A Guide To Rental Applications For Landlords [+Free Template]

Collecting rental applications is key to tenant selection. Gather essential info like personal details, income, and rental history.

Rental applications give you key insights into a tenant’s suitability, but the data a rental application holds is of little value if you don’t know what to look for and how to interpret it.

Many property management and landlords skim through these forms, focusing solely on income details and credit reports. Securing the ideal tenant, however, requires finding a tenant that can not only afford to pay the rent but is also unlikely to cause problems down the line.

Below we take a closer look at what information landlords need to collect with a rental application form, what to look for in tenants, and how to streamline the rental application and tenant screening process with online software like Landlord Studio.

What Are The Different Parts Of A Rental Application Form?

What to Include in a Rental Application?

Most rental applications include the following information:

  • Property Details
  • Personal Information
  • Residence History
  • Employment & Income Information
  • Pets & Vehicles
  • Miscellaneous

Below we go into more detail regarding each of these pieces of information and hwy they're important on a tenant's rental application.

Property Details

At the top of the rental application form, you should clearly specify the property details including the address, rent amount, and security deposit requirements. You might also include details like number of bedrooms to ensure everyone starts on the same page. 

Doing this sets expectations upfront and will help prevent unsuitable candidates from applying for a property they can’t afford, or have no real intention of renting. This will also help you stay organized, especially when managing multiple vacancies and applicants simultaneously. 

Personal Information

The next segment of the rental application form is all about collecting the important personal details from your prospective tenants. These details are essential if you want to move to the next step as well as verify their identity and avoid potential fraud.

Details normally captured in this segment of the rental application form include:

  • Name: Ensures authenticity and helps prevent fraudulent activities. Matching the name with government-issued ID is vital for verification.
  • Social Security Number (SSN): While collecting SSNs is common it is not required at this stage. If you are going to screen tenants with Landlord Studio you can leave this off of your rental application form. If you do decide to collect their SSN, it should be handled carefully and stored securely to reduce risk and personal liability.
  • Occupants: Often renters will look to rent a property as a group. You need to know how many, and who each potential renter is as you’ll want to run a tenant screening report for each of them later. The rental application is the best moment to collect this information.
  • Contact Information: Make sure you have an accurate phone number and email address for each occupant. They are great to have in case you need to ask any follow-up questions during your screening process - and are essential if you want to move forward with their application.
  • Date of Birth (DoB): Getting their date of birth will give you another piece of information to cross-check against their ID and screening report to ensure accuracy. However, be aware that age is a protected class under Fair Housing Laws.
  • Government-Issued Identification: Typically, rental applications feature a section where applicants provide details of their government-issued identification, including the type of ID, ID number, issuing government, and expiration date. Verifying that all information aligns helps prevent any attempts by the applicant to misrepresent themselves.

Tenant Rental History

After reviewing the personal and property details sections of a rental application, the next step involves reviewing the applicant's residence history

Understanding an applicant's past living situations can tell you a lot about the kind of tenant they might be in the future.

Current Residence

The applicant's current living situation is the initial reference point when evaluating residence history. 

Here's what you'll typically find on a standard rental application and how to interpret it effectively:

  • Residence Type: Most applicants reside in rental units and you’ll want to check the move-in and move-out dates with their current landlord. For those in owner-occupied properties, you should talk with the current landlord to get an idea as to what they’re like as a tenant.
  • Current Address: Obtaining the applicant's current address aids in verifying rental history.
  • Move-in/Move-out Dates: Landlords will want to align these dates with the expiry date of their own current lease. You can also look further back in their rental history and identify any gaps in their history that may expose an attempt to cover up a bad experience.
  • Landlord Name and Contact Information: Checking the landlord's reference is an important step to understanding the tenant. Absence of this information raises significant concerns and warrants further investigation.
  • Reason for Moving Out: Desirable reasons include job-related moves or seeking larger accommodations, while blank responses or indications that they were forced out raise red flags.

Previous Residences

Similar to current residence details, previous residence information encompasses the same elements, typically allowing space for listing at least one prior address. Previous landlords often offer less biased insights into an applicant's rental history as they don’t have a vested interest in concealing information.

Employment & Income Information

Evaluating an applicant's employment and income boils down to two fundamental aspects:

  1. Does the applicant earn enough to cover the rent? 
  2. Is the source of income stable and unlikely to undergo significant changes? 

Answering these questions typically falls within the purview of the employment section in a standard rental application. You should apply your tenant screening criteria equally to all prospective tenants. 

Normally, landlords look for at least 3x the rent amount in monthly income. Additionally, regular job changes, long periods of unemployment, or a high debt-to-income ratio could be signs of financial instability. 

Here's a breakdown of the information to collect in this segment of the rental application form:

Employer Information

You’ll want to collect the employer's name, address, and the name of the supervisor or HR manager to verify a tenant's employment claims.

Additionally, it is standard practice to request proof of income from the applicant (such as paystubs or W-2s) to verify income claims.

Income Details and Position Information 

Consider all forms of income when assessing an applicant's financial eligibility. Discrimination based on the type of income is prohibited by law. For instance, if an applicant requires $6,000 per month to meet the minimum income requirements and earns $5,000 monthly through full-time employment along with $1,000 from a Social Security check, you must factor in all income streams. 

Pets & Vehicles

Pet and vehicle information allows you to check the compatibility between the applicant and your rental policies. For example, if there is only one parking space, but the prospective tenant(s) have multiple cars this could be an issue.

Similarly, assessing pet information can highlight mismatches between an applicant’s needs and your rental policies and provide a reference should the situation change, eg. they get a pet without permission halfway through the lease.

It's important to note that some applicants may have service animals or emotional support animals. Rejecting applicants solely based on the presence of such animals can be viewed as discriminatory, even if you have a "no pet" policy. 

Related: Landlords, the Fair Housing Act and Emotional Support Animals

Miscellaneous/ Additional Information

Completing the standard rental application is the miscellaneous section, which shouldn't be overlooked. The inquiries in this section may vary based on the application used but commonly include questions such as:

  • Have you filed for bankruptcy?
  • Have you faced eviction or been requested to vacate?
  • Do you intend to use furniture filled with liquids?
  • Have you been convicted of a felony or entered a no-contest plea?
  • Do you smoke?
  • How did you learn about the rental?

These questions provide another opportunity to pre-screen applicants or verify responses through tenant screening reports ensuring transparency when assessing the applicant's suitability for the rental property.

Free Rental Application Form Template

Download The Free Rental Applications Form Template (PDF)

Rental Applications & Tenant Screening

Collecting rental applications from likely tenant candidates isn’t the final step. You will also want to run a comprehensive tenant screening report on each of the tenant applicants. This will give you a range of new data including credit score as well as verify the details of the rental application. 

You can use property management software like Landlord Studio to streamline this process. 

With Landlord Studio you can create a free listing and syndicate it to top rental listing sites to maximize exposure. You can then run an automatic pre-screening report on leads as they come into the system.

For qualifying applicants simply ask them to fill out the application and tenant screening report and all the tenant details and data will be accessible from inside the app, making it easier than ever to review, compare, decline, or accept applicants.

With Landlord Studio you get a full TransUnion Smartmove report on each tenant which includes several key pieces of information including a ResidentScore®, criminal background check, credit report, eviction-related report, and an income insights report. 

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Rental Application FAQs

How Much Can A Landlord Charge For An Application Fee?

Determining the appropriate rental application fee can be challenging. And there are few things that you need to know before you settle on a number. 

Establishing the upper threshold for application fees typically hinges on addressing two primary questions:

  1. Is it permissible in your state to levy a rental application fee?
  2. Is there a cap on the amount landlords can charge?

The allowable application fee amount for landlords varies significantly by state, with some states delineating specific limits while others offer broader guidelines. Landlords should familiarize themselves with federal, local, and state laws to ensure compliance.

Related: Rental Application Fees: Do's and Don'ts

What's An Average Rental Application Fee?

The standard fee commonly charged by landlords averages between $20-$50 per applicant. 

The location and market conditions of the property exert the most significant influence on application fees. In highly sought-after neighborhoods with higher rental rates, it may be acceptable to charge higher fees, ranging from $50 to $200 per applicant.

However, before implementing market-driven fee structures, it's essential to review local and state regulations to ensure compliance.

What Is The Purpose Of A Rental Application?

The purpose of a rental application is to gather detailed information about prospective tenants that landlords or property managers can use to assess their suitability as renters. This information typically includes personal details, residence history, employment and income information, references, and sometimes additional details like pet ownership or vehicle information. Landlords use this information to evaluate applicants, verify their identity and financial stability, and make informed decisions about who to rent their property to. 

Is It Illegal To Lie On A Rental Application?

Whilst not strictly “illegal”, providing false information on an application can constitute fraud and may lead to legal repercussions. For example, if this false information is uncovered later it could be grounds for an eviction. Lying on a rental application can also damage an individual's reputation and make it difficult to secure future housing.

Why Is There A Rental Application Fee?

The rental application fee serves several purposes for landlords or property managers:

  1. Screening Costs: Landlords often incur expenses associated with screening potential tenants, such as background checks, credit checks, and rental history verification. The application fee helps cover these costs.
  2. Time and Administrative Expenses: Processing rental applications requires time and administrative resources. Landlords or property managers may need to review applications, contact references, and make decisions about prospective tenants. The application fee helps compensate for these efforts.
  3. Deterrent for Non-serious Applicants: Charging an application fee can discourage individuals who are not serious about renting the property from submitting applications. This helps ensure that landlords receive applications from applicants who are genuinely interested and financially able to rent the property.

What Is The Difference Between A Rental Application Fee And A Security Deposit?

A rental application fee is an administrative charge gathered to offset the costs of vetting a tenant to determine their suitability for your property. It is a non-refundable fee.

On the other hand, a security deposit is a sum of money, typically equating to one month's rent, that a tenant submits to the landlord. The landlord retains this deposit to address expenses like damages or outstanding rent if the tenant leaves the property. Any remaining funds from the security deposit, not utilized for such purposes, should be returned to the tenant upon the conclusion of their lease.

Are Rental Application Fees Refundable?

Rental application fees are typically non-refundable. These fees are collected to cover the expenses associated with processing and screening rental applications, such as background checks and administrative costs. 

Even if the applicant is not approved for the rental property or decides not to move forward with the rental after submitting the application, the application fee is usually retained by the landlord or property manager. However, it's essential for landlords to clearly communicate their policies regarding application fees to prospective tenants before they submit their applications.

Should A Landlord Return A Rental Application Fee If The Potential Renter Withdraws Their Application?

In many cases, rental application fees are non-refundable, regardless of whether the applicant decides to withdraw their application or is not approved for the rental property.

However, some landlords may choose to refund the application fee if the applicant withdraws their application before any screening or processing has occurred. This decision may be influenced by factors such as the landlord's discretion, local laws and regulations, and the terms outlined in the rental application or lease agreement.

Landlords should clearly communicate their policies regarding rental application fees, including whether they are refundable, to prospective tenants before they submit their applications.