What is an application to rent?
A rental application form, also known as an application to rent or tenant application form, is one of the most important forms you’ll use as a landlord. It’s a document that a prospective tenant must fill out with personal, financial and employment information to help landlords as they search for the right tenant for their rental property.
As a landlord, property owner or property manager, you need to be able to rent your property with confidence. An in-depth form can guide landlords through the process to identify their ideal fit. Beyond that, a rental application will also allow you to run a tenant credit check and perform tenant screening to find the right fit.
Some landlords may choose to add a non-refundable fee to their rental application to cover the additional cost of screening tenants. However, this is illegal in some states, so be sure to check with local and state laws if you’re considering adding a rental application fee.
Why do you need a rental application?
One of the main priorities of a landlord is to ensure that there’s as little risk to your rental property as possible — especially when renting to a new tenant. A rental application enables landlords to do so without too much hassle. After all, what other form allows you to collect the necessary information from a potential renter in one application?
An application is the first step to ensuring that you take on low risk when you rent to a new tenant. Remember, a rental application acts as a resume for each applicant. You want a successful tenancy and the application can better screen between renters who are serious about your property and those who aren’t.
If a potential tenant doesn’t want to provide the required information to screen them, this will help rule them out. With these details, you can verify whether they’re able to make monthly rent payments, have a solid renting history and if they have any red flags that would prevent them from being an ideal tenant.
What should be on a landlord’s rental application template?
A good application form collects all the need-to-know information about potential renters and allows you to make an informed decision about whether to approve an application.
Rental application forms should typically include:
- Name and address: You will need the rental applicant's full legal name and current address.
- Contact information: By collecting the phone number and email address, you can contact the renter when needed.
- Cosigner or co-applicant contact information: This should be required if an applicant requires a cosigner, who will agree to be responsible for their debt if they are unable to pay rent.
- Driver's license or Social Security number: The driver's license or Social Security number may be needed to open an escrow account for the security deposit or evict a renter if things go poorly. It's best to collect this information upfront, so you have it in case you ever need it.
- Rental history: A rental history allows you to see whether someone moved frequently and provides contact information for past landlords. This allows you to check references and contact a previous landlord to verify their character. You should aim to collect five years of rental history.
- Employment history/proof of income: You will need proof of income or employment history to determine whether a tenant can afford to pay the apartment’s monthly rent. Documents that prove employment include pay stubs, a W-2 form or an offer letter from a new employer.
- Informed consent: Since you may be contacting past landlords, current or previous employers (or other references), it's important that your application informs renters of this information and gets their consent via signature. This protects you legally and lets them know what they can expect if they complete the application to rent.
- Deal breakers: It's a good idea to ask about any deal breakers for your rental. For instance, this could be whether someone smokes or has pets — if those things are prohibited.
- Criminal history: You may wish to ask if they have a criminal history. This means inquiring if someone has ever been convicted of a crime or whether someone has been evicted before.
- General release: Request signed permission to run a tenant background check. Doing so will allow you to legally order a tenant screening report which may include criminal, eviction and other pertinent data about the applicant.
- Rental application fee: If your state allows rental application fees and you choose to charge one, be sure to include this information and accepted payment methods in your application.
- Custom questions: Each property is unique, so you may want to include additional questions or other information to ensure the applicant is the best fit.
Tenant screening techniques
When collecting rental applications from potential tenants, you can utilize the provided details to do the following:
- Request a background check for each prospective applicant.
- Verify income and ability to pay monthly rent with a credit report.
- Get information about criminal history and/or eviction history.
Download a customizable rental application form from AAOA
When you have a customizable rental form, you can send every applicant the same comprehensive form and avoid any allegations of discrimination or favoritism. A comprehensive form also turns away unqualified renters, who know they wouldn't pass your background check.
Rather than create your own application to rent, download a customizable rental application form from American Apartment Owners Association. Our forms are easy to complete, and they're also vetted by real estate experts and lawyers, so you can rely on their accuracy. Many forms are free for AAOA members, who receive other perks. Check out all of our free landlord forms.
Excited to get started and streamline the rental process? Sign up for your account today!
AAOA's landlord-tenant forms, tenant screening, resources and website are to be used as a guide only. The services our office provides access to are meant to supplement your education surrounding property management.