for your rental.

Streamline tenant management, keep all your applications in one place, optimize your lease management, automate rent collection, and easily track income and expenses.

Final words: Free rental application form

There is state-specific legislation when it comes to rental applications in Florida, so it is essential to be aware of it before you start screening prospective tenants. Consider protected classes, ESAs, and service members to protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit.

When managed appropriately, the rental application and overall tenant screening process will be quick and effective, saving you time, money, and effort.

Download Free Rental Application template
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Jasmine Delves profile
Jasmine Delves

Jasmine Delves is a Content Specialist at Landlord Studio. She writes on all things rental property management, from renovations and pet policies to tenant screening and income tax rates.

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