What is a rental application?
Before renting out property e.g an apartment, you may be required to fill out a rental application form. This is a form usually issued by landlords, property owners or real estate agents in a bid to gather information from interested tenants. The information derived from the rental application form is used by landlords to screen potential renters. This is an important step for them since they want to ascertain certain things such as the renter’s ability to pay rent, are they responsible people to take good care of the property, etc.
The rental application form also grants permission to the landlords to perform background checks e.g, credit, and criminal history on the interested renters.
Who fills out a rental application form?
The rental application form is completed by interested tenants upon being provided the form by the landlord. This may be people intending to use or live in the property or any relations to the tenants who will be ones paying rent (e.g parents or guardians in the case of students).
Why is a rental application form important?
Wanting to move into a property and having sufficient money to pay for one doesn't automatically allow you to secure a lease from a landlord. You need to undergo a rental application process for a number of reasons:
- Landlords and property agents are able to use the information provided on the form to evaluate potential tenants. This helps them protect their interests and property.
- Rental application forms provide information to form criteria to determine which tenant is most suitable for a specific property. This is a great deal, especially for high demand properties, it makes the evaluation fair and fast.
- Potential tenants are able to know beforehand what they are getting themselves into before committing themselves. For example, some application form might have a note that they do not allow pets in their property.
- The application form grants written permission to carry out some background checks such as credit checks. It is illegal to run credit checks on someone without their authorization.
- It also eliminates tenants who are not serious to commit.
What is the information required in a rental application form?
Different properties may have different types of rental application forms, but they are all looking for some common pieces of information. Check out this quick 3-minute video guide by Landlord University to get an overview of what information is sought after in a rental application form.
Basic personal information
This includes full name, date of birth, passport identification, driver’s license and contact information of the people staying and making use of the property. Full disclosure is recommended. Emergency contacts and their relation to the tenants are also sometimes required.
Property owners want to make sure that potential tenants are able to meet their rental obligation in good time. As such, they are very keen on knowing the source of income of potential tenants. This can be in the form of employment or other income from businesses. To verify this, a rental application form will ask for details such as name and address of employer, an offer letter, salary receipts, bank statements, tax statements, and an employment letter.
Landlords get the permission to run credit checks in this part on the rental application form. They are mostly looking out for a tenant's credit history. Whether you are in debt, verify if the income stated to receive is true, if you have ever filed for bankruptcy or defaulted in paying off debt. Bad credit history may often than not limit the chances of having a successful application. Landlord University gives you an idea of what credit score you should be looking for both as a tenant and as a landlord in this 2-minute video.
Property owners want to know such things as if you have ever been evicted in the past or fallen short of paying rent. So in this part, the rental application form will require you to outline your current and previous addresses, name of the landlord(s), amount of rental obligation, reasons to vacate, etc.
In this part, landlords want to know if you have a criminal history e.g drugs and substance abuse, convictions, felonies, any upcoming or pending police charges. This can be verified when carrying out background checks. Note that a criminal record is sub-classified into misdemeanors and felonies. To learn about how these differ in terms of impact on your rental application, check out this 2-minute video by Housing 4 Hoosiers.
Most rental application forms will require you to provide references with whom the landlords can use to verify the information provided. Typical reliable references are employment supervisors or HR, previous landlords, college lecturers, etc.
This section is not to be filled out but rather contains information about the property to be rented. This includes property address, landlord/agent/property manager’s contact information, rent amount, security deposit amount, move-in and move-out inspection checklist and tenancy terms/rules. This is typically already prepared by the landlord.
Some rental applications might want to derive further information such as if you have pets, a vehicle, disability, how you got to know about the property, etc.
Procedure when making a rental application
To see how this form fits into the whole rental application process, check out this 2-minute video by Apartment Guide.
- The rental application begins with property search. This can be through online on specific property listings websites, advertisements on properties, open/viewing days, physical building searches or referrals from friends. This can be tiresome and exciting at the same time. Go with whichever resource you are comfortable with.
- Once you have narrowed your search to a particular property, the next thing to do is to seek the rental application form. Most states require this. The rental application form can be found on the property’s website online, directly emailed/posted to you by the landlord, from the property’s managing office or physically available during viewing days at the property.
- Fill in the form as completely and honestly as you can. A rental application is what puts a word in for you. Consider it your resume as an applicant lessee. Attach any documents requested, ask for clarifications/questions that may arise then email/post or drop off the completed form. This form may be rejected and returned to you by the lessor if inadequately accomplished.
- Pay any fees applicable. Most rental application forms need to accompany an application fee which ranges from property to property based on the property type, area, etc. The application fee is to meet the costs of screening potential tenants. On top of the application fee, some properties require an additional processing fee. It is always good to ask beforehand of any fees applicable since most of them are non-refundable.
- Wait to get contacted on the success (or not) of the application before signing the lease agreement and subsequently moving in.
Is a rental application form binding?
No. You can withdraw their interest in a property after filling out the rental application form. Nevertheless, you need to be really sure you are committed to getting through the application to avoid any back and forth. We mentioned there are non- refundable application fees accompanying the rental application form in most instances. You do not want to keep losing money by withdrawing applications that are not so well thought through.
What do you do before filling out a rental application form?
Filling out a rental application marks the “official” beginning of the rental process. Although a rental application form is non-binding, you do not want to have your personal information out there for no end or waste your time and money with no success.
Check out this 12-minute video from Arlington VA real estate agent and Realtor Matt Leighton as he discusses potential mistakes you can make while preparing your rental application.
Having learned your potential pitfalls, consider the following before subjecting yourself to the process of completing a rental application form.
- Know the cost of rent and the payment schedule.
You should have complete information on how much is expected of you as rent, when you are expected to pay (fortnightly, monthly, yearly etc.). You should also find out if there is a grace period for late payment or what happens in the event of delayed payment.
2. Know the amount needed for the security deposit.
Verify if you are required to make a security deposit. If yes, know how much the security deposit will cost you and whether it is to be paid in full upfront. Check if there are rules in spending for any repairs or dues off the deposit. Some landlords charge a security deposit which is equivalent to a month’s rent. Others charge for the first and last month. Still, others have flexibility on the payment of the deposit.
3. Know if there is a need to have a guarantor.
In the event a landlord is not satisfied with the creditworthiness or tenancy history of a potential tenant, they might require them to have a guarantor countersign on the application form as well as the lease agreement. The guarantor accepts the responsibility to pay rent in case of a default. Watch this 1-minute video by eHowFinance to gain some insights on finding a guarantor for the property you want to lease.
4. Know the additional costs.
You need to be sure of any other additional expenses that may be expected of them other than rent. Examples of these expenses are such as water bills, cable TV, internet, heating, garbage management, parking fees, gym access, pool access, etc.
5. Ascertain Rules on pets and guests.
Some properties prohibit pets or have a limitation on the type and number of pets allowed. There may also be rules on the admission of guests and the limitation on the amount of time guests can spend at the property. This is important information to know beforehand. If you plan to list your property as a short-term rental space on platforms such as AirBnB, you need to verify whether your property's management permits such arrangements.
Can a rental application be denied?
After filling in a rental application form, you may feel quite confident that it will be successful. However, this is not always the case. You might get a response that your application has been denied for a number of reasons. These are the usual reasons why an application gets denied.
- Insufficient income
Statistics indicate this is the number one reason most rental applications are denied. When landlords cannot establish that you have sufficient income to meet the rental obligation, they automatically reject the application.
Most landlords have rental units as their form of investment. They therefore want a return, and this is achieved when tenants are able to pay rent. Most of them will typically require a tenant to have an income that is three times the amount of total rent payable.
If at the point of a rental application a potential tenant provides information that is false and the landlord is able to ascertain that, he has all the rights to deny the application.
3. Poor credit score
As mentioned earlier on in this guide, a rental application form grants the landlord permission to carry out credit checks. If the results indicate a low credit score due to too many unpaid debts or bankruptcy, the landlord has a valid reason to reject an application.
4. High demand
More often than not, good properties will attract more than one applicant. The screening process is hence stricter creating grounds for possible rejections even on minor issues.
5. Bad habits
Some property owners can be very strict on disallowing habits such as smoking, a habit of not paying rent in good time, a record of evictions in the past. Negative comments from references and previous landlords may also indicate a bad personality which is ground enough to deny an application.
6. Criminal record
If a potential tenant has a criminal history, landlords might refrain from having them in their property. Check out this short video from Austin Apartment Experts to see how landlords view criminal history.
While property owners are at the discretion of choosing who is to rent their property, there are rules to protect potential tenants from having their rental application denied.
For example, it is illegal to deny a rental application based on gender, race, disability, nationality, marital status, age, sexual orientation/identity, color or religion.
What do I do to avoid my rental application being rejected?
Since we have already established you can have your rental application denied, it helps to know of some tips that can increase your chances of having a successful application.
- Improve and maintain a good credit score
We mentioned that most landlords are interested in ascertaining whether you are able to pay rent. On top of your proof of income, your credit score also says a lot about your financial management. It helps to keep your credit score is good.
2. Ensure you have a good tenancy record.
You can do this by avoiding delayed payment of rent, complying with the terms of your rental agreement, taking good care of the rental property, and being respectful. In doing so, you are creating good rental history. This way when your previous landlords are contacted to provide the same, they will have nothing but a good word to put in for you.
3. Maintain absolute honesty and transparency.
Being honest when filling out the rental application form and providing all the required information plus documentation to be attached.